America's Secret Jihad: The Hidden History of Religious Terrorism in the United States(2015)
ZEALOUS FOR HONOR
LONE-WOLF TERRORISM through the NEW MILLENNIUM
America in the 1990s saw an alarming amount of racist and anti-Jewish violence, rivaling the horrors of the 1960s. The year 1999 stood out for the number of high-profile attacks. The Associated Press reported on June 19, 1999: “Arsonists Set Three Synagogues on Fire in Sacramento Area.”
The fires, that the Associated Press said were set by arsonists within minutes of each other, “caused moderate damage to two synagogues and gutted a third temple’s library.” Months later, two brothers, twenty-nine-year-old James Tyler Williams and thirty-one-year old Benjamin Williams, pled guilty to charges of “conspiracy, arson and destruction of religious property.”1
They were also charged with firebombing of an abortion clinic. In a separate trial, a jury found the two brothers guilty of murdering a gay couple, Winfield Mowder and Gary Matson, in northern California on July 1, 1999. Both brothers, raised in a devout, fundamentalist Christian household, had become enamored with Christian Identity theology as teenagers. Of the arson, which caused $3 million in damages, Ben Williams said, “I kind of regretted they didn’t burn to the ground.” Of the murder, he asserted, “I am not guilty of murder. I’m guilty of obeying the laws of the Creator.” Hoping for a death sentence that he ultimately did not receive, he hoped he would become a “Christian martyr,” according to the AP, and “encourage others to kill homosexuals, Jews and other minorities.”2
Days after the Matson and Mowder murder, white supremacist violence struck America’s heartland. The AP reported, “Gunman on Spree Kills 2nd Victim: White Supremacist Terrorizes Midwest.”
During that Independence Day weekend, Benjamin Smith, a twenty-one-year-old “ex-member of a white supremacist church” traveled through Chicago and Indiana, engaging in a series of “drive-by shootings, targeting his .380 semiautomatic and .22 caliber handgun at Asians, Orthodox Jews, and blacks. A dozen people were injured and three killed—including Smith, who pointed a gun under his chin during a chase by police.”3 Smith left no note or explanation for his actions. But he belonged to the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC), the social-Darwinian, pantheistic theology started by Ben Klassen in the 1970s, which argued that a race war—and the triumph of the white race—was the preordained and inevitable destiny of mankind.
“In Wake of Shooting, a Frantic Search Ensues,” wrote the Associated Press on August 11, 1999. One day before, Buford Oneal Furrow had “strode into” the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles “and wordlessly started pulling the trigger,” firing “more than 70 bullets from an assault-style gun before slipping away and vanishing in metropolitan Los Angeles.” Isabelle Shalometh, a receptionist, “dove behind the counter as bullets shredded a stack of papers on a desk, grazed her back and arm and hammered into the walls… . In seconds, a setting of swimming lessons, art classes and summer fun turned into a scene filled with random horror.”4 Furrow wounded five people at the center, including a five-year-old boy, who sustained bullet wounds to his abdomen and leg and required six hours of surgery. An hour later, on the lam, Furrow killed a postal worker, Joseph Ileto. Furrow later said that he saw Ileto, whom he shot nine times, as “a target of opportunity,” in part because Ileto worked for the federal government but also because Furrow thought the Filipino mail carrier was Hispanic.
When he turned himself in to authorities on August 12, Furrow, who had once worked at the Aryan Nations compound in Idaho, assumed that he had killed far more people. “You are looking for me” he matter-of-factly told police in Las Vegas. “I killed the kids in Los Angeles.” Like Ben Williams, he wanted his attack on the Jewish community center “to be a wake-up call to America to kill Jews” according to an FBI source who spoke anonymously to the AP.5
The series of attacks in the summer of 1999 worried Jews and minority groups across the nation. On September 6, 1999, the New York Times printed the headline, “Synagogues, Responding to Violence, Add Security as High Holy Days Near.” The article began, “After a year of high-profile anti-Semitic violence … Jewish groups in the New York metropolitan region are planning increased security for services during the approaching High Holy Days.”
The groups, which the Times described as paying for “extra police patrols, private security guards and new alarms and surveillance cameras,” were prescient. Within just a few days of the Times article, “the tires of three cars parked at the South Huntington (L.I.) Jewish Center were slashed while their owners attended pre-High Holy Day services Saturday night, and a few hours later in Centereach, L.I., other vandals scrawled swastikas and anti-Semitic and anti-black epithets on a public school.” Given the concentration of these transgressions in Suffolk County, New York, many questioned whether the vandalism was connected to an August 15, 1999, arson fire at the business office of Temple Beth Chai in Hauppauge, New York. That crime has never been solved.
The anti-Jewish and racist attacks did not abate as the new millennium approached.
On November 30, 1999, an eight-liter bottle filled with concrete smashed against a window of Temple Emanu-El in Reno, Nevada’s oldest Jewish house of worship. Carl DeAmicis, an “unemployed drifter from the Sacramento area,” then threw a Molotov cocktail at the front of the window, thinking it would breach damaged glass and ignite inside the synagogue. But the first projectile had only damaged, not shattered, the window; the firebomb “only scorched the sidewalk.” Despite his failed effort, DeAmicis, who joined three other men in the attack, still received his mark of honor from his fellow supremacists: a “4-inch-high swastika just above the right ear on DeAmicis’ shaved head. It was outlined in black and red in the middle.”6
Law enforcement investigators at first thought the Reno attack might be connected to the attacks in Sacramento. But the fact was that nothing connected the multiple racist and anti-Semitic attacks across the United States that started during the summer of 1999. In 1999 no group assumed the role the Confederate Underground had played in 1957-1958, linking synagogue fire bombings from region to region. There were no obvious puppet masters, no J.B. Stoners or Sam Bowers masterminding events. By 1999 Louis Beam’s vision of leaderless resistance seemed prophetic; it appeared as if individuals and very small groups were spontaneously engaging in violence, in aggregate sparking fear in the supposed “Zionist Occupied Government.”
In that sense, and in many other ways, the events of 1999 represented a culmination of the domestic, religious-based terrorism during the fifteen years that preceded the millennium and foreshadowed the fifteen years of domestic, religious-based terrorism that followed it. The developments followed federal raids against the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord and its close cousin, the Order, in the early to mid-1980s, and their effects could be seen as late as December 2014 in a Christian Identity shooting spree in Austin, Texas. From 1985 to 2014, with the far right more decentralized than ever, religious terrorism evolved in a number of significant ways: to target a wider range of “infidels,” as was the case with the Williams brothers’ offenses; to involve a more diverse set of racist theologies, as was the case with Ben Smith’s attack; to embrace lone-wolf terrorism not simply as a tactic but as religious imperative, as was the case with Buford Furrow; and to exploit an increasingly younger, more suburban, and more urban caste of radicals, as was the case with the arson attempt in Nevada. At the same time, federal and local law enforcement finally started to appreciate the nuances and challenges of dealing with religiously motivated terrorists. That they have yet to fully internalize those insights is reflected in their myopic approach to the events in Hauppauge.
