The swastikas are gone. So are the racist parades that snaked their way through Coeur d'Alene almost every summer. And the man who was once...
HAYDEN, Idaho — The swastikas are gone. So are the racist parades that snaked their way through Coeur d’Alene almost every summer. And the man who was once the linchpin in Northern Idaho’s racist scene is dead.
Now, the Aryan Nations’ former headquarters near this resort town on Lake Coeur d’Alene is due to go on the public auction block because nobody picked up the mortgage payments on the house.
Richard Butler, founder of the white-supremacist group, lived out his final days here before collapsing with a fatal heart attack at age 86 in September.
Human-rights advocates who watched him raise the profile of the region as a hub for racist hatred say the upcoming sale of his old home is one of many signs of the Aryan Nations’ decline.
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Its notoriety was once strong enough to raise eyebrows and incite knowing glances around the world when Idaho was mentioned in casual conversation.
“He was the glue of the Aryan Nations movement in the Northwest, if not the country,” FBI agent Norm Brown, supervisor of the Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force, told the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane. “As a result of his death, we’ve seen a marked decrease in Aryan Nations activity in the Inland Northwest.”
Butler was an aeronautical engineer from California who moved to North Idaho in the 1970s and built his Church of Jesus Christ Christian, also known as Aryan Nations, on a 20-acre rural site north of Hayden Lake.
Beginning in 1981, racists from throughout the United States and Canada gathered every July at the compound for the three-day Aryan World Congress. The gathering included cross burnings and, in more recent years, parades through downtown Coeur d’Alene.
But Butler lost his prized racist landmark after he was hit with a $6.3 million civil judgment in 2000 — two members of a family who had been attacked by Aryan Nations’ members in 1998 sued and won. Butler was forced to sell the property after filing for bankruptcy.
In the fall of that year, millionaire racist Vincent Bertollini moved Butler and the Aryan Nations operation into the house in Hayden. The hate group continued its operations from the suburban ranch house, largely through the Internet, and conducted weekly church services there.
Just weeks before his death Sept. 8, 2004, Butler hosted his last Aryan gathering at a private campground near Cataldo, east of Coeur d’Alene. Weakened by heart disease, he sat in a lawn chair in the back of a pickup July 17, 2004, for his final Aryan Nations parade.
When he died, he left an unpaid balance of $91,486 on the home that, if cleaned of the waist-deep weeds and a broken front-yard tree, could yield up to $220,000 in today’s market, real-estate appraisers said.
Bertollini hasn’t paid up. Authorities think he skipped town on a drunken-driving charge and is hiding out in Ireland.
No Aryan World Congress, the annual skinhead gathering, is planned for the area. The event has relocated to Scottsboro, Ala., near the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group that helped drive the civil-rights lawsuit against Butler in 2000. It’s set to start Sept. 16 and to run for three days.
Instead of a single person to rally around, the leadership of the group is now split between Clark “Laslo” Patterson, of Talladega, Ala.; Jonathan Williams; of Conyers, Ga., who is Web master and communications director; and Rick Spring, of London, Ark., the group’s security director and a longtime Butler confidant.
Two men claiming ties to the Ku Klux Klan, another racist group with roots in the South, were arrested last week for allegedly attacking Native American teens swimming in the Spokane River.
Still, Norm Gissel, a Coeur d’Alene attorney and longtime member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, called the Aryan Nations “an extinct entity in this region.
“If there’s no public support for their beliefs, and that’s what happened here, groups like the Aryan Nations go elsewhere,” Gissel said.