America's Secret Jihad: The Hidden History of Religious Terrorism in the United States(2015)
THE END OF AN AGE
the FRAGMENTATION of the RADICAL RIGHT in the 1970S
“Now this is a long fight. It is a hard fight,” said J.B. Stoner in June of 1969 as he addressed the national convention of the National States Rights Party as its newly elected chairman. Ostensibly, he was referring to the campaign for elected offices in the coming years. But Stoner spoke to a much longer struggle as well. “The Jews have been conspiring and carrying on their campaign on top of the world for centuries . . . and they still don’t have it. . . . The Lord Jesus Christ himself called the children of the Jews the children of the devil and that is what they are, the children of the devil. . . . They are Satan’s kids. Now they have been fighting for a long time so we have to fight for quite a while. We can’t expect to win the fight in a few weeks or few months when the Jews have been after it for centuries.”1
In many ways, Stoner’s speech sounded like a rationale as much as a rallying cry. Despite the riots from the previous year, despite the chaos at the Democratic National Convention the previous summer, the race war so many saw as imminent had yet to materialize.
Yet tensions persisted through 1968 and into 1969. The number of urban riots diminished dramatically, but violence spread into other political arenas. A radical offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society, the Weather Underground became the latest New Left group to embrace violence as a form of political protest. With the ongoing activity of groups like the Minutemen, police estimated that America experienced an average of twenty bombings per week in 1969. So the religious radicals in the NSRP had not yet given up hope.
One speaker at the convention, identified only as Stephens, insisted to the NSRP delegates:
The battle is yet to be won. You and I will wind up being the soldiers that carry the forefront through the line to win the fight. So if we leave this fight out against the Jewish, nigger revolution that we are in, and it is a revolution, they sort of proclaim it to be a revolution, you and I are going to end this revolution. When the battle starts, you and I will be the first ones there. We will be on the front lines, and when this smoke does clear away from this battle, then we should see nothing but white faces left in our nation.2
Stephens’s words echoed the horrific sermon delivered by the Reverend Connie Lynch in Saint Augustine in 1964. “There’s gonna be a bloody race riot all over this country,” Lynch insisted. “The stage is being set for a bloodbath. When the smoke clears, there ain’t gonna be nothing left but white faces.”
Lynch escaped incitement charges in 1964 even though a white mob sent nineteen blacks to local hospitals after his speech. But Stoner’s rabble-rousing friend finally went to prison for instigating racial violence in Baltimore in 1966; he was not at the 1969 convention. In his stead, at the convention and elsewhere, Neuman Britton assumed the role of instigator. Like Lynch, Britton was a Christian Identity minister, and at the convention he echoed the CI preaching of Wesley Swift: “There is nothing left but blood for America over the dead cause I know for a sure thing that there will never be any peace . . . until we removed from these shores the serpent race and this beastly race that is so prevalent among us.” Speaking of the blood that will flow from the “wine press of wrath,” he asserted, “We have arrived at the apex of this age.”3
In many ways, 1969 represented the apex for the National States Rights Party and for organized violence by adherents of Christian Identity. But despite “favorable” conditions, the “Jewish, nigger revolution” never escalated into a race war.
A reasonable question would be: Why not? Certainly, the idea of a pitched conflict between racial groups, fighting in armies representing their ethnic identities, is hard to fathom, even in an era like the 1960s. But to many Americans, a civil war based in part on race and also on class and political ideology seemed more than possible in 1969. In hindsight, with well-armed elements of the right and the left openly courting such a war, the violence of the late 1960s, as unique as it was in its historical intensity, seems somewhat tame relative to what it could have been. New Left radicals engaged in street battles with law enforcement, and police recovered millions of rounds of ammunition from right-wingers, yet one did not find members of the Minutemen launching mortar shells at machine-gun-wielding members of the Black Panthers. With such willing participants, the lack of open conflict demands an explanation.
A likely answer is one that will unsettle many civil libertarians, who for decades have justifiably highlighted the abuses and dangers associated with programs like COINTELPRO, which surveilled, infiltrated, and provoked dissident groups inside the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union still speaks ominously about how national law enforcement spied on civil rights organizations and antiwar protest groups. The approach undermined legitimate and peaceful dissident groups and put a chill on political free speech. Liberals bemoan the treatment of groups like the Black Panthers and the KKK, even if they dislike what these groups stood for. Recall that to undermine the Klan in Mississippi, the FBI went so far as to use Mafia members to scare or beat confessions out of Klansmen; by all accounts, the sting operation that wounded Tommy Tarrants was ultimately meant to kill him (and did kill Kathy Ainsworth)—with no arrest or trial needed. When it came to the Black Panthers, the record indicates that the FBI either actively facilitated violence or, at best, passively allowed it to take the lives of several leading members, such as Fred Hampton.