The Williams brothers were true lone wolves—self-radicalized into Christian Identity without the mentorship of someone like CSA founder Jim Ellison. They lacked any of the connections to white supremacist leaders and organizations enjoyed by Robert Mathews and his close aides in the Order. Nor did the Williams brothers embrace the kind of paramilitary, survivalist lifestyle favored by these groups. They lived in and operated out of suburban areas, not in some isolated rural or mountain compound. But in other key ways, the groups led by Mathews and Ellison anticipated the activities of the Williams brothers. Like the Williams brothers, the Order had composed a hit list for assassinations. Significantly, Robert Mathews’s list included not only Jews like Alan Berg but also prominent homosexuals, a target largely ignored by hate groups in the 1960s and 1970s. But as homosexuals became increasingly open and accepted in American society, they became targets for white supremacists, especially Christian Identity adherents. As early as 1983, individuals from the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord had set fire to a gay-friendly church in Missouri. Christian Identity-influenced skinhead groups, of which much more will be said shortly, increasingly engaged in gay bashing throughout the 1990s. In murdering a gay couple in 1999, the Williams brothers took this trend even further.
Similarly, in targeting an abortion clinic, the brothers assailed another class of enemy increasingly popular among religious terrorists. For obvious reasons, attacks against abortion clinics were all but unknown prior 1973. Then the U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, forbade state legislatures from criminalizing the medical procedure. The first reports of anti-abortion arson date to 1976. Attacks inspired by religion tended to increase and track with the general increase in anti-abortion activism that grew to a crescendo in the early 1980s, fueled by the rise of the Moral Majority and the Christian right. The number of attacks reached its apex in 1984 with “eighteen bombings, six cases of arson, six cases of attempted bombing or arson, twenty-three death threats, and nearly seventy clinic invasions with acts of vandalism.”7 The group most associated with anti-abortion violence was the Army of God, led by minister Michael Bray. In his ethical defense of anti-abortion violence, called A Time to Kill, Bray argued, “We do not know the best strategy to resist the evil of ‘abortion.’ But we cannot condemn that forceful, even lethal, action which is applied for the purpose of saving innocent children.”8 Many mistake the Army of God for a Christian Identity group or offshoot—partly because both groups share an orthodox view of the Bible, honoring Old Testament practices that have been abandoned by even most fundamentalist Christians. But whereas both groups believe that human beings must help bring the secular world in line with God’s teachings to facilitate the end-times, the Army of God does not share the radical reinterpretation of the book of Genesis that is unique to Christian Identity and that shapes the character of its eschatology. In short, the Army of God does not share Christian Identity’s anti-Semitism and racism.
Part of the confusion over the connection between Christian Identity and the Army of God may stem from the actions of Eric Rudolph, infamous for bombing abortion clinics throughout the Southeast and for detonating explosives at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Rudolph grew up in Topton, North Carolina. His mother exposed him to Identity teachings from minister Nord Davis, who operated a nearby compound. He also spent part of his teenage years in Schell City, Missouri, where he was influenced by the teachings of Identity preacher Dan Gayman. As noted in Chapter 9, Davis and Gayman both became influential figures in contemporary Christian Identity circles. But while both advocated two-seedline theology, they did not push for the same kind of proactive violence advocated by predecessors like William Gale and Wesley Swift. Davis’s followers still stockpile weapons in preparation for Armageddon, but they are separatists who divorce themselves from America’s mixed-race society. Moreover, it is not clear that Christian Identity ideas even resonated with Rudolph in adulthood, and he specifically denied any affinity for them. Nor did Rudolph have any direct connection to the Army of God, although some suspect that the group provided Rudolph with aid and comfort for the five-year period (1998 to 2003) when he evaded law enforcement while ensconcing himself in the dense forests of Appalachia. Rudolph appears to be another lone wolf, but one who opposed abortion for different reasons than the Williams brothers. For Christian Identity zealots like the two brothers, opposition to abortion, and violence against abortion clinics, was rooted in the threat that widespread abortion supposedly posed to the future of the white race. For Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler, legal abortion was part of the “Jewish anti-Christ strategy” for “TOTAL ELIMINATION OF THE WHITE ARYAN NATIONS FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH.”9
In the 1990s, anti-abortion and anti-gay violence became part of the Phineas Priesthood, an offshoot of Christian Identity radicalism that many believe influenced Buford Furrow when he opened fire at the Jewish community center in Los Angeles. When police found Furrow’s abandoned van, it contained “ammunition, bulletproof vests, explosives and freeze-dried food” and two books: an Army Ranger handbook and War Cycles, Peace Cycles by Richard Kelly Hoskins. The latter work, by “unlocking the mysteries and hidden secrets of the Bible,” predicts an apocalyptic economic catastrophe inspired by Jewish usury and “explains the necessity for the assassination of national leaders.”10 Hoskins, a reclusive Virginia-born Korean War veteran, has authored a number of tracts that combine fundamentalist theology, anti-Semitism and racism, and economic history. His most famous work, Vigilantes of Christendom, published in 1990, has to rank alongside The Turner Diaries as one of the most influential books for white supremacist, religious terrorism. In it, Hoskins recounts the biblical story of Phineas, the nephew of Moses, as a model for the kind of God-sanctioned activity that Hoskins felt was necessary to combat the growing satanic Jewish conspiracy. The Bible describes an episode in the ongoing rivalry between Israel and the neighboring tribe of Moab in which Hebrew men “indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women” and begin to worship Moab’s pagan idols. The Hebrew God, infuriated with this behavior, punishes the Jewish people with a plague that ceases only when Phineas drives a spear through a Hebrew man and a Moabite woman.
Several aspects of this account are important to Hoskins. First, God’s anger is driven, according to Hoskins, not simply because the Hebrews strayed from God’s commandments but by the act of miscegenation between the chosen people and a heathen tribe. Phineas shares in that anger and acts on his own accord, according to Hoskins. Moreover, Phineas does not ask permission of Moses, his father (the priest Eleazar), or even God. Yet God celebrates the deed in Chapter 25 of the book of Numbers: “Phineas … has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal.” Finally, Hoskins finds it relevant that God ended the plague against the Jews but then immediately ordered Moses to war against the Moabites. Taking this material together and filtering it through the prism of Christian Identity theology, Hoskins argues that the modern, true Christian, as part of an ongoing holy war, must take it upon himself or herself to punish those who violate God’s law and who mix with other races. God honored Phineas “and his descendants” with a “covenant of a lasting priesthood,” and so some Christian Identity radicals, taking their cue from Hoskins, refer to themselves as members of the Phineas Priesthood. Hoskins wrote, “There are those who obey God’s Law and those who don’t. Those who obey are Lawful. Those who disobey are outlawed by God. God has specified the outlaw’s punishment. The Phineas Priests administer the judgment, and God rewards them with covenant of an everlasting priesthood.”11Jim Nesbitt of the Religious News Service wrote in 1999 that the Phineas Priesthood is “less an organization than a call to action and a badge of honor, followers of this blood-stained faith strive to live up to the example of Phineas.”12
The Vigilantes of Christendom became a clarion call for a generation of self-directed domestic terrorists, acting alone or in very small groups to victimize interracial and homosexual couples, abortion providers, and secular-liberal institutions as well as Jews and minorities. Hoskins, while celebrating the intentions and activities of those in the Order, warned against any set of Phineas priests becoming as relatively large and interconnected as Mathews’s group. He said that groups should avoid having more than six members. Would-be Phineas priests took heed.
