Burford Furrow's ideological roots
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Thu Aug 19 15:25:21 MDT 1999
LA Times, Friday, August 13, 1999
A Trip to the Birthplace of Racist Ideologies
By PETER Y. HONG, KEN ELLINGWOOD, Times Staff Writers
Buford Furrow's journey from Washington to Southern California was a kind
of pilgrimage back to the birthplace of his racist creed.
The hate group to which Furrow belongs and the broader religio-political
movement linking white supremacist groups across the country began in
Southern California and was centered here for decades before moving to
The Aryan Nations, the neo-Nazi group with which Furrow has been involved,
is one of several hate groups that draw on the murky doctrines of Christian
Identity, a racist, anti-Semitic movement that emerged in Los Angeles and
is now followed by an estimated 50,000 Americans. Christian Identity "is
connected to the lion's share of domestic terrorism," according to Joe Roy
of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
Whether Furrow fixed on Los Angeles because it was his Hitlerian holy land
or because its sprawling, multiethnic landscape was rich with targets of
opportunity and avenues of escape remains a subject for conjecture.
But Richard G. Butler, the 80-year-old head of the Aryan Nations, which is
based in Hayden Lake, Idaho, has named as his successor Neuman Britton, a
Christian Identity leader who lives near San Diego.
Furrow has been an Aryan Nations member since at least 1995, when he was
married inside the group's compound to Debra Mathews, widow of a slain
white supremacist leader. The ceremony reportedly was performed by Butler,
who is also a Christian Identity minister.
Today, the area surrounding the Aryan Nations compound is a well-known
cradle of far-right groups. White separatist Randy Weaver held his infamous
standoff with federal agents a few miles from Hayden Lake, and prominent
Holocaust denial, militia and Christian Identity groups are just a short
But the ideological seeds from which these and many other contemporary hate
groups sprang were planted in Los Angeles.
Oddly enough, Christian Identity stems from the same wave of British
emigres who early in this century gave Los Angeles a cosmopolitan cast. The
city was then a mecca for sectarians and "seekers," who gathered in salons
and ashrams around gurus and mediums.
By and large, their impact was benign. But there was an exception: the tiny
congregation of Anglo-Israelites, who established themselves in Hollywood.
They were products of one of the critical intellectual problems that
assailed late 19th century British society, which was finding a continuing
justification for imperialism.
One solution was to appropriate the new biology of Charles Darwin and give
it a political cast. Britons, this argument went, simply were the product
of better "natural selection" than the "lesser" races they were fated to
rule by evolutionary determinism.
Another, far less-known rationale was pseudo-theological and was called
Anglo-Israelism. It held that Anglo-Saxons were descendants of the lost
tribes of Israel and the only survivors of the group described in the first
books of the Bible as Jews, who were in fact a "Nordic race." The people
known as Jews in the contemporary world, Anglo-Israelites claimed, were
descendants of--depending on who was doing the telling--an unholy
relationship between Satan and Eve or Satan and the daughters of Cain.
People of color were said to be not human at all, but created by the devil
out of mud and, like animals, without souls. Jesus, the believers held, was
killed by the "satanic" Jews because he was of pure Nordic blood.
The Seeds of Hate
At some point in the 1940s, Hollywood's "Anglo-Saxon Christian
Congregation" found a new American pastor, Wesley Swift, a West Coast
organizer for the anti-Semitic American populist Gerald L.K. Smith. "All
Jews must be destroyed," Swift wrote in the early 1950s.
Two of Swift's early converts were retired U.S. Army Col. William Potter
Gale and Butler. Gale, a guerrilla warfare expert in the South Pacific
during World War II, was an early leader of the extremist Posse Comitatus,
a precursor of the contemporary militia movement.
Another leading Christian Identity ideologue is a virulently anti-Semitic
former securities dealer named Richard Kelly Hoskins, whose ideas have been
invoked by terrorists linked to bank robberies and attacks on abortion
clinics. A copy of Hoskins' book "War Cycles, Peace Cycles" was found in
Butler, often referred to as "the elder statesman of American hate," moved
to Hayden Lake in 1973 after he quit his job at the Lockheed Corp. in
Palmdale, where he coordinated the final assembly of L-1011 passenger jets.
When Swift died in 1970, Butler proclaimed his Church of Jesus Christ
Christian to be the successor to Swift's congregation.
This year, Butler tapped Britton as his heir apparent. Britton, 73, was
chosen over Louis Beam, a Texas Christian Identity minister. Hate group
observers say that Beam had fallen out of favor for toning down his
anti-Semitism to focus on an anti-government message.
Britton is married to Joan Kahl, the former wife of Gordon Kahl, a North
Dakota Posse Comitatus member who was killed in a 1983 Arkansas shootout
with law enforcement officials.
Butler, who may be in failing health, has willed his Idaho property to his
two grown daughters, neither of whom are Aryan Nations adherents, according
to Sue Stengel, Western states counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
Stengel said that Butler's children may not want the property to continue
as an Aryan compound, which could prompt the group to move its base to
Southern California, Britton's home.
Britton, however, said he has reservations about basing the group in such a
racially mixed area.
An avuncular man who sprinkles his conversations with biblical references
and claims of Jewish conspiracies, Britton denies knowing Furrow, and
condemned the attack because its victims were children.
Receiving a reporter at his Escondido home, where he also holds Aryan
Nations suppers, Britton was surrounded by signs of how tough it is to be a
white supremacist in California.
Several mixed-race children frolicked in Britton's backyard, clients of his
daughter's home day-care business. "I don't like it, but it's the law," he
said, explaining that his daughter is forbidden from practicing racial
discrimination in her business.
Britton's single-story house is on five acres overlooking Interstate 15 and
an elementary school. "They've destroyed our school system," he lamented,
decrying what he says was the downturn that occurred when its enrollment
shifted from "all-white to 90% minority. It's the Mexicans who've done it,"
California's large minority population, he said, would get in the way of
Aryan Nations activities. "We'd have a war," he said of the prospect of
holding an annual meeting in Southern California, "unless we went up in the
mountains somewhere and bought property."
California may never again be a desirable headquarters for the Aryan
Nations, but Los Angeles holds an important place in the terrorist
imagination. "The Turner Diaries," an apocalyptic novel whose readers have
included Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy McVeigh, depicts a
massacre in Los Angeles.
Furrow's estranged wife, Debra Mathews, is the widow of Robert Mathews, a
founder of the Order, a terrorist group that took its name from "The Turner
The Order had been linked by authorities to robberies of armored cars and
stores in Washington and California, the proceeds of which were allegedly
donated to white supremacist groups. The Order also claimed responsibility
for the June 1984 murder of Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg.
Robert Mathews was killed in December 1984 at a house on Whidbey Island in
Washington. After using a machine gun to hold off federal agents for 36
hours, Mathews was burned when the agents fired flares into his house,
setting it ablaze.
It is not hard to imagine that Furrow held somewhere in his memory the
epitaph that William Pierce, author of "The Turner Diaries," bestowed on
Robert Mathews after his death: "How will the Jews cope with the man who
does not fear them and is willing, even glad, to give his life in order to
hurt them? What will they do when a hundred good men rise to take Robert
Copyright Los Angeles Times
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