But for those who feel that the ends justify the means, there is little doubt that the no-holds-barred approach by federal law enforcement, however distasteful, undermined violent and radical groups. By the early 1970s, many of the top members of these groups were in prison. Robert DePugh, who for years had deferred the most violent Minutemen activity in favor of a massive attack in the future, was in federal prison when the race riots of the late 1960s presented the best opportunity to put his strike teams into coordinated action. Sam Bowers was finally convicted for his role in the Neshoba murders in 1967, and by 1969 he found himself in prison, in part due to testimony from a deep-cover informant. On the other side, H. Rap Brown—who had an anti-riot act named after him in 1968—faced ongoing arrests and trials from 1967 onward. Black Panther leader Huey Newton served time for manslaughter charges (which were eventually dropped) from 1968 to 1970.
Those known militants not in prisons were under constant surveillance by local police and often by federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI. For this very reason, Bowers resorted to using Tarrants and Ainsworth in his White Knights campaign against Jewish targets in Mississippi. FBI biannual summary reports from the 1960s include weekly synopses detailing the activities of almost every key white supremacist in every major white supremacist group. Much of this inside information was collected by informants. It now appears very likely that the man who took over as Grand Wizard for the WKKKKOM when Bowers went to prison, L.E. Matthews, worked for the FBI. One of the most visible Klansmen in North Carolina, George Dorsett, was on the FBI payroll.4 At the peak of the COINTELPRO White program, “the Bureau had over 2,000 Klan members on its payroll, recruiting them at the average rate of two per day.”5 The number of informants turned against the Black Panthers dwarfed even this total: the FBI had more than seven thousand informants inside the Black Panther Party as of 1971.6 In addition to conventional surveillance and inside informants, wiretaps provided extensive information on white supremacist groups. If the wiretap surveillance on Stoner’s law office extended through the 1970s, it would mean that the FBI likely had inside information on a vast array of KKK activities across the nation, as Stoner represented dozens of racists across the country as a legal advisor.
The combination of dirty tricks, electronic and human surveillance, informant activity, and strong-arm tactics debilitated white supremacist groups and greatly limited their freedom of movement until congressional investigations of the COINTELPRO program scandalized the FBI, forcing the operation to close in 1976. Among other things, Congress reported on “black bag jobs”—illegal wiretapping operations as well as warrantless burglaries of offices. The FBI also pursued legal, although questionable, tactics, often deliberately creating schisms within targeted organizations, such as the KKK, using informants to spread rumors of financial mismanagement among rank-and-file members. Under the weight of such government operations, memberships dwindled and the remaining activists shifted allegiance to different leaders or formed separate groups with different agendas.
By the early 1970s, Christian Identity radicals found themselves at a crossroads. Without the large base of influence that came from southern resistance to integration, without the pretext of widespread civil disorder, without friendly treatment from local law enforcement, they lost much of their unity. The 1970 death of Wesley Swift, their charismatic, ideological figurehead, further fractured their movement. In the decade that followed, more than one of Swift’s acolytes attempted to heal the divisions within the movement and to foster the kind of solidarity seen in the 1967–1968 lead-up to Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder, but to little or no avail. The aspiration for consolidation could not overcome the reality of fragmentation.
But fragmentation had its benefits. The social turmoil from the previous decade created a residue of conservative, white grievance that manifested itself in many different forms. On the less radical end of the spectrum, it helped fuel the growing neoconservative movement, starting with the campaigns of Richard Nixon, whose “southern strategy” exploited implicit racism under the guise of “law and order” and contributed to two general-election victories.
The latent prejudice also permeated more militant movements, including nativist, patriot, and anti-tax groups. In its decentralized form, Christian Identity theology adjusted itself to the contours of these movements like a medical adhesive and exploited them in much the same way it had coopted southern nationalism and anti-communism in the 1960s. It may have lost its focus, but Christian Identity grew in its raw influence and even shaped offshoot religions and pseudo-religions, some of which attempted (and failed) to distance themselves from two-seedline Christianity. At the same time, with so many different groups and organizations in play, the landscape of religious terrorism in the 1970s became a “laboratory of radicalism.” The internecine conflict within groups, and the rivalry between groups, became a proving ground that nurtured and developed some of the most important figures in white supremacist circles, men who would inspire acts of domestic terrorism for three decades.
Nothing illustrated these concurrent developments more than the Posse Comitatus. Named after an 1878 law that forbids federal military intervention in domestic policing, the group did not openly profess any religious imperatives, but it harnessed the resentments of America’s farmers in a militant direction with an appeal to extreme federalism. According to the group’s charter, no unit of government above the county level was legitimate. The group openly opposed federal income taxes, for instance. But for most of its existence, the group served as a front for Swift’s sometime aide and sometime rival, William Potter Gale, who helped found the organization in the 1970s. As described by hate-group expert Daniel Levitas:
The movement did not gain significant momentum until Gale was able to join his Christian Identity beliefs . . . with the growing anti-tax movement in the United States.