In a case reminiscent of the Order, in one of the first known acts with Phineas dimensions, Walter Eliyah Thody joined others, whom he refused to identify, in a string of bank robberies in hopes of financing “an assassination squad dedicated to killing advocates of one-world government.” Described as “gangly [and] bespectacled … with the long, ragged beard of a prophet,” Thody explicitly claimed to be a Phineas priest. In a 1996 prison interview, Thody asserted, “We’re having to fight to keep our country. Killing is normally murder… . Theft is theft. But if you’re in warfare, then those same acts are acts of war. I’m at warfare against the enemies of my country.”13
Another major act of apparent Phineas terrorism occurred in 1996. Three men engaged in a months-long spree of violence in Spokane, Washington, detonating pipe bombs at an abortion clinic (which failed to kill the employees only because they were attending a conference in another building), a newspaper office, and a handful of banks, which the men had robbed beforehand. At each scene, the men left behind biblical literature signed with a symbol: “a black cross superimposed with the letter P … a symbol of members of the Phineas Priesthood.”14 Law enforcement arrested three men, Charles Barbee, Robert Berry, and Jay Merrell, all with connections to Christian Identity-based groups. The men never openly proclaimed their membership in the Phineas Priesthood, but that may have been for legal purposes, to deny the state motive-based evidence in their trial. Federal prosecutors could not prove, to the satisfaction of a jury (that deadlocked), that the men had directly participated in the robberies and bombings, so the government settled for convictions for conspiracy to commit such crimes, as well as “interstate transportation of stolen vehicles and possession of hand grenades.”
The Vigilantes of Christendom also heavily influenced the Aryan Republican Army, whose members held a copy of the book up for cameras in their videos, calling it a “handbook for revolution.” When a jury finally convicted Byron de la Beckwith for murdering Medgar Evers in 1994, Beckwith publicly claimed to have recently become a Phineas priest. Violent acts attributable to Phineas priests have occurred as recently as late November 2014, when Larry Steve McQuilliams, a forty-nine-year-old unemployed Texan with a criminal history, opened fire with “two long rifle guns” on the Mexican Consulate in Austin, Texas. Over one hundred rounds pierced the walls of the building, although no one was hurt. Police found the Vigilantes of Christendom in McQuilliams’s rented van, “along with a note and Bible verses indicating he planned on fighting ‘anti-God people.’” The Austin police chief observed of McQuilliams, a self-described “high priest” of Phineas, “Hate was in his heart. He is a homegrown American terrorist trying to terrorize our people.”15
Although high profile in nature, Phineas attacks remain relatively small in number. But that may be a function of the problems faced by students of terrorism in disentangling the multilayered influences that various hate groups and ideologies have on perpetrators. Beyond his connections to the Phineas Priesthood, Buford Furrow also once worked at the Aryan Nations compound in Idaho; he had married Debbie Mathews, widow of the founder of the Order, and thus may have been influenced by Odinism. McQuilliams harbored general anti-immigrant feelings associated with his lack of employment. Criminology professor Brian Levin of California State University-San Bernardino told the Religious News Service, “You can really craft your own philosophy from this extremist buffet. You don’t have to stay married to one philosophy or another—you can pick and choose. You see a lot of morphing out there.”16 The legal implications of admitting a connection to a well-known, violent philosophy (as seen in the Spokane case) encourage less-zealous terrorists to obscure or hide their agendas from the public (and prosecutors). Hence the actual examples of Phineas Priesthood terrorism could be more numerous than reported.
Other legal developments make it even harder to qualify and quantify acts of domestic, religious terrorism. These developments create incentives for leaders of Christian Identity (and similar) groups to obscure their connections to supposed lone-wolf terrorists. The connection between Furrow and Butler provides a suggestive case study. Butler definitely knew about Furrow, who once served as a security lieutenant at Butler’s Idaho compound. Butler, in turn, served as the master of ceremonies when Furrow married Debbie Mathews. He described Furrow to the New York Post as “a good learner, he was passionate about the cause… . He was very intelligent, very sincere and quiet.” In the same interview, Butler said Furrow was a “good soldier” and someone who “was very well-respected among” the denizens of Hayden Lake. Butler became coy, however, when pontificating on Furrow’s violent actions. “Sometimes you have to do these kinds of things for the cause,” he asserted at one point. “He is a frustrated male like all us members of the Aryan Nation—with the Jews and nonwhites.” But then the Swift mentee calibrated his comments: “I don’t know why he did what he did, but I cannot condemn what he did—nor do I condone it.”17
In the 1970s, Butler may not have been so circumspect in his support for an act of terrorism, but financial more than criminal concerns likely gave him pause in 1999. Starting in 1981, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), under the leadership of civil rights activist attorney Morris Dees, began to pursue civil actions against leaders of white supremacist groups who incited others to violence. The SPLC (and later the Anti-Defamation League) used this approach to great success against groups such as the New Order Knights, Ed Fields’s successor organization to the National States Rights Party, and Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance, of which more will be said later. These efforts virtually bankrupted both groups. In fact, in 1999 Butler faced an SPLC lawsuit stemming from an incident involving a mother and son, Victoria and Jason Keenan, who had driven through the Aryan Nations property in Hayden Lake, Idaho, on their way home from a wedding. As the SPLC describes it:
After Jason retrieved a wallet he had accidentally dropped out the car window, the two started toward home again. But something—a car backfire or fireworks—led the untrained, paranoid guards on the compound to think that they were under attack by their enemies. Within seconds, at least three neo-Nazi Aryans had leaped into a pickup truck and sped out after the Keenans, firing at them as they went and, after about two miles, shooting out a tire and forcing them into a ditch.18
One reading of Butler’s comments about Buford in his 1999 interview could be that the pastor was fearful that his words would become grist for the upcoming SPLC lawsuit. (The SPLC eventually won the Keenan lawsuit and forced Butler to relinquish the Aryan Nations compound and land to the Keenan family in September 2000.)
Another interpretation of Butler’s reticence could be that the Aryan Nations leader feared that any recent contact between him and Furrow could trigger an entirely new civil lawsuit. Butler may have feared that he would be accused of inciting Furrow to the 1999 community center shooting. In 1987 Butler and others had escaped criminal liability for sedition, in part because, even if they had discussed a government takeover in the presence of violent followers, it is difficult to separate political speech, however inflammatory, from an actual criminal conspiracy. But Morris Dees created a legal foundation, in civil court, to argue that white supremacist leaders bore monetary responsibility for instigating criminal activity. (No direct evidence shows Butler in contact with Furrow after Furrow left the Aryan Nations facility in the mid-1990s.)
