Pair Who Sued Hate Group to Buy Compound at Auction

Courts: The Keenans, a mother and son, are the sole bidders for the Aryan Nations' Idaho property.

Los Angeles Times/February 8, 2001

Coeur D'Alene, Idaho--The mother and son whose lawsuit bankrupted the Aryan Nations will be the only bidders for the hate group's 20-acre compound next week.

Victoria and Jason Keenan were the only party to beat the deadline for registering to bid in Tuesday's bankruptcy auction. "My clients will be the sole bidder and they'll get the sale confirmed right there on the spot by the judge," said Norm Gissel, the local attorney for the Keenans.

The Keenans have kept a low profile since the trial and were not available for comment Wednesday. To bid on the compound--for three decades a notorious gathering place for some of the nation's most violent neo-Nazis--a bidder had to put down a $15,000 cash deposit and have a credit line of at least $300,000. The deadline for qualifying was 5 p.m. Tuesday. The bidding was to start at $250,000. The Keenans needed $95,000 in cash to complete the purchase, and that money was loaned to them by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Montgomery, Ala., civil rights group that served as lead counsel in the lawsuit, Gissel said.

The auction proceeds will go to Bankruptcy Court, where they will be disbursed to creditors of Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler--of whom the Keenans themselves are the most prominent. Butler owes them $6.3 million. The Keenans want to resell the property and contents as soon as they can, Gissel said. There had been speculation that Butler supporters might try to buy the property and return it to him as an 83rd birthday present.

The compound is a wooded site north of Hayden Lake that contains numerous buildings, including Butler's home, a bunkhouse, a guard tower, the chapel of Butler's Church of Jesus Christ Christian and other facilities. The Keenans were driving past the compound the night of July 1, 1998, when their car apparently backfired. Three Aryan Nations security guards, thinking someone had fired a shot, jumped into a pickup and chased them. They shot out a tire, forcing the Keenans' car into a ditch. The guards held the terrified people at gunpoint and threatened to kill them before backing off.

In a recent interview with the Coeur d'Alene Press, Victoria Keenan remembered security guard Jesse Warfield shoving a gun into her ribs. "I remember thinking that's where we were going to die," Keenan said. She is no longer concerned about taking Butler's home. "At first, I was worried about taking away an old man's house," she told the newspaper. "Now I blame Butler. He instigated all these people to do his dirty work so he doesn't get blamed for it."

She also is pleased that her lawsuit damaged the Aryan Nations. "I did what I had to do to help save Coeur d'Alene," she said. "Even if I can save one child from being like them, that's something."

The Keenans' civil lawsuit contended Butler and his group were negligent in hiring and training the security guards. The case was tried by Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which specializes in lawsuits that put hate groups out of business.

A Coeur d'Alene jury in September awarded the $6.3 million judgment to the Keenans. Butler filed for bankruptcy a month later. He purchased the land in the 1970s, when he moved from California to Idaho.

The Keenans will get all the contents of the compound, and also intellectual property, such as the names "Aryan Nations" and "Church of Jesus Christ Christian." Butler has vowed to keep preaching his white supremacist, anti-Semitic philosophy, and is living in a house in nearby Hayden that was purchased by a wealthy supporter.

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