Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler has named a new successor, an Ohio white supremacist who stands convicted of three felonies, including shooting a police officer.
Ray Redfeairn is the new national director of the Aryan Nations and is in line to be his successor, Butler said Monday from his home in Hayden, Idaho.
Butler also named August "Chip" Kreis III, of Ulysses, Pa., as director of information for the Aryan Nations. Kreis currently manages the Aryan Nations Web page, where the appointments were announced.
"Aryan Nations founder Pastor Butler will continue to remain the rock and spiritual leader of the Aryan Nations but will be taking a less active role in the everyday running of Aryan Nations affairs," Kreis said in a statement.
Civil rights activists say the appointments of the two men from east of the Mississippi may be the beginning of the end of the Aryan Nations' presence in the Northwest.
"This is the start of the exodus, I believe," said Coeur d'Alene attorney Norm Gissel. He spearheaded a land-mark civil suit last year that financially broke the back of the Aryan Nations.
The $6.3 million judgment sent Butler and the Aryan Nations into a bankruptcy tailspin. As a result, the group abandoned its 20-acre compound, and its buildings were burned this past summer.
"It looks to me like the Aryan Nations essentially have given up on their so-called `Northwest imperative' because their leadership has gone east," Gissel said.
But the longtime civil rights activist also said he's learned that the Aryans are unpredictable. "When you predict something about this group, the opposite often occurs.
"I do think they're essentially giving up on good old North Idaho, but that's more my hope speaking more than my judgment," Gissell said.
Butler said the announcement does not mean he's retiring or retreating from North Idaho.
"Our national, international headquarters are still right here in North Idaho," Butler said.
Even after his passing, Butler said, the Aryan Nations headquarters will remain in North Idaho with Redfeairn assuming the leadership.
"I'm still in the picture, and I'm still controlling things," Butler said. "I'm not dead yet."
Butler, 83, previously picked longtime racist Neuman Britton, of Escondido, Calif., to be his successor. But Britton died in late August after a lengthy battle with cancer.
As Britton grew ill, Redfeairn and Kreis both moved into Butler's inner circle.
Kreis, who also heads a citizens' militia group known as Posse Comitatus, joined Butler for last summer's Aryan Nations parade in downtown Coeur d'Alene.
Redfeairn also has ties with an Aryan Nations splinter group, the Church of True Israel. That group, mostly composed of ex-Aryan Nations members, operates out of a post office box in Hayden and has occasional meetings in the region.
Redfeairn was part of an honor guard that surrounded Butler for the group's 1998 parade, even though he was on parole and wasn't supposed to leave Ohio, authorities said.
Redfeairn served six years after being convicted of aggravated robbery and attempted aggravated murder in 1985, records show.
Those convictions came from the shooting of a Dayton, Ohio, police officer. Shot five times, the officer lived because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Redfeairn testified as a witness for Butler at last year's civil damages trial in Coeur d'Alene.
He told the jury that he wasn't then a member of the Aryan Nations because he didn't share Butler's view of non-violence.