A similar fear of a civil lawsuit almost certainly impacted Ben Smith’s preparations for his 1999 killing spree in the Midwest over Independence Day Weekend. For the months prior to his murder-suicide, Smith had belonged to the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC; at first called simply the Church of the Creator or the Creativity movement), the 1970s brainchild of Ben Klassen, author of The White Man’s Bible. Klassen had expressly rejected any kind of supernatural foundation for white supremacy while simultaneously predicting a holy race war, which he abbreviated as rahowa. Klassen continued to write racist and anti-Semitic treatises from his compound in the hills of North Carolina. But he committed suicide in 1993 after an SPLC lawsuit nearly bankrupted both him and his group. Another individual, a law student from Illinois named Matthew Hale, reinvigorated the World Church of the Creator in 1995. Hale, as the so-called Pontifex Maximus, or supreme leader, of the church, continued to distance the group from Christian Identity while offering a near-duplicate proscription for America’s supposed satanic Jewish problem.
Ben Smith not only joined the group; he became a devout member, distributing thousands of flyers on behalf of the WCOTC. Hale even named Smith “creator of the month” in August 1998. According to the SPLC, records show that Hale engaged in nearly thirteen hours of phone conversations with Smith in the three weeks leading up to the multistate murderous rampage, with twenty-eight minutes of conversation two days before the crime began. Yet for reasons he failed to explain or justify, Smith left a letter announcing that he had officially abandoned the church on the eve of the July killings. Many believe that Hale, privy to the upcoming violence but fearing another SPLC lawsuit, encouraged Smith to write the official letter, thereby releasing Hale and the WCOTC from civil liability for Smith’s crime spree. For his part, Hale offered a mixed review of Smith’s activities:
He was a selfless man who gave his life in the resistance to Jewish/ mud tyranny—a man who for whatever reason ultimately decided that violence was the way to strike back against the enemies of our people—enemies who had used violence against our people for centuries. He was loyal to the core and who always put the interests of his Race before his own… . That the Church does not condone his acts does not affect the reality that when a people is kicked around like a dog, someone might indeed be bitten… . Our Brother August Smith will continue to live on in all of us. His actions resulted in Creativity being brought to the attention of the world. Now it is up to us to utilize the attention Creativity has received and ride the wave of publicity which his actions either intentionally or unintentionally created for us. This is what he would have wanted, and what we must indeed do. RAHOWA!19
Throughout the 1990s, the WCOTC became, along with forms of neopagan Odinism, a popular choice in the ideological “buffet” for white supremacists. Smith, for instance, started his religious journey as a racist Odinist in 1997 and converted to Creativity months later. From 1995 to 2002, according to the SPLC, Hale increased the number of chapters from fourteen to eighty-eight, “making it the neo-Nazi group with the largest number of chapters in America” during its peak.20
For a white supremacist, Hale became something of a media darling. He “appeared repeatedly on NBC’s ‘Today’ show and other national TV news programs.” He also built his organization by staying on the vanguard of another media trend that became key in sustaining white supremacist terrorist groups, the World Wide Web. As early as 1995, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported,
Many extremist groups are on the web; the neo-Nazi National Alliance, and a covey of supporters, racist skinhead purveyors of “Aryan” music, some rabidly anti-Semitic “Identity” churches, groups sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan and several Holocaust deniers have sites. These efforts represent a well-thought out campaign to reach more people than these groups ever could have contacted through traditional mailings, handouts and demonstrations. The World Wide Web, the newest Internet technology, is an effective merchandising tool.21
By 1997 the SPLC had identified 163 hate group sites on the World Wide Web; by 1999 that number had grown by 60 percent to 254. By the spring of 2001 almost four hundred hate group sites carried racist and anti-Semitic messages to anyone who could find them in a search engine. At last count, in 2014, the SPLC had identified 926 hate sites. This figure includes only group-based sites. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which uses a special algorithm to count both group-based and individual hate sites, puts that total number at more than ten thousand. As to specific Christian Identity websites, the number is hard to tally, but an anonymous CI adherent with the screen name of Obadiah listed fifty-nine Identity sites in 2012. More telling statistics come from an analysis of two of the most well-known Identity websites, Christogenea.org and Kingdom Identity Ministries. Analytics data on the former, which prominently features transcribed sermons by the Reverend Wesley Swift, show that from 2010 to 2014, the site welcomed 417,111 unique visitors. Kingdom Identity Ministries, one of the oldest Identity websites, receives an average of 2,487 visits per month. To be fair, neither site directly advocates terrorism.
But many hate sites indirectly promote such violence, according to technology experts Beverly Ray and George Marsh II. These sites include links to guerrilla warfare manuals and to how-to books like The Anarchist Cookbook. Several sites offer guidance to potential lone-wolf terrorists. For instance, the Aryan Underground and sites like it link directly to Louis Beam’s essay on leaderless resistance. Other sites, hoping their viewers will self-radicalize, speak directly to would-be isolated terrorists. Per Ray and Marsh, the Christian Identity hate site run by the Aryan Nations links to a page run by the Ayran Underground, which includes the following advice:
Always start off small. Many small victories are better than one huge blunder (which may be the end of your career as a Lone Wolf). Every little bit counts in a resistance… . The less any outsider knows, the safer and more successful you will be… . Communication is a good thing, but keep your covert activities a secret. This will protect you as well as others like you… . Never keep any records of your activities that can connect you to the activity… . The more you change your tactics, the more effective you will become. Random chaos is never predictable… . Have a “rainy day” fund set aside in a safety deposit box (out of your local area and not in a high activity area), complete with new ID just in the event that something unexpected goes wrong.22
Much of the hate group activity online focuses on recruitment. A former skinhead, T.J. Leyden, described the process and the appeal: “We have a generation of MTV kids, and for them, visuals are just as important as audio, and these websites have dripping blood, they have things that come popping out at you.”23 Once someone is hooked, Leyden observed, the recruiting process becomes self-perpetuating, as the new recruits constantly reinforce each other’s views in the online echo chamber: “When you had a kid in Sioux City, Iowa, a kid in Lincoln, Nebraska, a kid in Billings, Montana, these kids if they were lucky got together once a year at an Aryan festival or got together once in a great while at a concert. These kids now get together constantly, every night on the Internet.”24
The rapid expansion in the number of hate groups that create websites suggests that the approach has increased either membership or sources of revenue. The sites themselves have expanded into fields like e-commerce, notably selling the types of digital music that have become the soundtrack for white supremacy since the mid-1980s. White power music, often punk or heavy metal in style, is sold on many websites. William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries and leader of the National Alliance, went so far as to develop his own music studio and production company, Resistance Records.
