Former Aryan guards' letters conflict with testimony

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Letters and depositions from two former Aryan Nations security guards conflicted with testimony they gave Thursday in a civil trial involving the white supremacist sect and its leader, Richard Butler.

Former Aryan Nations security chief Jesse Warfield and former guard John Yeager were called by plaintiffs' lawyer Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

Warfield, 43, and Yeager, 21, are among the defendants in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason, stemming from a July 1, 1998 assault near the Aryans' headquarters north of Coeur d'Alene. The two former Aryan security guards are serving prison sentences for the assaults.

Should the jury award compensatory and punitive damages, the Keenans could go after the Aryan Nations assets; mainly the 20-acre compound and the sect's buildings.

In testimony Thursday, Warfield denied he was an Aryan Nations member when he, Yeager and another security guard, Shane Wright, jumped into his pickup, armed with an assault rifle, and chased the Keenans' car.

But Dees had him read from a letter he wrote to Butler after his arrest reminding the white supremacist leader that he was a lifetime member. Dees also introduced a picture of Warfield at an Aryan march two weeks after the assault showing Warfield in the sect's uniform and a name tag identifying him as chief of security.

Warfield, who identified himself as a white separatist and ''extremist,'' said he ''always acted as if I was security chief, even though I wasn't appointed.''

Dees is trying to convince the jury that Butler and his chief of staff, Michael Teague, were responsible for the actions of the security guards. Butler and Teague are also defendants in the lawsuit, as is Wright, who is a fugitive.

Both Warfield and Yeager denied changing their stories to protect Butler, whom they consider to be the protector of the white race.

Answering frequently testy exchanges with Dees with ''That's a misprint'' and ''I misquoted myself,'' Warfield said a series of letters he wrote, as well as sworn statements to detectives, were made ''under duress.''

He said ''would have written anything to get out of jail'' and that the letters were part of a plot to gain his freedom, then head to Mexico.

Earlier, Yeager concluded his testimony with a rambling hour-long cross-examination of himself. Yeager and Warfield are representing themselves.

Both testified that the atmosphere surrounding the Aryan Nations compound in the months leading up to a 1998 annual Aryan congress and parade was one of increasing paranoia.

Butler and others feared the militant Jewish Defense League and its leader, Irv Rubin, were trying to ruin their plans to march through downtown Coeur d'Alene, both Warfield and Yeager testified.

''We were really worried somebody was going to come up and ruin our parade...or hurt someone,'' Yeager said. Warfield said he was concerned Rubin ''sent people up from Los Angeles to disrupt the march.''

Warfield said he still believes that a February 1998 Aryan Nations' bunkhouse fire was started by members of the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department and that northern Idaho civic leaders and human rights groups are behind a vast conspiracy against the Aryan Nations.

He said he chased the Keenans down to try to find out who had paid them to shoot at the compound. No weapon was found in their car. Authorities theorize the guards mistook a backfire from the Keenans' car for a gunshot.

Rubin, who has been attending the trial that began Monday, said after Thursday's session that Butler inspires his followers' paranoia.

''So much of this is so bizarre and so fictitious,'' he said. He called the Aryans' contentions that the JDL was behind a series of arsons and vandalism at the compound ''the rantings and ravings of a wild individual.''

Warfield said he acted to protect himself, Butler and other sect members.

''I will admit right up front that I did overreact to the actions of other people,'' he said.

He denied having a weapon when he grabbed Victoria Keenan by the hair after her car skidded into a ditch about two miles north of the Aryan Nations' headquarters.

Warfield also admitted writing threatening letters to the Keenans, other witnesses and lawyers in the case.

''Have you written one yet to the judge, sir?'' Edgar Steele, a lawyer representing Butler and Teague, asked during cross-examination.

''No, I'm working on that,'' Warfield replied.

Warfield admitted lying in letters to human rights lawyer Norm Gissell and several prosecutors. In those letters he renounced the Aryan Nations and offered help in preparing the lawsuit.

Asked by Steele how the jurors could decide if he was now telling the truth, Warfield replied: ''I'd have to say, you'd have to take my word for it.''

Yeager said he was drunk and didn't recall shooting the SKS assault rifle at the Keenans' car.

Security is tight in and around the Kootenai County Justice Building. SWAT team members scan the crowd with binoculars from atop the building and uniformed officers are seen everywhere.

Visitors must pass through a metal detector and the public participates in a daily lottery for a limited number of courtroom passes.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment