Coer D'Alene, Idaho -- Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler conceded Friday that he is the absolute authority at the white supremacist sect's headquarters, but he said he had no knowledge of his security guards' actions when they shot at and assaulted a woman and her son.
Butler has contended that the guards were renegades who violated Aryan Nations rules in racing off the group's compound to chase Victoria Keenan and her son Jason.
But under questioning from Richard Cohen, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Butler acknowledged that he had directed his security guards to be alert for possible harassment or attack from the Jewish Defense League or a local human rights organization before a July 1998 march. "I told them to watch," Butler said.
He testified that he wasn't sure whether all Aryan Nations members were responsible to him for their actions.
But Cohen produced an Aryan Nations handbook that says Butler is the sect's absolute authority.
Cohen had Butler read from depositions taken from the Aryan Nations newsletters Butler wrote that proclaimed the group to be at war. One passage said: "Hatred is our law. Revenge is your duty."
Butler acknowledged honoring people who have committed violence on behalf of the Aryans, such as Bruce Pierce, a member of The Order, a violent offshoot of the Aryan Nations. But he said he has never advocated violence.
"It's a war of ideas," Butler said, explaining that his interpretation of the Bible is that there are "children of the light" and "children of darkness."
Under cross-examination by Edgar Steele, the lawyer representing him, Butler was asked about an article he had written in which he said he agreed with Adolf Hitler that Jews are a virus that must be wiped out.
Butler said that the passage was "a call to arms" and that Hitler didn't advocate killing Jews, but only called "for removing them from the territory of Germany."
"I renounce the fact that it means we're out to kill anybody, or remove anybody that is not a threat to our race," Butler said when asked by Steele to renounce the Hitler passage.
Butler said he renounces the use of violence except in defense of the white race.
He also said on the stand that he is a racist and defined racists as those who love their race.
The Keenans seek unspecified damages for the July 1, 1998, confrontation, in which they were chased by three Aryan Nations security guards, shot at and assaulted after stopping in front of the group's headquarters.
Butler characterized his security teams as unpaid volunteers under the direction of his second-in-command, "Colonel" Michael Teague.
The Aryan Nations, the political arm of the White Identity Church of Jesus Christ-Christian, doesn't have the resources to check the backgrounds of and train its security staff, Butler said.
"We're not a multinational outfit like you are," Butler told Cohen. "We're a small business."
Butler said he didn't learn the details of the assault on the Keenans until months afterward.
He said he still isn't sure whether the Keenans were agents sent by the Jewish Defense League or human rights groups.
Also named in the Keenans' suit are former security chief Jesse Warfield and former guard John Yeager, as well as Saphire Inc., a corporation Butler set up to protect the church assets.
Warfield and Yeager were convicted of assaulting the Keenans and are serving prison sentences.
If the jury finds for the Keenans and awards damages, the Keenans could go after the Aryan Nations' 20-acre property north of Coeur d'Alene.