Matthew Hale helped turn the WCOTC into a national brand using the Internet. The WCOTC even produced a “creativity for kids” website “that offers downloadable coloring book pages and crossword puzzles about ‘white pride’ in a subtle ‘kid-friendly’ format.” Hale became particularly effective at marketing the WCOTC to women through the Web. Leadership positions in the WCOTC were fully open to women, and the organization developed the Women’s Frontier, a website just for women, run by information coordinator Lisa Turner.
As it turned out, its marketing focus ultimately undid the World Church of the Creator. In changing the name of Klassen’s Church of the Creator to World Church of the Creator, Matthew Hale unwittingly encroached on the naming rights that belonged to the Te-Ta-Ma Truth Foundation, a New Age spiritual organization. In the ultimate of ironies, a group that favored the “family unification of mankind” successfully sued Hale and the racist World Church of the Creator for copyright infringement. Hale then became his own worst enemy. He openly ridiculed judge Joan Lefkow’s ruling (it did not help that she was Jewish) and then quietly arranged to have her killed. But Hale’s choice of contract killer turned out to be an FBI informant. A jury convicted Hale for conspiracy to commit murder in 2004, and he is presently serving a forty-year sentence in federal prison. Some suspected that Hale, in failing to kill Lefkow, ultimately arranged for the murder of her husband and mother in Lefkow’s Chicago home. But investigators later identified the killer as Bart Ross, who resented Judge Lefkow for a ruling in a medical malpractice case and confessed to the crime in a suicide note. With Hale in prison, the World Church of the Creator withered into irrelevance.
One might get the sense, from stories like Hale’s, that the government and anti-racist organizations have become incredibly effective at combatting religious terrorism. The Williams brothers and Buford Furrow went to prison; so did Walter Thody, Charles Barbee, Robert Berry, and Jay Merrell. When hate groups were not being undone in criminal court, the SPLC and the ADL were bankrupting them in civil court.
There is no doubt that by 1999, local and especially national law enforcement were becoming increasingly more sophisticated in recognizing and understanding the nuances of domestic terrorism, with an increased focus on the religious component that motivates at least some of the violence. With the new millennium approaching, the FBI became noticeably concerned about apocalyptic terrorism. Director Louis Freeh commissioned one of the first major analyses of religious terrorism that focused on something other than Islamic jihadism. The FBI named its study Project Megiddo, after a hill in Jerusalem, the site of many Old Testament battles and the place that many fundamentalist Christians believe will host the final battle of Armageddon. “The Hebrew word ‘Armageddon,’” the FBI prefaced its strategic assessment, “means the hills of Megiddo… . The name ‘Megiddo’ is an apt title for a project that analyzes those who believe the year 2000 will usher in the end of the world and who are willing to perpetrate acts of violence to bring that end about.”25
The FBI report explained,
Adherents of racist belief systems such as Christian Identity and Odinism, and other radical domestic extremists are clearly focusing on the millennium as a time of action. Certain individuals from these various perspectives are acquiring weapons, storing food and clothing, raising funds through fraudulent means, procuring safe houses, preparing compounds, surveying potential targets, and recruiting new converts… .
Christian Identity … believes in the inevitability of the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. It is believed that these events are part of a cleansing process that is needed before Christ’s kingdom can be established on earth. During this time, Jews and their allies will attempt to destroy the white race using any means available. The result will be a violent and bloody struggle—a war, in effect—between God’s forces, the white race, and the forces of evil, the Jews and nonwhites. Significantly, many adherents believe that this will be tied into the coming of the new millennium… .
After the final battle is ended and God’s kingdom is established on earth, only then will the Aryan people be recognized as the one and true Israel.
Christian Identity adherents believe that God will use his chosen race as his weapons to battle the forces of evil. Christian Identity followers believe they are among those chosen by God to wage this battle during Armageddon and they will be the last line of defense for the white race and Christian America. To prepare for these events, they engage in survivalist and paramilitary training, storing foodstuffs and supplies, and caching weapons and ammunition. They often reside on compounds located in remote areas.26
The report added that only a small fraction of Identity believers favored a proactive effort to instigate a race war. It noted that Identity radicals were part of a movement more than a centralized organization and that the movement’s decentralized character could lead to lone-wolf terrorism. But it also noted that the galvanizing nature of the approaching millennium was engendering a greater level of cooperation among groups. It astutely observed that while “the radical right encompasses a vast number and variety of groups,” these “groups are not mutually exclusive and within the subculture individuals easily migrate from one group to another.” Yet “Christian Identity is the most unifying theology for a number of these diverse groups and one widely adhered to by white supremacists. It is a belief system that provides its members with a religious basis for racism and an ideology that condones violence against non-Aryans.”27
The assessment may just as well have been describing the white supremacist milieu from 1957 to 1968—and that is the problem. While it acknowledged the Reverend Wesley Swift as the seminal figure in the development of radical Christian Identity, the Megiddo report failed to consider the full and accurate context for domestic, religious terrorism. It begins its discussion of actual Identity terrorism with the Order, not with the Confederate Underground, the National States Rights Party, or the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi. A longer-term perspective on Christian Identity terrorism would yield a greater appreciation for the determination of these zealots and also for their adaptability. Their optimism at the prospect of a race war may ebb and flow according to external events, but the goal of waging war against “the Synagogue of Satan” and “the mud people” never changes for Identity radicals. Sam Bowers and J.B. Stoner were as determined to provoke an ethnic Armageddon as any Identity terrorist eyeing the coming millennium. A smarter approach to combatting Identity terrorism, one informed by history, would consider how Identity terrorists adapt and operate when they do not have the benefit of a galvanizing event to spur recruitment and incite their members to violence.
In that sense, studying Stoner’s or Bowers’s modus operandi would be just as valuable as studying contemporary Identity terrorists such as Robert Mathews. Indeed, in missing the earlier antecedents for the situation in 1999, the report looked past a key element of how the early Identity terrorists worked: by ascending to positions of leadership in secular racist or antigovernment groups, manipulating rank-and-file members, and coopting said groups’ agendas. The report acknowledged the danger of the Identity movement but downplayed the threat posed by the KKK, failing to see how one movement can influence another. Men like Thomas Robb and Dennis Mahon, who share strong Christian Identity influences, ran major KKK organizations into the 1990s. Thankfully, the report’s oversight did not have an immediate impact on domestic security, and the country avoided any major attacks when the ball fell in Times Square on January 1, 2000.
But the report may well have undermined an investigation into a wave of firebombing and arson attacks that plagued the United States from 1995 to 1999. Segments of the public, especially those in the African American religious community, became alarmed at a sudden spike in arson activity in 1995, when fifty-two houses of worship, including several black churches (as well as synagogues and Hindu temples) suffered damage. The entire nation became concerned when that number grew to 297 in 1996 and began to include an increasing number of synagogues, Sikh temples, and even white churches. On the surface, the crimes seemed to be concentrated in regional clusters, raising the specter of a wider conspiracy.
