New leader emerging for hate groups

Seattle Times/October 8, 2000
By Kim Barker

R. Vincent Bertollini is a city slicker, a man who drives a red Harley-Davidson and wears Armani suits, a retiree rumored to have made a fortune from Silicon Valley technology ventures.

He is also rapidly becoming one of the most prominent faces of white supremacy in Northern Idaho.

His anti-Semitic group, the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger, has only two public members. When he ran for mayor, only 33 people voted for him.

Still, human-rights organizations worry that Bertollini is bidding to become the successor to Richard Butler, founder of the now-crippled Aryan Nations, which recently lost a $6.3 million lawsuit and possibly its compound.

Those rights organizations say that of the known racists in the Inland Northwest, which include everything from a neo-pagan Nazi organization to a man who tried to get ARYAN88 on his license plates, Bertollini could pose the biggest threat - simply because he is willing to put his money where his freedom of speech is.

"He considers himself an evangelist," said Jonn Lunsford, research director for the Seattle-based Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity.

"He doesn't have a church. He doesn't have a compound. He doesn't necessarily have a large following.

"What makes Bertollini a man to watch is he has reportedly millions of dollars to spread his racist views."

In 1998, Bertollini told a reporter for The Spokesman-Review of Spokane that he and Carl Story, a former business partner and the other member of the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger, had spent $1.5 million to spread their message, of a conspiracy involving Adam and Eve and Satan and Jews. Human-rights groups believe that amount probably isn't an exaggeration, though they don't know what the money was spent on.

The past two years, Bertollini's organization has sent out increasingly threatening anti-Semitic pamphlets and brochures to thousands of area residents.

Bertollini, 61, also has become the most visible champion of Butler, the grandfather of neo-Nazi groups in North Idaho.

He was a regular at Butler's trial in nearby Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, last month, videotaping reporters outside the courthouse and staging impromptu news conferences. After a jury decided Butler and the Aryan Nations were grossly negligent in hiring and training security guards who shot at a passing motorist and her son, Bertollini offered to help the 82-year-old Butler pay for his appeal.

"Please note that if Pastor Richard Butler were not a righteous, compassionate man of Yahweh God he could have very well sued and perhaps won millions of dollars from the city coffers for malicious harassment, character assassination, slander, defamation, libel and any number of other bona fide charges," Bertollini recently wrote.

"He's setting himself up as the heir apparent," said Kary Miller, editor of the local Bonner County Daily Bee. Miller keeps a folder of Bertollini's missives and receives angry mail every time she prints a Bertollini letter.

Since Butler's trial, Bertollini has declined to be interviewed.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says the 11th Hour is one of seven hate groups operating in Idaho, compared with 19 in Texas, 25 in California, 33 in Alabama and nine in Washington.

Idaho is important in the realm of white-supremacist groups because of the Aryan Nations' efforts to draw followers and media attention.

Butler, an aeronautics engineer from California, laid the foundation for white supremacy here in 1973, when he moved to Hayden Lake, a bucolic community between Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint. Butler said he wanted a homeland for whites in the Pacific Northwest and founded the Church of Jesus Christ Christian - Aryan Nations. Followers came, many recruited in prisons. Butler started holding annual Aryan Nation Congresses. He called for unity.

A follower in the 1980s formed a splinter group called The Order, which robbed armored cars and killed Alan Berg, a Jewish radio-talk-show host in Denver. A follower in Pennsylvania robbed banks to pay for a white revolution. An Aryan organizer in Denver confessed to killing a man because he was black.

Former Aryan Nations guard Buford Furrow, who left the Pacific Northwest last summer, has been charged with a shooting spree at a Jewish day-care center in Los Angeles and the killing a Filipino postal carrier.

In North Idaho, Bertollini's is one of several groups that hold different views with the same racist theme. To the groups, the differences are important: Some adulate Adolf Hitler; some insist the Holocaust never happened; some preach white supremacy, others white separatism.

Butler's public attempt to create a unified movement led to infiltration by law-enforcement agencies and, ultimately, the successful lawsuit against him. So some anti-government types and white supremacists have pushed for "leaderless cells," where tight-knit groups can plan insurrection without being infiltrated. Then some started to push the idea of "lone wolves," where people act without a group, as Furrow is accused of doing.

