From the Past, a Chilling Warning About the Extremists of the Present

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Author: Neil MacFarquhar
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

From the Past, a Chilling Warning About the Extremists of the Present

“Do they want armed revolution and race war or are they seeking to enter politics?” said Kathleen Belew, whose book, “Bring the War Home,” covered the history of the Order. “Do they want to burn it down or do they want to take over?”

The Order sought to burn it down. A key takeaway was how much time it took federal authorities to recognize the significant threat, Mr. Manis and others said. Law enforcement agents, focused on more visible, outspoken groups, were initially blind to the level of organization behind the Order.

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In northern Idaho in the 1980s, the public face of the far right was the Aryan Nations compound near Hayden Lake, a gathering of white supremacists and neo-Nazis collected around the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, part of the Christian Identity movement. Its pastor, Richard Girnt Butler, preached that the United States must be restored as a white nation for the second coming of Christ to occur.

Then, as now, adherents of extremist groups were mainly white men. “They were undereducated or poorly educated, underemployed, unsuccessful in whatever they were trying to do work-wise,” Mr. Wilson said. “They were seeking relevance and status, a meaning for their lives, and looking for somebody readily identifiable to blame. They blamed minority groups for their problems.”

They railed against immigrants coming to destroy the country and against the elites in what they called the “Zionist Occupied Government,” whom they accused of abetting such threatening changes for cheap labor, among other reasons.

Expressing those sentiments, protected by the First Amendment, was insufficient cause to begin an investigation. And many of the members did not particularly stand out in northern Idaho, given that residents pride themselves in rugged individualism.

Peter Robinson, who helped to prosecute the case as an assistant United States attorney, said the defendants struck him as completely ordinary — up to a point.

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