The media picked up on that angle, and soon President Bill Clinton organized the National Church Arson Task Force, unifying what had been separate investigations by the BATF, the FBI, the Department of Treasury, and the Department of Justice. The first series of reports, published in 1997, raised major questions about a conspiratorial explanation for the attacks. As more and more arrests began to be made in these crimes, no evidence of an interstate or even an intrastate criminal conspiracy materialized. Even when investigators could link two or three fire bombings in the same community to one source, the perpetrator was almost always one person or a very small group. In more than one instance, the arsonist turned out to be a disgruntled ex-congregant rather than an outsider. Some criminologists suggested that the extensive media coverage of the church fires actually inspired other alienated loners to target religious institutions. Seeing this, the media began to question its own initial reporting, which had raised the specter of a wider conspiracy. More and more, reporters and pundits pushed the opposite narrative: that the spike in attacks resulted from self-perpetuating mass hysteria that encouraged copycats.
There may be a great deal of truth in that assessment, but in reversing the course of its coverage, the media may well have made a premature assessment. Given the decentralized nature of the far right in the 1990s and the ubiquitous presence of government-paid informants, the idea of a regional or even statewide white supremacist conspiracy seems farfetched. Such coordination is not unheard of—Stoner managed a multistate bombing campaign, using the Confederate Underground, in 1958. But almost every white supremacist group, during the time of Stoner’s campaign and immediately after, already operated as a multistate organization, with a central headquarters and many state chapters. In the 1990s, few groups, and few leaders, enjoyed much influence outside of their narrow regional bases.
That being said, law enforcement was solving far too few of the cases to commit to either a pro-conspiracy or no-conspiracy narrative. By 1999, of the 827 arson and firebombing attacks reported since 1995, more than 60 percent remained unsolved. (Most still remain unresolved as of 2015.) That hate groups did not contribute to any of these attacks is hard to believe as a blanket assertion. Consider that from 1995 to 1999, investigators solved only two of eleven firebomb or arson attacks on black churches in Chicago, headquarters for the World Church of the Creator; only seven of twenty-two firebomb or arson attacks on black churches in Georgia, the home state of Ed Fields and J.B. Stoner (released from prison in 1986); and only seven of nineteen firebomb or arson attacks in North Carolina, where Creativity’s original founder, Ben Klassen, sold his compound to National Alliance leader William Pierce.28
The leaders of these organizations need not have plotted the details of the crimes or even recruited the foot soldiers. Through appeals to emotion and the power of their charisma, they fostered a mind-set that made such attacks more likely. Pierce’s Cosmotheist National Alliance, Butler’s Christian Identity-based Aryan Nations, Hale’s Creativity-based World Church of the Creator—all of these groups included impressionable members whose mind-sets could be geared toward violence. For his study The Racist Mind, Harvard ethnographer Raphael Ezekiel spent considerable time with white supremacists and observed and interviewed several hate group leaders. He described the archetypical hate group leader as
a man who is clever, who is shallow, and who does not respect people. He thinks almost all people are dumb and easily misled. He thinks almost all people will act for cold self-interest and will cheat others whenever they think they will not be caught. His disrespect includes his followers. He respects only those, friend or foe, who have power. His followers are people to be manipulated, not to be led to better self-knowledge.29
One finds in Ezekiel’s observation echoes of college-educated Sam Bowers and his contempt for Mississippi “rednecks.” Such sentiments can also be found in statements by Pierce, the former college professor, who referred to others as lemmings. One is also reminded of Matt Hale’s suspicious relationship to Ben Smith in the lead-up to the latter’s shooting spree on Independence Day Weekend.
With people like Smith and Furrow in mind, former FBI agent Mike German, who infiltrated supremacist groups for the Bureau from the 1990s through the turn of the millennium, argued in a Washington Post column that “‘Lone extremism’ is not a phenomenon; it’s a technique, a ruse designed to subvert the criminal justice system.”30 He added,
Imagine a very smart leader of an extremist movement, one who understands the First Amendment and criminal conspiracy laws, telling his followers not to depend on specific instructions.
He might tell them to divorce themselves from the group before they commit a violent act; to act individually or in small groups so that others in the movement could avoid criminal liability. This methodology creates a win-win situation for the extremist leader—the violent goals of the group are met without the legal consequences.31
German insists that “these aren’t the type of conspiracies cooked up by a few guys in a back room. But they are conspiracies nonetheless because they involve conscious discussions, decisions and encouragement for others to break the law by destroying property or taking lives. By providing both the motive and method for violence, these leaders become part of the conspiracy.”32 Recognizing the legal hurdles involved in prosecuting these cases, German argued that the Justice Department, like the SPLC, should pursue civil litigation against hate groups, in much the same way the Justice Department uses the courts to get financial restitution from white-collar criminals.
The SPLC demonstrated that this was possible, yet again, in the church arson cases. It won the largest lawsuit ever against the KKK, suing the South Carolina Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for its role in instigating arson fires at the Mount Zion AME Church and the Macedonia Baptist Church on June 20 and June 21, 1996. Horace King, the SCCKKKK leader, did not initiate, directly order, or plot the attacks, but the two men who burned the churches down said that they had discussed their general plans with the Grand Wizard weeks before the event. In the interim period, King made frequent references, in general rallies, to burning black churches. “If we had this garbage in South Carolina, we would burn the bastards out,” he said at one. He told a KKK member who turned out to be an undercover reporter for the South Carolina Star Reporter, “The only good nigger church is a burned nigger church.”33
King predicted to the reporter that a race war would come in 2000. In his trial testimony, King claimed, “I never told no one to go out there and fight blacks or do any harm to blacks. But I have said this in the past: Be prepared. If a race war ever did come, then you should be ready.”34 Lest there be any doubt that the race war reference emerged from Christian Identity theology, Tim Welch, one of the men who set the fires, testified, “They use the Bible to say that blacks aren’t human, Jews aren’t human … whites, whites, that’s it. So … if you allow blacks, you can’t be Christian. The only Christian thing to do was to get rid of them.”35
Despite the involvement of Justice Department and FBI officials in the Church Arson Task Force investigation, the insights from the Megiddo analysis never found their way into task force reports. When the task force published its fourth report in 2000, it only hinted at the Klan affiliations of the arsonists in the South Carolina affair, never even mentioning the lawsuit.
It is thus no surprise that the task force also failed to consider an even less direct kind of conspiracy, one in which a hate group creates a social climate that maximizes the chances that disparate and unconnected individuals and small groups will, independently of one another, throw firebombs at churches. Here again, the failure of law enforcement to fully consider the historical roots of domestic, religious terrorism impoverishes the current approach to similar crimes. The Megiddo report deserves credit for recognizing Wesley Swift as the pivotal figure in popularizing radical Christian Identity theology. But the FBI diminished his influence by failing to understand how Swift encouraged the violence of his era. Swift certainly did not coordinate or directly manage Identity-based violence in the 1960s, but by force of personality he created a subculture and offered a compelling message that perpetuated and inspired such violence during his lifetime and even afterward.
