Aryan Nations was a community founded in 1973 by White nationalist, Richard Butler, to serve as the nucleus of an Aryan (White) homeland in northern Idaho. It closed in 2000 due to a court judgment after members assaulted two local Native American people.
Aryan Nations was a White-nationalist community founded on the Christian Identity movement which was based on the belief that people of Northern European ancestry are the true descendants of the ancient Israelites. The most prominent early figure in the movement was California minister Wesley A. Swift (1913-1970), who added the belief that people of color are subhuman and that Jews are descendants of Satan with inordinate power who want to destroy the White race.
Richard Girnt Butler (1918-2004) was an aeronautical engineer who was inspired by the caste system while working in India during WWII and hoped to import the idea to the United States. Later, while living in California, he began to attend Swift’s sermons and became active in the church, eventually taking over as leader upon Swift’s death in 1970. In 1973, he moved his congregation to a twenty-acre property near the town of Hayden Lake, Idaho, hoping that it would be the nucleus of a future “Aryan homeland” in the northwestern states.
Some parishioners moved with Butler from California to Idaho, and he used various recruiting methods to enlarge the congregation, including offering land to local struggling farmers and conducting prison outreach. He constructed a bunkhouse where formerly incarcerated men could live in exchange for printing and distributing his literature, and a watchtower with armed guards after an unknown person bombed his church.
Only four people lived permanently on the grounds, but there were normally other residents staying there for periods of time ranging from months to years, and people living outside of the compound attended regular Sunday services, Bible studies, and holiday celebrations. Members were expected to abstain from alcohol, drugs, swearing, and extra-marital sex. There were numerous collective projects such as home-schooling residents’ children, operating the printing press, and administering the prison ministry.
Over the next few decades, the Aryan Nations compound served as a gathering place for the White-supremacist movement, as exemplified by the annual Aryan Youth Festival and the Aryan World Congress, attended by hundreds of members of various White-supremacist groups, such as the KKK, neo-Nazis, and skinheads throughout the 1980s. Butler referred to it as the “international headquarters of the White race.”
In the early 1980s the organization received public attention because of a series of bank robberies and a murder committed by a splinter group. The organization also faced increased resistance from locals in Cœur d’Alene; Kootenai County established a task force for human rights and residents would often protest the group’s activities.
Aryan Nations was deteriorating by the late 1990s, however it met with a sudden, dramatic dénouement. On July 1, 1998, two security guards assaulted Victoria Keenan, a local Native American woman, and her son on the road outside the compound. In a 2000 verdict, a district court found the organization negligent in the management of the guards and required it to pay $6.3 million to the victims. Butler declared bankruptcy and the compound was awarded to the Keenans. After leadership disputes following Butler’s death in 2004, Aryan Nations splintered into various factions.