Coeur D'Alene, Idaho -- Only weeks before the bankruptcy sale of the Aryan Nations compound in northern Idaho, many former members are flocking to a Montana church also rooted in white supremacy beliefs.
The Church of True Israel, based in Noxon, Mont., is holding services at various locations until a permanent home is found, its leaders say. While the Hayden Lake-based Aryan Nations was headed by Richard Butler for a quarter-century, the new spinoff church has a five-member "council of prelates" making decisions. It appears to be set up to draw less media and police attention.
But Butler already condemns the emergence of this new Christian Identity church, apparently over power in the white supremacy movement. Last year, he publicly chided some of his former top aides for defecting to the new church, saying they "fled like capon chickens when the enemy attacked." Butler and the Aryan Nations were hit with a multimillion-dollar judgment last year in a lawsuit brought by Coeur d'Alene civil rights attorney Norm Gissel and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Butler filed for bankruptcy after receiving a $6.3 million judgment declaring him grossly negligent for an assault on a woman and her son by three Aryan guards. Despite the defections, Butler said he is not going away and has Aryan Nations parades planned this summer in northern Idaho.
The Church of True Israel said it wants nothing to do with neo-Nazi skinheads, parades, swastikas or felons -- Aryan Nations trademarks. The new church is aimed at "working-class people, with white, Christian values," said John R. Burke of Coeur d'Alene, one of five founders. "We don't want any of his squirrels."
The new church still shares Butler's racist religious dogma that white people are the true Jews. Some of its members also have ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Butler said he will keep using the names "Church of Jesus Christ Christian" and "Aryan Nations" even though they will be part of the "intellectual properties" sold at the bankruptcy sale. The "constitution" of True Israel was signed by five founding members in November 1996 and filed in Montana, Burke said.
But the group's activity, including monthly meetings and a Web site, did not start until last fall, shortly after the lawsuit against the Aryan Nations was filed. Sanders County Sheriff Gene Arnold said he learned of the group about six weeks ago. "I suspected they were former Aryan Nations members, but other than that, I don't know much about them," he said.