Neo-Nazi cell looks to settle at Pa. site

An officer in Aryan Nations, homeless since losing its Idaho compound, has offered his rural upstate retreat.

Philadelphia Inquirer/November 18, 2001
By Amy Worden

Ulysses, Pa. -- In the remote northern tier of Pennsylvania, on a patch of hillside several miles off the blacktop road, one of the country's most violent neo-Nazi factions hopes to stage a comeback.

Bankrupted by a lawsuit that cost the group its Idaho compound last spring, the Aryan Nations has Potter County in its sights as the new base for an old campaign of hate.

It is small comfort to uneasy neighbors that, for now, the Aryan Nations' presence amounts to one man with a mobile home, a modem and an AK-47.

August Kreis, proud wearer of the title "director of information and propaganda," sweeps his arms toward the small stand of trees and fresh-plowed field that he calls the "Last Outpost."

"There will be no nonwhites here," he declares. "They will be told to get out. Those who fight, we will fight and kill them."

Kreis, 47, moved from Easton in 1992, an unemployed cabinetmaker with diabetes living on government disability checks. A year later, he was hosting an outdoor rock concert that drew hundreds of skinheads and made the cover of Time. He went on to found several local militias, including the Posse Comitatus vigilantes.

Only last year did he take up with the Aryan Nations, joining as its Web master and rising quickly to second in command. With the hate group currently homeless, he has proffered the 10-acre rental property - where he lives with his companion and five young children - as a headquarters.

The Aryan Nations has had its problems of late, including a dwindling membership thought by some observers to be as low as 100. It did, however, have a blip of publicity recently as one of several white supremacist organizations praising the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, calling them a "Jewish conspiracy."

Attention was refocused on the Aryan Nations last month when federal authorities suggested that domestic terrorists might have been behind the anthrax attacks.

There is no connection, Kreis insists. "We don't have anything to do with the anthrax scare."

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which monitors hate groups, recorded 13 "activities" conducted by Aryan Nations last year. Most were postings on the Web site Kreis runs.

In the last decade, many residents of Potter County had come to regard Kreis as more of a bothersome gadfly than an evil menace. Some still maintain he is mostly bark.

"I don't expect the 'Last Outpost' to be a big outpost," one of them said.

For others, though, the prospect of an army of hate-mongers rolling into the community does not seem so far-fetched. After an August visit from Richard Butler, the former aeronautical engineer who founded the Aryan Nations in the mid-1970s, 650 residents signed a full-page ad in the local paper in support of unity, diversity and tolerance.

"If he plans to reinforce the 'Last Outpost,' there's reason to react," said the Rev. Doug Orbaker of First Presbyterian Church. Potter County is known as "God's Country," and justifiably so: Half of it is state forest. Many of the county's 18,000 residents still make their living off the land, working in the lumber industry or outdoor recreation.

Historically, the population has been overwhelmingly white. But that has changed with the rapid expansion of cable giant Adelphia, based in Coudersport, the county seat. The nation's sixth-largest cable firm, Adelphia and its subsidiaries employ 2,000 of the town's 3,000 residents. Many of the computer professionals were recruited from outside the county.

"There are many more people of color here now than six or seven years ago," said the Rev. Joe Wolf, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church. "There's a significant Jewish population. There are Asians and Indians."

Kreis' particular animosity toward Jewish people goes back to at least the early 1980s.

Born in Newark, N.J., Kreis managed apartment buildings in North Jersey - until tenants found him hosting Ku Klux Klan meetings in a storage room. His Jewish boss fired him.

"I got blackballed in the property-management field," he said, "because it's pretty much controlled by Jews."

Kreis lived for a while in the Lehigh Valley with his first wife and three children, but the remoteness of Potter County appealed even more to him. In the event of a nuclear attack, he figured, the prevailing winds would protect the area from radioactive fallout.

In Potter County, Kreis started a new family - five children with his companion, Karley - and took his antigovernment message to the Web, all the while collecting Social Security disability payments.

"The way I see it," he said, "the government is paying me wages to wage war on the government."

In the late 1990s, a run-in with a neighbor landed him in court. Kreis, however, was acquitted of charges that he had made terroristic threats.

"For the last three or four years, there have been no incidents whatsoever," said District Attorney Jeff Leber, who had prosecuted Kreis.

A low-key lifestyle has not been the hallmark of Aryan Nations membership. Since the 1970s, domestic-terror groups with ties to the Aryan Nations have been linked to murders, bank robberies and firebombings. In the 1980s, international assemblies of hate-group leaders convened for Butler's annual World Congress at his property in Hayden Lake, Idaho.

That 20-acre compound was seized in May, after an Idaho jury awarded $6.3 million to two protesters who had been attacked by Aryan Nations guards.

In August, national chaplain Neumann Britton, the heir apparent to 83-year-old Butler, died. The Aryan Nations appeared on the brink of collapse.

Newly appointed national director Harold Ray Redfeairn, 49, who was imprisoned five years for the attempted murder of a policeman, lives in Ohio. Redfeairn said he will move to Potter County in the spring but added that while Butler is alive, the Aryan Nation's headquarters will stay with him, in Idaho.

The group is "in disarray," said Mark Potok, spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

"What's going on is a struggle over whether . . . it will continue and will its heart be in Idaho, Ohio or Pennsylvania."

If Pennsylvania, Kreis will be ready.

On a balmy November afternoon, clad in a black uniform, Kreis demonstrated his firepower for a small group of onlookers near his home.

Tucking his 9mm Glock in his belt, Kreis greeted his tow-headed daughter Barbara - at 7, the eldest. Embroidered on the seat of her jeans was the word love.

Like a proud father prodding his child to recite a nursery rhyme, he asked: "What's a good Jew?"

Her well-studied reply: "The only good Jew is a dead Jew."

Kreis chuckled as she bounced down the dirt road to join her siblings at play.

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