Aryan Nation seeks revival

Arizona Republic/November 2, 2001

Ulysses, Pa. -- Flags of white supremacist movements past and present flutter high above a children's swingset in the front yard of a remote home from which Aryan Nations leaders plan to revive and expand their racist, anti-government organization.

Across from the pole bearing the standards of Aryan Nations and Adolf Hitler's Navy, another Nazi banner hangs from the window of one of three mobile homes set up around a clearing on the property in rural northern Pennsylvania.

One of the mobile homes is the residence of the family of August "Chip" Kreis III, the white supremacist selected to share leadership of the Aryan Nations with Harold Ray "Butch" Redfeairn, a former Dayton man who led an Aryan Nations church in Clinton County.

Kreis, the group's new director of information and propaganda, admitted his Aryan, anti-government viewpoint has failed to attract much support in this small community.

Still, as the world is focused on foreign terrorists, law-enforcement authorities and anti-racist organizations are monitoring Kreis' home, the past site of militia training exercises and national gatherings of racists.

"We don't differentiate between foreign and domestic terrorism," said Ted Almay, superintendent of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, which, along with the FBI, tracks white supremacists and other extremists in Ohio. In Pennsylvania, state police and the state Human Relations Commission keep tabs on extremist groups.

Interest in Kreis and the five-acre parcel he calls home has heightened since Richard Butler, the ailing 82-year-old founder of the Aryan Nations, named Redfeairn of Dayton and Kreis as the group's next leaders, and they decided to set up shop on this hillside, less than 20 miles from the New York border.

"There is no place as pretty as this. Mountains, the scenery and it's filled with white people," said Kreis over dinner at a local diner with his wife and four small children. "Ray (Redfeairn) was thinking about other places until he saw this place."

Kreis' home is part of a rugged subdivision catering to hunters and others interested in living in the wilderness. It is accessible by a rutted dirt road about a mile outside Ulysses, a small community lacking a pay phone or cellphone service in Potter County, Pa., population 18,000. Signs advise visitors that Potter County is "God's Country."

While still tied to logging, the regional economy also relies heavily on tourism dollars spent by hunters, fishermen, hikers and cross-country skiers from New York City, Philadelphia and Cleveland who are drawn to recreational areas set aside in huge hardwood forests that dominate this part of the state.

Ten miles down Pennsylvania 49 from Ulysses, the county seat, Coudersport, is booming, largely due to expansion by Adelphia Cable, a locally-owned national cable TV company. While upset by the influx of minorities moving into the area to work for Adelphia, Kreis welcomes Amish families who have relocated around Ulysses.

"They're white supremacists. They get away with it," said Kreis, dressed entirely in black except for a red and gold Aryan Nations pin on his shirt collar and a German SS officer's ring, a skull punctuated by ruby-red eyes.

The 46-year-old Kreis was raised in New Jersey. He described his father as generally intolerant, rather than specifically racist.

"My dad didn't like blacks. He didn't like hippies either," said Kreis.

He recalled that he initially shied from high profile racist groups, trying to keep his beliefs private. "I was thinking of getting a government job," he said. After serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, Kreis said he joined the white supremacist movement in Illinois.

From the Illinois-based Christian Patriot Defense League, Kreis said he moved to the Ku Klux Klan, the granddaddy of American white supremacist organizations, with roots stretching back 130 years to Reconstruction following the Civil War. After 13 years, Kreis moved to the Aryan Nations, compelled by its Christian Identity religious beliefs based on white supremacy.

"We identify ourselves as the true Israelites and Hebrews of old," said Kreis. In 1991, Kreis was fired from his property management job due to his racist views and moved to the woods.

He said he settled on the property in Ulysses after a road trip with Mark Thomas, another white supremacist from Pennsylvania. In 1996, Thomas testified against the Aryan Republic Army bank robbery ring, convicted of 22 bank robberies staged to fund an armed uprising against the government.

The key selling points for Ulysses were its sparse population and location in the jetstream, in case of nuclear war, Kreis said.

In Ulysses, Kreis started his own chapters of the anti-government Posse Comitatus and racist Church of Christ in Israel. Another group called Messiah's Militia, also operated from the property. In 1993, more than 500 skinheads gathered on his property for an Aryan music festival featuring the British group, Brutal Attack.

"No one had ever seen so many skinheads in one place," Kreis said.

Public sentiments turned against the white supremacists after hotel rooms were trashed and two North Carolina men in town for the show opened a car door, knocking down a passing bicyclist.

"Nobody knew what that group was about. After that mess, people got together," said Carol Szymanik, proprietor of a bed-and-breakfast on U.S. 6, south of Ulysses. Potter County United, a community group led by a Presbyterian minister in Coudersport, was formed in opposition.

Kreis became a popular guest on afternoon shock talk shows known to disintegrate into onstage violence. He and the music fest were featured in a Time article on white supremacy and the violent skinhead movement in 1993. Kreis also took to the Internet, managing Web sites for the Posse Comitatus and later the Aryan Nations.

