L.A. Shooting May Have Been Initiation Rite

Washington Post/August 12, 1999
By Hanna Rosin

In the world of white supremacy, Buford O. Furrow may represent the wave of the future: a new generation of racial warriors who believe in acting alone.

It is still unclear what combination of factors drove Furrow to open fire on a Jewish community center in Los Angeles Tuesday, and what precise mix of ideology contributed to that act. But judging from the trail of his associations in the white supremacy movement, the people who remember him and the books he read, Furrow was a "lone wolf" who distanced himself from the larger, organized elements of the movement. He may have considered himself one of the Phineas Priesthood, who initiate themselves individually, with a lone act of terrorism.

There are no membership cards for the Priesthood, no meetings, no central address, no organizational structure for the FBI and police to infiltrate. Instead, in this latest trend of Aryan resistance, "you anoint yourself," said Brian Levin, an expert on hate groups, "by committing a violent act against a minority member."

The group's bible is the 1990 book "Vigilantes of Christendom: the Story of the Phineas Priesthood" by Richard Kelly Hoskins. (Another of Hoskins's books was found in the van that Furrow drove to the community center.) The Lynchburg, Va., author urges his followers to follow the example of the biblical Phineas, grandson of the priest Aaron in the Book of Numbers, who kills a prince of Israel for marrying a woman from another tribe. In return for this deed, Phineas receives the "covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God."

The mission of the Priesthood, as Hoskins outlines it in his dozen or so books and newsletters, is to outlaw racial "interbreeding" and "root sodomites from the land." As inspiration, he provides a list of examples, including in Denver, "a Jewish radio announcer [who] stepped from his Volkswagen and was greeted with a hail of fire," a reference to the 1984 murder of Alan Berg by The Order, a neo-Nazi group whose founder's widow later lived with Furrow.

Furrow showed up on the neo-Nazi scene in the early 1990s, when he lived in the small foothill town of Metaline Falls, Wash., near the the Aryan Nations headquarters in Hayden Lake, Idaho.

Floyd Cochran, a former spokesman for the Aryan Nations, recalled seeing Furrow at a Hitler youth festival in 1991. Furrow was at that time a member of the security team responsible for guarding Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler. Historically, the security guards "are the ones who have gone on to commit acts of violence," according to Eric Ward of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment. A 1995 picture found by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, shows Furrow at the Idaho compound wearing a Nazi uniform.

Cochran remembered Furrow as "antisemitic, like everyone else," he said. "He was concerned that Jewish people were running the world and the media, and why don't people do something about it. He left it at that - do something about it." He also described Furrow as "fascinated with guns."

By then, most members of the Aryan Nations were adherents of the Christian Identity movement. The movement acted as the white supremacists' religion, holding that Jews are the spawn of Satan, descendants of Cain who was born when Eve mated with the devil. It predicts a final apocalyptic battle, where the forces of light, or white, triumph over darkness.

With an estimated 5,000 followers in America, Christian Identity is decentralized and varies from group to group, ranging in character from missionary to violent. The ideology gained a wide U.S. following in the mid-1980s, when some militia groups in the West adopted it as their battle cry, charging that a government that grants rights to Jews and nonwhites is a government to rebel against. Christian Identity picked up its latest terrorist incarnation in the 1990s, with the writings of Hoskins and other theorists of the Phineas Priesthood.

In the mid-1990s, Furrow moved in with Debra Mathews, the widow of Robert Jay Mathews, founder of The Order. Mathews, who was killed in 1984 after a 35-hour standoff with FBI agents, was seen among white supremacists as a hero and martyr. But by the '90s his ideology was no longer revered by those, like Furrow, still left in the movement. Mathews believed in Odinism and worshiped Norse gods; Furrow was a Christian Identity man. Mathews operated as part of an organized terrorist group, 22 of whom ended up in jail for racketeering and bank robbery. Furrow disparaged the group's structure and bureaucracy, recalled Cochran.

Furrow's thinking may have derived from the writings of Hoskins, who also criticized The Order for its unwieldy size, according to Ward. Hoskins, however, distanced himself from Furrow yesterday. "It's absolutely amazing to me that you can connect some book about economics with killing," said Hoskins, adding that "War Cycles, Peace Cycles," the book found in Furrow's car, criticizes Jews involved in usury, but only in passing. "Anyone who would shoot a child should be prosecuted," he said.

But Hoskins is unapologetic about his more incendiary, racialist writings. "I follow God's commandments," he said. "If you see a crime in action, you can't let it pass, or you become an accessory."

Hoskins has inspired others: Three men convicted of setting off bombs at a Planned Parenthood clinic and a newspaper office in 1996 signed a letter with the symbol for the Phineas Priesthood. That same year, two men were arrested for committing as many as 22 bank robberies over a two-year period; a video promoting Hoskins's book was found at their home.

Hoskins gained public attention in 1991, when prosecutors linked the convicted killer of civil rights leader Medgar Evers to the Phineas Priesthood.

Staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.



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