The first phase, when Gale developed all these theories about “citizens’ government” and the Posse Comitatus, was in the early to mid-1970s. In reality, Gale’s ideas were really nothing more than verbal flourishes used to disguise old-fashioned vigilantism.
The second phase started in the late 1970s, when Gale and his allies were able to take advantage of the agricultural crisis brewing in rural America and use it to disseminate Posse ideology throughout the farm belt.
The third phase was after the Posse really came into public view in 1983, with the killing of two federal marshals by [Posse adherent and tax protester] Gordon Kahl in North Dakota. After that, everybody knew the Posse was trouble with a capital T.7
If there was a level of deceit in the message of a group like the Posse Comitatus, it may have been due to the difficulty of developing a large base of members with a radical reinterpretation of Christianity that would strike most Americans as foreign and idiosyncratic. As in the 1960s, plenty of Americans might sympathize with some goals of a Swift or a Bowers—distrust of Jews, a desire for segregation, displeasure with the central government—but to combine all into one package under the umbrella of a new form of Christianity may have been one step too far. Getting someone to hate tax collectors is one thing; getting the same person to reject what she has been taught in Sunday school since early childhood is much more difficult.
It is not surprising that, in the absence of a dominant and far-reaching voice like Swift (who died in 1970), the Church of Jesus Christ–Christian ceased to be the central headquarters for Identity theology and teachings. The movement grew, instead, in small pockets throughout the country under the auspices of several independent ministers. By and large, these men developed Identity theology in a way that mitigated domestic terrorism—to a degree. As individual religious figures took up the mantle of spreading two-seedline ideology, some shifted the theology in a more passive direction. Passive should be carefully defined here; it does not mean that these new leaders became any less anti-Semitic or racist, or any less convinced that a race war was imminent. Rather, passive in this sense means that these leaders became less apt to encourage or engage in violence as a way of provoking that race war. The new Identity churches formed white separatist compounds or communities and stockpiled weapons, but they waited for God to initiate the end-times.
Three people in particular reflect this trend. Starting in the mid-1970s, Dan Gayman of the Church of Israel, situated in southwestern Missouri, became one of the most influential spokespeople for this separatist strain of Identity teaching. In 1972 Nord Davis created a similar Identity community in Topton, North Carolina, eventually calling his group Northpoint Tactical Teams. At present, his compound includes “a farmhouse, numerous outbuildings, an underground bunker and fortifications made of granite, placed as a shield against invading government agents.”8 In 1973 the Reverend Robert G. Millar created an Identity commune with “slightly less than one hundred true believers . . . on a 400-acre tract”9 in Oklahoma near the border with Arkansas. He called it Elohim City.
But for all their isolation, these men and their groups became indirectly entwined with religious terrorism as the decades proceeded. Gayman’s and Davis’s teachings helped nurture a young Eric Rudolph, who in the mid- to late 1990s bombed abortion clinics and, most famously, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Both Millar and Gayman maintained ongoing associations with militant Identity radicals, and both men’s teachings helped inspire at least one separatist hamlet, Zarephath-Horeb in Arkansas, to radicalize into what became an extremist, terrorist camp.
In the mid-1970s, Jim Ellison, a Christian preacher, set up the Zarephath-Horeb Community Church as a refuge for disaffected drug addicts and individuals who had been victimized by other religious cults. Described by one observer as a “cross between John the Baptist and James Dean,”10 the charismatic Ellison loved to welcome new members. According to follower Kerry Noble, Ellison would always cite a favorite passage of scripture: “David therefore departed and escaped to the cave Adullam. . . . And everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and everyone that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them, and there were with him about four hundred men.” But Noble, now a recovering extremist, realizes that this was all a ploy. In his memoir, Tabernacle of Hate: Seduction into Right-Wing Extremism, Noble explains, “Although I didn’t realize it at the time, here [in the passage of scripture quoted by Ellison] was the first ingredient necessary for creating an extremist: a philosophical or theological premise, based upon discontent, fear, unbelief, hate, despair, or some other negative emotion. . . . A [potential radical’s] view of the present and future had to be dark and bleak.” Noble explains, “Ellison . . . knew that people who had used drugs and who had previously been in cults were basically discontented with society and the kind of people he wanted, who would be easier to mold than regular church people. . . . People often join groups like this because they are . . . alienated from society . . . to find a community—sense of belonging.”11
Too many of Ellison’s cult either never came to this realization or, like Noble, came to it too late. In a four-year span, the church “underwent a frightening metamorphosis from pacifist to survivalist to paramilitarist to terrorist.”12Gayman’s teachings, reinforced by those of Millar, who developed a close personal relationship with Ellison (Ellison later married Millar’s daughter), shaped the development of this radical evolution. Ellison became, in one FBI agent’s estimation, “the General Patton of the Christian Identity Movement.” His soldiers were onetime disaffected souls whom Ellison molded into militant extremists. While a follower, Noble became the propaganda minister for what Ellison would relabel the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA). Members within the CSA became violent terrorists in the 1980s, as will be described later in the book.