With no formal following, Bertollini's group may be insulated against lawsuits such as the one against the Aryan Nations, which hold an organization responsible for the actions of others.

And while raising money has been a constant challenge for the movement, some human-rights activists say Bertollini and Story might change that, creating some unity among the fractured groups.

"The good thing about absolutists is they're absolutists against other absolutists," said Bill Wassmuth, a human-rights activist whose Coeur d'Alene home was bombed by an Aryan Nations guard in 1986. "Money has a way of overcoming some of that."

Bertollini and Story made their fortunes in California, according to reports in The Spokesman-Review and California newspapers.

Story and a former business partner started two computer companies in California in the 1970s and sold them. Story then helped form the Silicon Valley Group, which developed computer technology. He made a profit from his stock and helped form another company, Systems Chemistry, where Bertollini, an old friend, also worked, according to news reports.

The two formed the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger while still in California, then retired in 1995 to Sandpoint, 40 miles north of Butler's Aryan Nations compound.

Story paid $260,000 in cash for a stylish lake home. Bertollini rented a one-bedroom basement apartment for $350 a month. He told people his wife had stayed in California with his credit cards, and that he published a religious newsletter.

"I thought he was a born-again Christian," said Linda Mayville, who with her sister rented to Bertollini.

In April 1996, Bertollini bought a sprawling cedar home for $202,250 in an upscale cul-de-sac. A "Welcome Friends" wreath hangs next to the front door, tasteful bird sculptures guard the porch, and his wife has since joined him, at least part of the time. "I am totally separate from what he does," she said when approached by a reporter recently.

Sandpoint, population 5,200, is a marriage of right and left shot through with libertarian views. A lot of people don't like the government.

Last month, the main theater in town featured a Belgian film with subtitles. Art studios showcase Western art featuring Native Americans and mountains. The human-rights task force is organized and active.

Yet no one blinked at a man walking downtown with a new rifle in his hand, or at a white pickup with a Confederate flag instead of a rear window.

The town is home to the America's Promise Ministries, a Christian Identity church that, like Bertollini, believes Jews are descendants of Satan. Three anti-government activists - self-proclaimed "Phineas Priests" - met at this church and then bombed businesses in Spokane and robbed a bank twice.

Louis Beam, former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, bought property here in 1994.

Bertollini also is a study in contradictions.

He attacks multiculturalism in his writings, but uses a mailing label with the American and Italian flags, proclaiming "A Shared Heritage."

His literature is filled with vicious rants about Jews, but in California he once worked for a Jewish man, and accepted gifts from him, including a car for his daughter, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In the past two years, the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger has sent out two glossy mailings to as many as 6,000 North Idaho neighbors, a videotape of Bertollini interviewing Butler, two anti-Semitic fliers and a copy of Bertollini's July speech to the Aryan Nations Congress, urging whites to stand behind Butler.

The best known mailing is a glossy 6-by-3-foot fold-out chart of the "Adamic Race" and of "Adam's Pure Blood Seedline." It promotes the Christian Identity theory that Eve and Satan gave birth to Jews, while Eve and Adam gave birth to the white race.

"It is essentially a propaganda operation at this point," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group that successfully sued the Aryan Nations and has successfully sued eight other hate groups nationwide.

Although Story also is a partner in the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger, Bertollini has become the face man. He has appeared at public events with Butler, and he once was photographed kissing Butler on the cheek, a picture that caused much amusement and speculation in town.

Last fall, Bertollini ran a write-in campaign for mayor. His opponents were a retired minister, a hairdresser, a blues musician, a man now in prison for enlisting a 7-year-old girl as his sex slave, and a woman named StoneCalfWoman who ran on a platform to free Leonard Peltier, an Indian activist convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1975.

The winner, retired minister Paul Graves, is a member of the county's human-rights task force. Bertollini received 2 percent of the vote.

Most everyone here seems to know who he is, though. Bertollini has brought many in the Sandpoint area together to fight his message. They pay extra postage to return his bulk mailings. They put up posters in their business windows, proclaiming "In it together, too great to hate."

Graves said he isn't personally worried about Bertollini, despite an 11th Hour Remnant Messenger mailing that specifically mentioned the new mayor.

"The concern I really have is the psychological effect of his presence in the community," Graves said. "I hear people expressing fear about his presence. For people who feel that way, I frankly wish he wasn't here."

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