No singular figure occupied the same prominent space as Swift in Identity theology after he died, but the Internet, as a communications platform, has served the same function as Swift’s sermon-tape distribution network in the 1960s. Hate group websites not only provide an ideological foundation for new recruits—including tape recordings of Swift’s sermons in some cases—they also help promote the subculture that makes violence possible, notably by promoting and selling white power music. The Anti-Defamation League notes:
Hate music not only tries to stir up anger and resentment, but also acts as a call to action. Confrontation and war are frequent themes in hate music, ranging from crude calls to strike at one’s “enemies” to visions of future race wars or apocalyptic battles. H8 Machine’s (New Jersey) song “Wrecking Ball” is typical. “Wrecking, destroy all of your enemies/Fight back, hit back, hit back takeout another victim/Break down, the walls of opposition.” The song “Thirst for Conquest” by Rebel Hell evokes a grander image: “To war the call we hear, the world trembling in fear/Storming to power, hail to the call/Marching in as one, the blitzkrieg rolling on/As über alles meaning over all.” So too does Before God’s (Minnesota) “Under the Blood Banner”: “Legions attack, shoulder to shoulder/Striking the alien hordes/In battle formation, defending thy nation/With fury we wage, lighting wars!” Sometimes the message is simply one of crude violence, as in the Bound for Glory (Minnesota) song, “Onward to Victory.” “Onward to Victory, the blood is gonna flow/Onward to Victory, we’re gonna overthrow/Onward to Victory, in our battle stride/ Onward to Victory, with our racial pride.”36
What hateful and violent messages they do not take in through their ears, white supremacists often brandish on their skin—with common symbols and messages popularized on the Internet. Nazi swastikas and icons from Norse (Odinist) mythology cover many a contemporary supremacist, sometimes literally from head to toe. One of the most common tattoos lists a motto, the so-called fourteen words. Penned by Alan Berg’s murder conspirator, David Lane, whose tenure with the Order turned him into a celebrity among white supremacists and who became a leading advocate for Wotanism (a form of radical Odinism), the motto reads: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.” Another favorite tattoo is “Rahowa,” which stands for racial holy war.
Forty-year-old Wade Michael Page is a perfect example of the mind-set this subculture can foster. He not only listened to white power music, but he played guitar in two white power bands, one under contract with William Pierce’s Resistance Records. Harboring no strong religious convictions, he nonetheless sported the “rahowa” and fourteen-word tattoos. With no history of violence, and with no public explanation, Page opened fire on congregants exiting a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012, killing six and wounding four others; he then committed suicide. Page himself may not have been motivated by Christian Identity imperatives or by radical Odinism, but his action fits into a broad pattern described by former undercover agent Mike German. Wade was a byproduct of a “pack mentality”; “a follower of these movements bursts violently into our world, with deadly consequences.”37 Only it is the pack mentality, not the follower, that is informed by radical religion. Hence someone like Page becomes a servant to a militant religious agenda without recognizing its influence.
It is hard to imagine that some fanatic, connected to a white supremacist group and awash in messages, music, and imagery promoting a holy race war, would not be inspired to act amid the widespread media coverage of church and synagogue bombings from 1995 to 1999. Indeed, three of the synagogue attacks that frightened Jewish leaders in the summer of 1999 became part of the Church Arson Task Force’s database of potential hate crimes. The attack by the Williams brothers on two synagogues in Sacramento, California, is one example. But the report never mentioned or discussed the role that Christian Identity religion played in inspiring those attacks, or any other arson attack in the database for that matter.
This would include the attempted firebombing of Temple Emanu-El in Reno by Carl DeAmicis and four others, also in 1999 (described earlier). Prosecutors in that case were surprised to find that the five young men, ranging in ages from nineteen to twenty-six, were motivated by religious ideology. But in the supremacists’ “clubhouse,” with its walls adorned with Nazi flags, a “Whites Only” sign, and a poster of men in KKK robes, investigators found Christian Identity literature. One of the five perpetrators, twenty-year-old Daniel McIntosh, said he was “doing something for his race” in targeting Jews, because “they are evil, they control the media and they put racial mixing on TV and that is wrong.”38 If their Identity connections came as a surprise to investigators, one thing was obvious about the young terrorists from their appearance. They bore shaved heads and skinhead tattoos.
An investigator who studies trends in white supremacist violence would be forgiven if he or she suspected that skinheads perpetrated at least some of the unsolved attacks on America’s houses of worship from 1995 to 1999. Importing their aesthetic of shaved heads and punk fashion from the United Kingdom, skinheads became part of the white supremacist scene in the early 1980s. They became a national force within white supremacist circles over the next two decades, with their numbers growing by tenfold from 1986 to 1991. They developed their own culture, defined, according to the SPLC “by loud hate-rock, cases of cheap beer, bloody ‘boot parties’ directed against immigrants and others, and the flagrant display of neo-Nazi iconography and paraphernalia.”39 Older and senior members over time formed regional networks, such as the Hammerskins, but for the most part, skinheads roved urban and suburban areas as small bands or gangs. They became known for harassment, vandalism, and at times violent vigilante attacks on gays and minorities. These small-scale attacks, when aggregated, nonetheless represented one of the most common sources of white supremacist violence in the 1990s. Jack B. Moore, an American studies professor at the University of South Florida and author of Skinheads: Shaved for Battle, observed, “In less than a decade violence committed by skinheads catapulted them to perhaps the leading position among hate groups practicing violence in America.”40
Harvard ethnographer Raphael Ezekiel, who interviewed and observed dozens of skinheads for several years, described a group of “male, young dropouts without work skills, with a deep fear of personal annihilation—social isolates.”41 According to criminologist Mark Hamm, “The social and political contentions of the Reagan era seemed to have produced conditions conducive to extreme alienation among white, working-class youths in the United States. In turn, this extreme alienation caused certain white kids to shave their heads, tattoo themselves with swastikas, espouse racist beliefs, and commit hate crimes; usually with baseball bats, work boots, guns or knives.”42 Moore quotes the 1989 edition of the SPLC’s periodical Klanwatch: “The emergence of skinhead gangs represents a unique and frightening phenomenon in the history of white supremacy in America: for the first time, a nationwide racist movement is being initiated by teenagers who are not confined to any single geographic region or connected by any national network, but whose gangs sprang up spontaneously in cities throughout the country.”43
The picture painted by the SPLC is something akin to a zombie apocalypse, with random hordes of testosterone-filled vigilantes defying age-old, predictable patterns of racial violence. Offered when the skinheads were just becoming a force in American society, the description became less and less accurate as the group evolved. As noted earlier, the skinheads did eventually network into organizations; the largest, the Hammerskin Nation, boasts nineteen chapters across the United States (as well as ten international franchises). The SPLC did highlight the salient feature of the group, its members’ ages, but it failed to accurately gauge the full implications of that demography. Yes, their ages may have made skinheads more open to violence. But far from being uncontrollable and unpredictable hordes, the young and socially alienated skinheads were perfect candidates for the kind of manipulation and exploitation that has been the hallmark of religious terrorist leaders for decades.