James Warner may have lacked Jim Ellison’s public charisma, but he also had deep roots in the Christian Identity movement, becoming an influential figure in white supremacist circles during this transitional period in the 1970s. Warner originally belonged to George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party. But he famously not only abandoned that group but also stole its membership roster and provided it to his new cause, the National States Rights Party. Nurtured by the likes of Stoner and Fields, and heavily influenced by Swift, Warner may not have had the strong personality of his mentors. But what he lacked in oratory he made up for in his skill at written communication. In 1971 Warner built his own Christian Identity organization, the New Christian Crusade Church, headquartered in Louisiana. It was there that Warner, an avid writer and pamphleteer, formed a partnership with a highly charismatic radical David Duke. By the 1980s, Duke had parlayed his good looks and down-home charm into a mainstream appeal rarely seen in white supremacist circles. Duke felt comfortable enough to run in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries, and he won a seat in the Louisiana State Legislature not long after. Distancing himself from his extremist past, he then made a surprisingly, and to many alarmingly, strong bid to become Louisiana’s governor in 1991. Republican activist Elizabeth (Beth) Rickey soon put the lie to Duke’s public proclamations that he—and his KKK group—were more “pro-white” than anti-black and anti-Jewish by exposing Did Six Million Really Die?, a little-known and blatantly anti-Semitic book written by Duke.
But media coverage rarely went far enough to connect this prominent racist with his Identity influences. Rickey described ongoing interactions she had with Duke when he tried to charm her into tempering her coverage of his racist background. But for all his charisma, Duke could not avoid showing his true colors. As Rickey relates,
From the start . . . it was always Jews. Blacks were not interesting to him. He was always upset about something, about a new conspiracy theory: World War I, World War II, the civil rights movement, bombings—he linked it all to the Jews. . . . [At one point] he propped up Six Million on the table and pointed out passages from the Talmud that he claimed proved the Satanic qualities of Jewish people.13
Duke’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK) became an important breeding ground for future white supremacists, many of whom cut their teeth in the organization while absorbing Christian Identity ideology. Three notable examples are Tom Metzger, Dennis Mahon, and Louis Beam.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in his late twenties, after serving in the U.S. Army, Metzger became active in anti-communist organizations. He migrated from the John Birch Society to the Minutemen, temporarily formed his own organization in the early 1970s (the White Brotherhood), and eventually joined David Duke’s KKK outfit. Metzger worked his way through the ranks of the Klan, and Duke appointed the Los Angeles transplant (Metzger is from Indiana) Grand Dragon of the California chapter of the KKKK.14 In Duke’s organization, Metzger embraced Christian Identity theology, becoming an ordained minister in 1979. At the same time, he began to develop a national platform, spearheading the Mexican Border Watch, an initiative aimed at stemming illegal immigration. According to Michael Zatarain, a Duke biographer,
The idea was to create a “civilian patrol along the U.S.–Mexican border . . . extending from Brownsville, Texas, to the Pacific Ocean. Klansmen would drive the route in caravans from dusk to dawn. Six Klan “spotters” would work together, with about one-quarter mile between vehicles. Klan members were instructed to report immediately to immigration officials any suspicious-looking people they might find.15
As they had with farmers’ discontent through the Posse Comitatus, Christian Identity sycophants commandeered nativism to their cause, appealing to a larger audience than they could have acquired if they had made their religious aspirations and ideas more obvious. But Metzger outgrew Duke’s KKKK (and, he says now, Christian Identity), separating to form his own branch of the Klan in California. He eventually left the Klan altogether to start the White Aryan Resistance (WAR) in 1984. As will be detailed later, Metzger, through WAR, became a significant instigator for white supremacist violence. Even today he is regarded as “one of the most notorious living white supremacists in the United States.”16
If Metzger has a rival for that title, Dennis Mahon is a good candidate. Mahon joined Duke’s group with his twin brother, Daniel, in the mid-1970s. Illinois farm boys, they rose through the ranks of the KKK until 1988, when Dennis formed his own group, the Missouri White Knights. He also became an important aide to Metzger with WAR. Mahon did not receive any official ordination in the Christian Identity movement, but his connections to the movement were to remain strong. He maintained a trailer at Millar’s Identity compound, Elohim City. That association will become important in the upcoming discussion of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. In 2009 federal prosecutors convicted both Mahon brothers for their role in a 2004 mail bombing of a post office in Arizona that injured three people.
