Montana group founded on white supremacy On the eve of the bankruptcy sale of the Aryan Nations, many former members are flocking to a new church that's 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 one man for a quarter-century, the new spinoff church has a five-member "council of prelates" making decisions. The new church appears to be set up to draw less media and law enforcement attention. But already the emergence of this new Christian Identity church is sparking exchanges between its leadership and Aryan Nations founder Richard G. Butler.
The fight appears to be over power and influence in the white supremacy movement, and attracting members and their financial support. Butler's abandoned Aryan compound in North Idaho will be sold at a bankruptcy auction next month, 10 days before Butler's 83rd birthday. This week Butler publicly chided some of his former top aides for defecting to the new church. He said his ex-followers have less courage than a castrated rooster.
"The loss of my home, church, personal possessions and automobiles didn't hurt so much as the loss of those who claimed to be my friends and comrades," Butler said in an Internet posting. Defectors who "pretended to be part of the inner core" of the Aryan Nations "fled like capon chickens when the enemy attacked," Butler said.
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. Hate group experts at the center said Friday they aren't surprised to see a new church pop up in an attempt to replace Butler and the Aryan Nations. "Historically, when these organizations have been hit with these large judgments, we see efforts to revitalize things under a new organization," said Joe Roy, director of the center's Intelligence Project.
"We also have seen members recruited by other organizations in what can only be described as a feeding frenzy," Roy said. "That's what we see going on here with the remnants of the Aryan Nations." Butler filed for bankruptcy about two months after being hit with the $6.3 million judgment declaring him grossly negligent for an assault on a woman and her son by three Aryan guards. His compound is set to be sold at a U.S. Bankruptcy Court auction in Coeur d'Alene on Feb. 13. But this week, Butler sounded more worried about the defectors _ fellow racists who marched with him in parades in Coeur d'Alene and burned crosses at summer rallies at the Aryan Nations compound.
"The funny part is the mealy-mouthed explanations some use for turning tail, saying they found a `true' church that would be safe from attack and bad press," Butler said. Despite the defections, Butler said he's not going away and has Aryan Nations parades planned this summer in Coeur d'Alene, Rathdrum and Sandpoint. Those involved with the Church of True Israel say they want nothing to do with neo-Nazi skinheads, parades, swastikas or felons -- trademarks of the Aryan Nations.
"You ain't gonna find any of that stuff here," said John R. Burke, of Coeur d'Alene, one of five founders of the Church of True Israel. Burke said the new church is aimed at "working-class people, with white, Christian values." "We don't want any of his squirrels," Burke said of those who attend Butler's church services at his new home in Hayden.
While the new church disagrees with Butler for embracing Hitler and neo-Nazi beliefs, it shares his racist religious dogma that white people are the true Jews. Some of its members, like Butler, also have ties to the Ku Klux Klan and cross burnings.
The Church of True Israel, known as CTI, preaches Christian Identity -- a white superiority religion long championed by Butler. Both the Church of True Israel and the Aryan Nations appear to be soliciting financial support from two wealthy Sandpoint men, Vincent Bertollini and Carl Story. They are co-founders of the racist 11th Hour Remnant Messenger. Bertollini, a self-described evangelist, said he has attended CTI services but remains closely aligned with Butler.
Butler's Aryan Nations Web site was quick to post photos and a statement from Bertollini this week after he claimed he was beaten by Sandpoint police during a DUI arrest. Butler and CTI both hope to get enough financial backing to build new church facilities in the next few months.
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. For a brief time, Butler changed his group's name to Aryan National Alliance, but abandoned that last week when its Web site contact defected to the Church of True Israel.
Burke, who is the administrator of the CTI Web site, said its members don't have uniforms or a church logo like those that became hallmarks of the Aryan Nations. "The only thing you're going to see is our flag," said Burke, of Coeur d'Alene, a founding member of the church.
The "constitution" of the CTI was signed by five founding members in November 1996 and filed in Montana, Burke said. But the group's activity, including monthly meetings and the Web site, didn't start until last fall -- shortly after Butler and the Aryan Nations were hit with the civil judgment.
The "commanding officer" of the council of prelates is Charles W. Mangels, of Polson, Mont. He has long had ties with the Aryan Nations and once was its Montana state leader. He also has worn a Phineas Priest belt buckle, an identifier within the Christian Identity movement of someone who believes he's commanded to enforce "God's laws."
Mangels declined comment, deferring to Burke to speak for the new church. Burke and Mangels left the Aryan Nations after its 1995 Aryan World Congress. At that congress, Mangels reportedly attended a secret meeting of state Aryan leaders in a failed attempt to take power from Butler. Butler walked in on the secret meeting and reportedly became angry.
Other founding members of CTI, Burke said, are John Miller, Stanley McCollum and Chuck Howarth, who died in November. All five founders lived in North Idaho or northwestern Montana and once were tied to the Aryan Nations.
Howarth once wrote a "Joe Six Pack" column for the militia-patriot newspaper Trade and Save.
The Church of True Israel has conducted meetings and services at the community center in Noxon and at other, undisclosed locations. 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.