Founder to give up Aryan Nations property

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - In a blow to hate groups that have made the Northwest their clubhouse, the founder of the Aryan Nations has agreed to give up his Idaho compound to satisfy a $6.3 million verdict against the white supremacist organization.

Richard Butler wanted to avoid the spectacle of sheriff's vans showing up to seize the 20-acre property, lawyers said Friday. He has agreed to hand over the property no later than Oct. 25.

Under the agreement reached Thursday, Butler must give up the property and all its contents - Nazi and Confederate flags, Third Reich posters, a silver bust of Adolf Hitler, stained glass swastikas and contents of a print shop.

Butler, 82, will leave with only his clothing and personal effects.

A planned Oct. 28 parade in downtown Coeur d'Alene could be the final public hurrah for the sect: Butler also must give up the Aryan Nations name, though it was not immediately clear when he must stop using it.

''I would say this is a significant victory for the people of Idaho and that I hope that this is the end of the story,'' Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said from Boise. ''One clear image that should emerge is that Idahoans do not condone these activities of malcontents that would promote hatred and bigotry.''

Richard Cohen, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., said Butler is not precluded from continuing his church, the Church of Jesus Christ Christian-Aryan Nations, which operates on the property.

Butler will deed the property near Hayden Lake to Victoria and Jason Keenan, who won the jury award earlier this month after they were attacked outside the sect's compound in 1998.

''The Keenans will be able to do with the property what they want,'' Cohen said Friday.

Edgar Steele, who represented Butler during the trial, said the deal will go through only if a judge refuses to grant a new trial.

The compound containing the sect's church, barracks and Butler's home were scheduled for seizure next Friday. Under the agreement, Butler will remain on the property until one week after the expected ruling on a request for a new trial, or Oct. 25, whichever comes first.

Butler moved to northern Idaho from California in 1973 to found his sect, which called for a whites-only homeland in the Northwest. He began holding an annual event called the Aryan Nations Congress in 1981, attracting racist and anti-government groups from across the country.

A recent report by the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity identified 11 white supremacist groups in Idaho, 10 of them in the Panhandle, a region of beautiful lakes and forested mountains that draws thousands of tourists and retirees.

Northern Idaho has gotten an undeserved reputation as a haven for white supremacists because of the Aryans' presence, said Jonathan Coe, the executive director of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce.

''This development is yet another positive outcome of the trial,'' Coe said. ''If it means Richard Butler is unable to continue the Aryan Nations and the message of hatred, we think it's a real success.''

Earlier this month, a Kootenai County jury found Butler, a co-defendant and the Aryan Nations grossly negligent in hiring and training the security guards who shot at and assaulted the Keenans.

The Southern Poverty Law Center represented the mother and son, who were awarded $330,000 in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages.

Morris Dees, the co-founder of the law center, had said he intended to take everything the Aryan Nations owns. In 1987, Dees won a $7 million verdict against a Ku Klux Klan organization over the slaying of a 19-year-old black man in Mobile, Ala., forcing the group to turn over its headquarters building. In 1990, he won $9 million in Portland, Ore., against the White Aryan Resistance in the beating death of a black man by neo-Nazi skinheads.

It was not known where Butler will live; no one answered the telephone Friday at the Aryan Nations. He could move his church elsewhere or he could concentrate his activities on the Internet, where Aryan Nations already has a home page.

''I don't know Pastor Butler's plans, but he has said he intends to stay in north Idaho and continue to be pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian,'' Steele said.

Steele said he counseled Butler ''not to provide any type of haven for these oddballs, criminals and wingnuts. They're the ones that got him in trouble.''


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