Louis Beam, another Christian Identity adherent, left the United Klans of America to join Duke’s KKKK in 1976. A Texan and veteran of the Vietnam War, Beam became the group’s chief strategist and trainer on issues of guerrilla warfare. Beam’s writings on leaderless resistance, in which autonomous, decentralized cells of militants work independently to perform acts of terrorism, became very important as supremacist terrorism evolved in the 1980s and 1990s. But Beam, together with Warner, also influenced Odinism, a new religious movement that combined Norse mythology with Christian symbolism. Based on Viking gods and religious folklore, Odinism found a natural fit with modern white supremacists, just as it had with German Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. Dennis Mahon, among others, began to shift his religious affiliation to Odinism in the 1980s. Rooted in an ancient European warrior ethic, and embracing the cultural anthropology of Aryanism, radical Odinism honored concepts similar to those of Christian Identity. Social scientist Timothy Miller asserts: “Militant racist Odinists advocate racial cleansing, believing that the manifest destiny of Aryans is to become victorious over the ‘lower’ races and eradicating them from the face of the Earth.” Odinists called their end-times “Ragnarok . . . a final war that will culminate in the restoration of Aryans to power and produce a new Golden Age.”17
In an odd replay of history, Odinism in the twentieth century seemed to parallel the evolution of its pagan progenitors before the first millennium. When the earliest Christians sought to convert pagans, including Teutonic tribes, to their growing flock, they often found willing proselytes, in part because the converts simply incorporated Christian beliefs, practices, and symbols into their preexisting belief systems. Jesus became simply another major deity, and saints became lesser gods in a process that cultural anthropologists call syncretism. But in the late twentieth century, when it came to militant Odinism, this process seemed to work in reverse. As paganism enjoyed a minor resurgence in the late twentieth century, some white supremacists were attracted to variations of Odinism that were heavily influenced by former Christian Identity sycophants like Louis Beam.
In fact, the ubiquitous presence and influence of radical Christianity within the upper echelons of America’s hate groups in the 1960s meant that its theology exercised enormous influence on later belief systems, even when later groups openly ridiculed or distanced themselves from Christian Identity theology. In the early 1970s, two new religious movements, both with origins in the recalibration of right-wing extremism and both with legacies of rationalizing violence for decades thereafter, explicitly condemned Swift’s theology but produced alternative belief systems that are indistinguishable from CI. These were Cosmotheism and the Church of the Creator (which came to be called the Creativity movement).
Cosmotheism—the idea that “cosmic order is God”—was the brainchild of one of the most important and influential figures in the history of domestic terrorism in the United States. At the time he founded the church, William Luther Pierce was a middle-aged physicist with an extensive background in white supremacy. Raised in Atlanta on the values of segregation, Pierce’s earliest experiences were with groups like the American Nazi Party in the 1960s. Later he joined Willis Carto, a leading public anti-Semite, in presidential politicking. The two converted the Youth for Wallace group—a sort of Young Republicans for racist Alabama governor George Wallace’s 1968 third-party presidential campaign—into the National Youth Alliance. But Carto accused Pierce of double-dealing, and the two parted ways in the early 1970s, at which point Pierce, with sole control, converted the National Youth Alliance into the National Alliance. Pierce, who was also associated with the National State Rights Party, rejected the supernatural elements of Christian Identity but created Cosmotheism as a way to provide spiritual direction and solidarity for his membership. Pierce repurposed Cosmotheism in much the same way that Identity theologians coopted Christianity.
The idea that the laws of nature are manifestations of a higher power has a long tradition. Cosmotheism is more or less Deism for racists, and it likely appealed to Pierce in the same way that Deism appealed to Benjamin Franklin, also a scientist. The religion allows for spirituality without the concept of supernatural intervention in the secular world. In Pierce’s formulation, a higher power designed the universe, with laws and a purpose, and then got out of the way, letting the laws guide human outcomes. For Pierce, the purpose was a racially pure world. Pierce often ridiculed Identity theology, but he spent his life working with groups and individuals who were influenced by its tenets. As many scholars have observed, Cosmotheism and CI bear a striking resemblance, making it impossible to ignore the influence of Identity ideology on Pierce.18 For instance, in his essay “What Is the National Alliance,” Pierce asserted, “After the sickness of ‘multiculturalism,’ which is destroying America, Britain, and every other Aryan nation in which it is being promoted, has been swept away, we must again have a racially clean area of the earth for the further development of our people. . . . We will not be deterred by the difficulty or temporary unpleasantness involved, because we realize that it is absolutely necessary for our racial survival.”19 The “temporary unpleasantness” was a euphemism for a race war.
The FBI recognized Pierce’s leadership potential before he assumed an influential role within the white supremacist movement. It recognized Pierce’s talent for writing political propaganda as early as 1966. As will become clear later, much misery and violence owes itself to Pierce eventually realizing his potential.
Much like Pierce, Ukrainian-born Ben Klassen understood the power of the written word to inspire movements. Having immigrated to North America at a young age, Klassen, like Pierce, eventually became active in the presidential campaign of George Wallace. Like Pierce, he found his voice in the fragmentation and proliferation of white supremacist groups of the 1970s. In 1973 Klassen wrote The White Man’s Bible and began a movement. The Church of the Creator (COTC), or Creativity movement, continued to influence white supremacist terrorists as late as the 1990s. “Our Avowed Purpose,” Klassen asserted in his influential text, is to “again revive the healthy instincts with which Nature endowed even the White Race and to bring it back to sanity so that our people will not only recognize their enemies, but also learn to exercise their instinctive urge to overcome them.” Those enemies, Klassen insisted, were “number one, the International Jew, the whole Jewish network, the Jew as an individual. Number two is the mass of colored races, whom we shall designate simply as the mud races.”20 However similar these ideas are to Christian Identity theology, Klassen drew key distinctions. Notably, he called Christianity itself a harmful myth. He not only doubted that Anglo-Saxons had descended from one of the lost ten tribes of Israel but also questioned whether the ten tribes had ever existed. If Pierce’s religious ideas represented a new take on Deism, then Klassen’s philosophy, observed religious scholar Mattias Gardell, added a quasi-spiritual dimension to social Darwinism. In another book, published the same year as the White Man’s Bible, Klassen spoke to “Nature’s eternal law,” whereby the white man has naturally evolved into “a realized Nietzschean superman.”21
Despite a public fallout between Klassen and the followers of Christian Identity, it is hard to ignore how much CI influenced the COTC, especially when it came to Klassen’s vision for the future. Like Swift’s followers before him, Klassen set up a military-style training camp. On land in Otto, North Carolina, Klassen’s trainees prepared “for total war against the Jews and the rest of the goddamned mud races of the world—politically, militantly, financially, morally and religiously. In fact, we regard it as the heart of our religious creed, and as the most sacred credo of all. We regard it as a holy war to the finish—a racial holy war. Rahowa! is INEVITABLE.”22 Klassen, not a member of Christian Identity, coined the term racial holy war, and the abbreviation rahowa remains a popular tattoo among white supremacists across the nation.
If the national landscape of white supremacist groups appears to be a panoply of new and idiosyncratic organizations, loosely and independently shaped by the influence of Christian Identity, this was not the objective of all racialist extremists. Some resisted the trend toward fragmentation.
The Reverend Robert E. Miles, a Christian Identity pastor from Michigan, described by scholars as an “elder statesmen” of the movement, attempted to consolidate the trend toward greater cooperation and collaboration among CI-connected hate groups that had begun in the mid-1960s. Calling his movement Unity Now, Miles attempted, in 1970, to unite disparate antigovernment and anti-Jewish groups to attack the establishment. As a gathering of Unity Now in 1973 demonstrated, almost all its key members were racists or Christian Identity zealots. An awards ceremony held at the gathering speaks to the extent to which Identity theology had thoroughly penetrated the ranks of American extremist organizations. Pastor Roy Frankhouser won the Valor Under Fire award; Minister James Freed won the Defense of Christian Law honor; Renato Verani, an American Legion commander, won the Christian Militancy award; CI pastor George Kindred won the Resistance to Taxation prize; and Miles himself took home the honor for White Christian Brotherhood. The groups represented at the conference included the United Klans of America as well as the Western Guard of Canada. The benediction was given by James Forster, a pastor from the Ministry of Christ Church, which was essentially a seminary for Identity preachers. But a heavy concentration of attendees and award winners came from Miles’s own state of Michigan, and Unity Now never gained widespread momentum. In 1971 Miles was arrested. He soon went to prison, convicted of firebombing ten empty school buses and of tarring and feathering a school principal in protest of government-imposed integration programs in his home state.23 Miles aligned himself closely with Frankhouser, but as it turned out, by 1973 the former eastern regional head of the Minutemen was a paid informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The most enduring effort to unify white supremacist groups relates, not surprisingly, to Wesley Swift. When Swift died in 1972, he left the legacy of the Church of Jesus Christ–Christian to an understudy, Richard Butler, an engineer for Lockheed-Martin. Butler moved the CJCC to Hayden Lake, Idaho, where it became the church for his new group, the Aryan Nations, an organization that welcomed neo-Nazi and KKK factions under one umbrella. In 1979 Butler hosted the Pacific Kingdom Identity Conference, “a springboard for his attempts to align such fairly diverse groups as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, Posse Comitatus, and others during the 1980s.”24 By the 1990s, Butler’s hate group had become one of the nation’s largest and best known, building a base of young, disaffected skinheads using a strategy similar to Jim Ellison’s.