Leaders of America’s most dangerous hate groups, who had previously manipulated southern nationalists, farmers, and nativists, never had a more malleable group of foot soldiers to exploit than the skinheads. Men like Fields, Butler, Pierce, and Metzger openly hailed the young men, dressed in Dr. Martens boots and military-style fatigues, as the vanguard of white supremacy. It is worth noting that Ezekiel’s observations about white supremacist leaders who privately harbor contempt for their ignorant and gullible rank-and-file followers derived almost entirely from interviews with skinhead leaders. In her study Skinheads in America: A Movement toward Violence, researcher Regina Raab comments that the “movement seems to be fueled mostly by sustained hatred toward several targeted groups that is manipulated by relatively few leaders to achieve direct action by individual Skinheads.” SPLC leader Morris Dees has asserted that the skinheads are “easy prey for older white supremacist leaders, who cynically offer a sense of family and purpose—along with a hate-filled ideology.”
Scott Shepherd, a onetime KKK Grand Dragon who now crusades against racism, saw this exploitation from the inside. “[The leaders] prey on the short comings of rank and file,” he insisted.44 Christian Identity theology, which Shepherd says is now “embedded in the [white supremacist] movement and continues to grow,” is an important part of that dynamic. “Racial war and racial holy war is their [the leaders’] main goal they want this to happen … and try and provoke it.” The idea of a racial holy war is “not discussed or used as recruitment subject but after members had joined it was part of the indoctrination and pushed widely.” He lamented, “You had a lot of troubled kids that fell into that trap.”45
No white supremacist leader exploited skinheads more than Tom Metzger. The onetime Christian Identity minister formed the White Aryan Resistance (WAR) at approximately the same time the skinhead movement began to take hold in the United States. Michael Waltman and John Haas, in their book The Communication of Hate, report that “Metzger set out to create, through WAR, an organizational structure that would permit him to distribute his ideas to skinheads, providing them with more ideological grounding than they possessed in the past. By mentoring skinhead groups across California, he hoped to create a cadre of young racist warriors who would take the racial holy war to individual Jews and minorities across California.”46 Metzger’s influence became public knowledge when the SPLC sued him for inciting skinhead Dave Mazzella to violently assault an Ethiopian immigrant (who later died) in Portland, Oregon. A onetime organizer for Metzger, Mazzella claimed to have been brainwashed by the WAR leader, and he detailed Metzger’s Machiavellian relationship with Portland’s skinhead community. The SPLC won a multimillion-dollar judgment for the victim’s family. According to Waltman and Haas, Metzger’s subsequent “bankruptcy and the belief among many skinheads that they were being ‘used’ and exploited by Metzger contributed to his diminishing influence on racist skinheads.”47
Yet the authors note that the skinheads increasingly came under the sway of Matthew Hale and the WCOTC, with many identifying themselves as Creativity ministers. Others flocked to the welcoming arms of Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations. Michigan skinheads interviewed by Ezekiel were heavily influenced by Christian Identity ideology, much like the five young men who tried to set Temple Emanuel-El on fire in December 1999.
In missing or ignoring the relevance of Christian Identity (or Odinism or Creativity) theology and its influence on one of the fastest-growing supremacist groups in the country, the Church Arson Task Force may have missed an opportunity to solve at least some of the arsons and firebombings in its database. The task force did take great care to analyze firebombings and arson attacks on black churches as a separate category of crimes, in hopes of identifying patterns that suggested a racist conspiracy. History, of course, is full of examples of KKK chapters sponsoring waves of church bombings, and that is the prism through which investigators looked when considering the possibility of a wider plot against religious institutions. But the history covered in this book shows that Christian Identity radicals were often more than happy to launch waves of violence that targeted both black and Jewish religious institutions. Stoner did this in 1957-1958; Bowers did this in 1967-1968.
When viewed through that prism, subsets of the hundreds of arson and firebombing attacks that were never solved offer a new avenue of investigation: Look for an attack on a synagogue that occurred relatively close in time and distance to an attack on a black church and then explore possible connections between local supremacist groups with religious affiliations and either crime. The Church Arson Task Force posted lists of solved and unsolved crimes, and at least a handful of unsolved cases fit the profile of Identity-influenced crimes. One is the Temple Beth Chai arson in Hauppauge, New York, on August 15, 1999, described earlier. On the same day someone set fire to the temple’s business office, an arsonist struck the black First Presbyterian Church in Staten Island, one hour away by car. Neither case has been solved, and there is no evidence that the task force considered the possibility that the two crimes were connected, despite the propinquity.
Attacks on Jewish houses of worship represent a small fraction of the database’s cases. But the database does not include vandalism of Jewish houses of worship (or Jewish cemeteries) or attacks on broadly defined Jewish institutions. For instance, Furrow’s attack on the Jewish community center would not have made the database. If Christian Identity ideas motivated such ancillary attacks, expanding the types of criminality under consideration and then correlating them with attacks on black targets could conceivably yield additional leads and suspects in the 1995-1999 arson wave. As the South Carolina case illustrated and as the history of Christian Identity violence suggests, Identity zealots, or those under their influence, often find black targets more readily available. Identity ideas about Jews became more widespread and accepted in the 1980s, but it was still the case, per Ezekiel, that recruits entered hate organizations with antagonism toward blacks and Hispanics and then were inculcated with hatred toward Jews. Thus it was likely easier to sway members to go after black targets than after Jewish targets, much as it was during Sam Bowers’s tenure as Grand Wizard in Mississippi. The only difference in the current environment is that Bowers directly ordered his attacks, while Identity terrorists, since 1985, had been inspired by or socially conditioned by men like Bowers but have operated as individuals or through small groups.
Law enforcement scrutiny forced domestic terrorists into ever-more-decentralized units of activity; the result was atomized, individual fanatics—Louis Beam’s lone wolves—who are limited in their capacity for mass casualty or debilitating attacks but who can only be managed and contained. Identifying a lone wolf or preventing his actions is, as former FBI man Mike German concedes, daunting: “like finding a needle in a haystack.” But German argues that law enforcement must therefore start looking at the “needle factory”—the leaders, groups, and subculture that make the terrorism possible. That effort must include recognition of a religious impulse that motivates some terrorists directly and that indirectly shapes the contours of the terrorist mind-set of many others. For all its flaws, the Megiddo report represented an important first step in that regard, but the timing of its release, in 2000, could not have been more inopportune.
Within a year, Al Qaeda launched the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil in the nation’s history. If failing to appreciate the full history of religious terrorism in America, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to the arson wave of 1995-1999, has obscured law enforcement’s understanding of crimes, then this same ignorance, in regard to both domestic and foreign extremists, continues to jeopardize American security.