This high-tech approach is particularly worrisome to authorities less able to track electronic communications between anonymous computer users than old-fashioned meetings susceptible to infiltration by undercover agents.

"Instead they're sitting in the basements at night flipping through these Web sites, filling themselves with hatred," Almay said.

When The Buffalo News visited Kreis' home in 1995, a reporter described armed guards, snarling Rottweilers and a small following. Last month, no guards, Rottweilers or followers were visible. In the meantime, Kreis has struggled with neighbors, anti-racists and the law.

In 1996 Kreis neighbors accused him of threatening to set their home on fire. A Potter County jury acquitted him in April 1997 of charges of making terroristic threats, harassment and stalking against his neighbors. The trial was heard by Judge John Leete.

Not long after Kreis' neighbors had complained about him, Leete had spoken at a meeting of Potter County United videotaped by Kreis. By siding with Potter County United, a group "inciting and provoking community hatred of me and my family" the judge disqualified himself, Kreis' lawyer argued.

Leete rejected Kreis' motion calling for another judge.

Joining Kreis' detractors was Ann Van Dyke of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and Floyd Cochran, a reformed white supremacist who travels the country giving speeches to anti-racist groups. Even Sal T. Ganci III, one of Kreis' lieutenants, eventually renounced the group and its beliefs.

In March 2000, District Attorney Jeff Leber, who had prosecuted Kreis in 1997, brought criminal charges on his behalf against Jeremy Wittes, a Washington D.C. man accused of harassing Kreis and his family in phone calls in August 1999. In April 2000, Wittes pleaded guilty and was fined $500 by the Ulysses magistrate, although Kreis complained he was not notified of the court hearing.

Over the last year, tensions between Kreis and the community seemed to have eased until Kreis joined extremists across the country siding with the perpetrators of the World Trade Center attacks.

"As long as we have ties with the terrorist state of Israel, this is going to continue to happen," Kreis said.

In fact, Kreis said the Aryan Nations expects to gain support as racial tensions rise in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. "We're going to play off what's going on today."

But locals, outraged by his comments, refocused their ire on Kreis.

"I have a couple of friends," he said.

Earlier this month, Kreis' prospects improved when Butler named him and Redfeairn as his successors, after a civil trial that ended in a $6.3 million award that cost the Aryan Nations its 25-acre compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho.

Kreis, Butler and Redfeairn stopped in Ulysses, where about 30 people took the opportunity to meet the Aryan Nations founder at the borough's meeting hall. They also stopped in Kentucky, where Butler met members of the Imperial Klans of America in southwestern Kentucky.

"We work together," Kreis said, adding he and Redfeairn hope to join the many factions.

On the road trip, near Wall Drug in South Dakota, Butler told Kreis and Redfeairn he had picked them to take over the Aryan Nations, Kreis said. Kreis said he favored Redfeairn as the group's next leader due to his biblical scholarship and " a lot of skinheads respect him."

With the Idaho compound literally burned to the ground, Kreis said he and Redfeairn decided to move the headquarters to Pennsylvania.

Earlier this month, Redfeairn was enroute to Ulysses as Kreis' family cuddled on the sectional couch in their mobile home with his common-law wife, Karley Hollis, a former skinhead. Two young daughters showed off new school pictures and a son proudly waved a handheld computer game.

Two very large dogs, a Rhodesian ridgeback and German shepherd, nuzzled for affection. The living room was undergoing a major remodeling.

"Here, let me show you command central," Kreis said, gesturing toward a small room from which he manages the racist Web sites used to drum up support. Books by Hitler and William Shakespeare share shelf space above a personal computer. A gun rack holding a half dozen rifles and shotguns hangs above an Apple system. Pictures of Butler, family and friends - including several now in prison - cover the walls.

Although Kries is the group's web operations, he is hardly a computer geek. Instead, he relies on store-bought programs and computer-savvy followers.

"I'm a Microsoft man. I don't know a thing about HTML," Kreis said, clicking on an email that brought him new graphics and sounds now featured on the Aryan Nations Web site. "I have friends who do that."

Kreis declined to estimate the group's membership numbers. In coming months, he and Redfeairn plan to build a church on an adjoining five-acre tract and travel the country, networking with other white supremacists and developing programs to attract new members.

"Our fight is mostly with our own people, waking them up," Kreis said.

The Aryan Nations will continue to target youths and single men with racist inclinations, Kreis said. However the group will also reach out more to families willing to embrace the Aryan vision of racial purity, he said.

"We want to make the Aryan Nations the organization for white people across the globe to join. Eventually every state will have an Aryan Nations chapter and a place to meet," said Kreis.

Kreis has stayed abreast of moves by Congress to strengthen federal anti-terrorism laws which could be used to shut down the Aryan Nations or other domestic terrorist groups.

"If it comes down to that, we'll fight," Kreis said. "I don't look forward to that."

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