But divisions and rivalries continued to make it difficult to unite disparate groups behind some kind of collective action. The Associated Press reported that the Klan in 1979 was a “hodge podge of factions, names and philosophies.”25 In one example, Bill Wilkinson, a key member of David Duke’s KKK outfit, split from his mentor’s hate group to form his own KKK organization, poaching hundreds of members from Duke’s group in the process. Duke ridiculed Wilkinson’s group as “illiterate, gun-toting, rednecks.” “We’re not just a bunch of fools running around in bed sheets,” Duke claimed.26
As it turned out, Wilkinson had been an FBI informant since 1974. When this fact was exposed in 1981, Wilkinson went into hiding, possibly through the Federal Witness Protection Program. It is difficult to tell if Wilkinson was simply a source of information on the Klan or if he formed his new organization at the government’s urging, as yet another attempt to divide and fragment the white supremacist community.27 For that reason, it is also difficult to say whether the FBI exposed itself to criminal complicity by associating with Wilkinson and his group.
Allegations that the FBI went beyond surveillance and infiltration, graduating to provocation, began to surface in congressional investigations at this time. One of the most controversial charges involved an offshoot of the Minutemen known as the Secret Army Organization (SAO). With DePugh in federal prison since 1968, the Minutemen splintered and dissolved. But in 1970, a handful of onetime Minutemen decided to reverse course, convinced that government infiltrators, rather than a lack of leadership and organization, lay at fault for the Minutemen’s demise. They believed that, if purged of informants, the SAO could continue the fight against “the communists” controlling the American government and against New Left radicals outside of government. With a new and smaller organization, they hoped to avoid infiltration by federal law enforcement. As it turns out, one of SAO’s founding members, Howard Godfrey, provided information on the group’s activities to the FBI from the start.
Godfrey represented a rare type of informant, someone like the controversial Gary Rowe, who during the 1960s had infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama at the FBI’s behest. Described by the Los Angeles Times as an “unimposing ex-San Diego city fireman,” the thirty-two-year-old Godfrey told the press that he had assisted the SAO while it “conducted a reign of terror against the left in a series of attacks including bombings, burglaries and harassment.”28 He confessed that the group had plotted “the assassination of President Nixon and several controversial leftists,” stolen “membership files and lists from leftist organizations,” and shot “into the home of a Marxist college professor, wounding a woman guest.” For five years, using the false identity Captain Mike McGann, Godfrey reported on right-wing activities. He rose from a mere recruit in 1967 to head of the San Diego branch of the Minutemen to cofounder of the SAO.
As noted earlier, infiltrators like Godfrey and Rowe present conflicts of interest to their official handlers in law enforcement because they often must prove their worth to fellow radicals by engaging in criminal activity. Recall that Rowe even became an accessory to a murder in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 while on the federal payroll. The government, to this day, routinely offers waivers to informants who perpetrate crimes in the “call of duty.” But with Godfrey, federal law enforcement went way beyond looking the other way while ultra-right-wing militants engaged in violent criminal activity.
When the press uncovered Godfrey’s activities, he revealed that he had told his FBI handler about all SAO criminal operations, sometimes in advance of a crime. “We used to meet a couple of times a week, in parking lots throughout the city, behind stores, anywhere that happened to be handy. We would grab a few minutes and talk,” he told the Los Angeles Times. What’s more, the FBI supplied Godfrey with a substantial amount of money for weapons—$20,000—to help cover 75 percent of the SAO’s operating expenses.29 It appeared to some, especially in the New Left, that in supporting Godfrey, the FBI was more or less subsidizing the group’s activities. The ACLU insisted to Congress that the SAO was set up “on instructions of FBI officials” to “serve as agents provocateurs, inciting disorders as a means of exposing ‘domestic radicals,’ particularly campus leaders of the New Left protesting the war in Southeast Asia.”30
The FBI, for its part, maintained that it simply offered Godfrey passive approval—that it did not encourage any criminal activity. Yet there is no doubt that after Godfrey and a colleague fired shots into the home of Professor Peter Bohm, injuring Paula Tharp, Godfrey’s FBI handler took the informant’s weapon and hid it from the San Diego police for six months. The extent to which the FBI promoted the activity of the SAO remains a point of contention to the present day. For instance, in 2013 the Department of Homeland Security updated its database of historic terrorist activity to note that the SAO “was possibly funded by the FBI.”31
By 1976 such FBI operations (as well as illegal wiretapping and “black bag jobs”) had been exposed by Congress, leading the FBI to end COINTELPRO. But as the Wilkinson story shows, the established FBI informant network inside KKK groups had become so vast that it may have been impossible to reel it back in. The kind of conflicts described in previous chapters, whereby the FBI was forced to balance the need to protect sources and methods with the need to prevent criminal activity, persisted. This dilemma applied not only to the FBI but also to local law enforcement agencies, which increasingly began to infiltrate white hate groups.
