The ghost of Richard Butler surfaces in Arizona


It would be foolish to believe that the death of Aryan Nations’ leader Richard Butler means the death of hate in the West. Butler, who sowed ill will for decades in the region, passed away at the age of 86 Sept. 8 in Hayden, Idaho.

He died a broken man, his empire of knuckle-draggers that began in1974 effectively crushed and bankrupt. Butler’s defeat did not come from the efforts of Idaho officials, who took a head-in-the-sand approach, but through the courageous efforts of Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason, and the support of modern-day hero Morris Dees, from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Keenans, who were assaulted by the Aryans while driving past the infamous Hayden Lake compound, won a $6.3 million judgment against the Aryan Nations, which included the 20-acre compound. The land was later sold and then given away to a college.

Many in the region took the opportunity to proclaim that Butler’s passing was a watershed event, and that now, all hate had vanished from the Northwest.

It was a premature declaration of victory.

In 1999, when I covered the optimistically labeled "400-Man Flag Parade," the spectacle that the Aryan Nations put on annually in downtown Coeur d’Alene, it was not Butler or his angry comrades that shocked and depressed me. The images that have lingered to this day were of the two children that dutifully accompanied their Aryan parents down Sherman Avenue.

As I later wrote for a magazine, "The 18 marchers included a cute six-year-old Nazi outfitted in a pink dress, who later mugged for television cameras by doing her best Hitler salute." Alongside the girl was her nine-month-old sister in a stroller. And what to make of the dozens of supporters who lustily cheered the Aryans from the sidewalks? Where are they now?

Certainly, many groups — including the Aryans — have set up shop in the Midwest, where I now live. Chicago’s Center for New Community ( says hate is alive and well in the Heartland. In its report "State of Hate: White Nationalism in the Midwest 2001-2002," the Center lists 338 active hate groups in the 10-state region. The report warns that today’s hate organizations are harder to ferret out than those of the past:

"Suit-and-tie soapboxing on racially charged issues has surpassed the cammo-clad paramilitary posturing of the 1990s. Gone are the survivalist chows and the mass militia meetings organized around gun rights and government conspiracies. Such gatherings have been replaced by issue advocacy with a more clearly defined racial core: attacks on (non-white) immigration, affirmative action, multiculturalism, and civil rights and hate crimes legislation…"

Evidence of this bait-and-switch strategy is alive and well in the West. Anti-immigration is at the heart of Arizona’s controversial Proposition 200, a November ballot initiative. The measure calls for proof of citizenship as a requirement to register to vote and a picture ID as a step to actually voting. Further, state workers, under the threat of up to four months in jail, must authenticate the U.S. citizenship of anyone seeking public health benefits.

Although there is popular support for Proposition 200, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is on record opposing it, saying, "I believe this is the wrong step for Arizona." Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both of whom support immigration reform, also oppose the proposition.

When backers of the initiative, Protect Arizona Now (PAN), hired Tennessee resident Virginia Abernethy as their advisor, the true designs of the measure were revealed. Founder of PAN Kathy McKee cheerfully trumpeted Abernethy as "the grande dame of the anti-illegal immigration movement."

McKee conveniently failed to mention that Abernethy is an avowed racist and a leader in white supremacist groups, including the Council of Conservative Citizens, which says that minorities are transforming the nation into a "slimy brown mass of glop."

Upon her appointment, Abernethy said, "I owe it to my own and others’ grandchildren to work to maintain the environmental, cultural, and social integrity of the United States, and to hold the federal government accountable for their constitutionally mandated duty to protect this nation from invasion."

The phrase "social integrity" sounds eerily like "ethnic cleansing." Last time I checked, the United States was a nation of immigrants, and any "invasion" began long ago at Plymouth Rock. Somewhere, no doubt in a very hot place, Richard Butler is smiling.

Stephen J. Lyons is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( His latest book is "A View from the Inland Northwest," a series of journalism dispatches from the Idaho-Washington border. He lives in Illinois.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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