This situation became apparent after an investigation of one of the most shocking acts of KKK violence in the 1970s. On November 3, 1979, members of the Greensboro, North Carolina, Ku Klux Klan opened fire on an anti-Klan protest march staged by the local Communist Workers Party (CWP). Five members of the CWP, which had been trying to organize black factory workers in the area, were killed. Tensions between the two groups had escalated in the previous weeks, with each side openly provoking the other and more than hinting at violence. The name of the CWP rally was Death to the Klan. But film footage of the shooting demonstrates that the KKK, with the help of the American Nazi Party, fired the first salvos on November 3. As many as forty of the sixty to eighty extremists who joined the counter-protest fired on the leftists, some of whom were also armed and returned fire. Police arrested fourteen Klansmen, many associated with Grand Wizard Virgil Lee Griffin’s Confederation of Independent Orders of Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, for the murders. But in a decision reminiscent of injustices of the past, an all-white jury acquitted the men.32
Years later, new investigations into the crime—including a truth and reconciliation commission modeled on the body that investigated Apartheid-related atrocities in South Africa—uncovered disturbing information. The local police, whose investigative interests extended both to the communists and to the Klan, had employed an informant inside the KKK who, according to several witnesses, encouraged the KKK members to bring weapons to the event. The same man, who worked as a federal informant as well, appears to have warned both the FBI and the local police about the potential for violence, but nothing was done.33
One participant in the Greensboro massacre, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., symbolized many of the developing trends in the white supremacy movement. A Vietnam veteran, Miller was loosely associated with Virgil Lee Griffin’s KKK group, which in turn was an offshoot of Bill Wilkinson’s KKK group, which in turn was an offshoot of David Duke’s KKK group. No one knows if Miller fired a shot on November 3, but he later split with Griffin to form his own KKK chapter, the Carolina Knights of the KKK, and then an antigovernment group, the White Patriots Party. At some point in the early 1980s, he became an Odinist, but he continued to associate with Christian Identity extremists who were swayed to terrorism by the writings of William Pierce. Miller later turned FBI informant and helped law enforcement develop charges against Louis Beam, among others, in a 1987 federal sedition trial. The conviction never materialized, and despite his cooperation with federal authorities, Miller’s hatred for Jews and blacks did not abide.34
In prison Beam elaborated on his theories on leaderless resistance, adding the idea of “lone wolves” who would “act when they feel the time is ripe, or [would] take their cues from others who precede[d] them.” On April 13, 2014, in an ironic and tragic manifestation of Beam’s strategy, the seventy-four-year old Miller opened fire at a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement home in Kansas. When arrested, Miller believed that he had killed three Jews and repeatedly said “Heil Hitler” to police officers. In reality, all three victims were Christians.35
Miller had first become attracted to white supremacy when he returned from Vietnam and read a copy of The Thunderbolt. He joined the National States Rights Party in 1973. He left the group, he claims, because it was “made up mostly of elderly people who were not that active.”36 For the most part, Miller’s observation rings true. By the early 1970s, the NSRP included, according to one estimate, as few as seventy to eighty-five active members. Neuman Britton was literally the only member of the Arkansas NSRP, and despite the best efforts of people like Danny Joe Hawkins, the group could never even establish a chapter in the white supremacist stronghold of Mississippi. What public attention the NSRP could draw had come from J.B. Stoner’s campaigns for public office in Georgia—all of which eventually failed, although he did garner seventy-three thousand votes in his 1974 campaign for lieutenant governor.
Increasingly, the NSRP became more open, in its literature, about its religious motivations. Stoner’s campaign fliers included biblical citations that would have been very familiar to Identity believers, such as Revelations 2:9 (referring to the “synagogue of Satan”). In the past, one could find evidence of Identity theology in books advertised in The Thunderbolt, such as Still ’Tis Our Ancient Foe, a 1964 work by Identity minister and Minuteman Kenneth Goff that exposed the phony “Jewish religion.”37 But direct references to religion were rare (although still present) in the text of the periodical itself. In contrast the July 1974 edition of The Thunderbolt included an article entitled “The Basic Identity Message.” Written by Thomas O’Brien, one-time Kilgrapp (secretary) for James Venable’s National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and former editor of the NKKKK’s periodical The Nighthawk, the article asserted that “the Jews are not the Hebrews of the Bible, they are not the tribes of Israel and Christ was not a Jew. They are the mongrelized descendants of Satan through Cain.”38 Editions of The Thunderbolt in 1974 also included a guest article by one of the founding Identity theologians, Bertrand Comparet, and an advertisement for James Warner’s New Christian Crusade Church. But this did nothing to boost core membership.39
The NSRP did make strides in other directions. Stoner made visits to European countries as part of an outreach to the growing number of right-wing organizations in places like England and Germany. By 1980 Stoner enjoyed an impressive array of contacts with European white supremacist groups. In fact, on October 13, 1980, Stoner held a multinational conference for racists in Cobb County, Georgia. The following day, in nearby Atlanta, an explosion rocked the Gate-City Bowen Homes Day Care Center. Did J.B. Stoner have one more card to play in his effort to stoke a holy race war?