A small but heavily armed group of right-wing extremists, its members recruited largely among ex-convicts, has launched a wave of crime and terrorism inspired by a fictional account of a neo-Nazi takeover of the United States.
A task force of FBI, Secret Service and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officers has caught eight of the extremists in a crackdown over the last month. At least nine suspected members are still being pursued.
FBI officials say the extremists, who share an unyielding anti-Semitic, racist philosophy, have engaged in counterfeiting, armored-car holdups, bank robberies, a synagogue bombing and the gangland-style murder of a liberal Jewish radio personality in Denver.
Officials said the group has also planned terrorist bombings of dams and public buildings.
FBI Special Agent Norman D. Stephenson told a federal magistrate in Seattle that the group's goal is "violent overthrow of the U.S. government by killing, robbery and counterfeiting." He cited a "declaration of war" against blacks, Jews and the federal government signed by about 12 of the neo-Nazis late last month.
Law enforcement officers say the group, variously known as the "White American Bastion," "The Order" or "Bruder Schweigen" (Silent Brotherhood), essentially is acting out in real life the plot of a fictional Nazi fantasy.
The current outburst of violence tracks fairly closely with the plot of a fictional pamphlet, "The Turner Diaries" by white supremacist William Pierce of Arlington, Va.
That book relates a successful revolution by heavily armed American neo-Nazis. In the book, the Nazis murder several prominent Jews, bomb the FBI headquarters and finally attack Israel with nuclear weapons.
Just as in that novel, the real-life "Silent Brotherhood" has funded itself through counterfeiting and a series of robberies. With these fund-raising methods, authorities said, the group has accumulated more than $4 million in $100 and $20 bills.
Some of the cash has been recovered in the recent arrests, but the FBI reportedly believes that large chunks of the money remain to be found.
This violent band of white supremacists came to national attention this month when police announced that the automatic pistol used in the June slaying of Alan Berg, a controversial radio talk-show host in Denver, had been found in the rural Idaho home of one member of the "brotherhood."
In fact, though, the seeds of the movement have been sprouting for more than a decade at a heavily fortified "church" here in a remote and marvelously scenic resort community east of Spokane, Wash., 80 miles south of the Canadian border.
This small Idaho town is the home base of the "Church of Jesus Christ -- Christian" and its proselytizing arm, an auxiliary group called "Aryan Nations."
The "church" and the Aryan Nations group are descendants of hate groups that flourished during the Great Depression.
The church has been run since 1970 by Richard G. Butler, a California aeronautical engineer who became a follower of Dr. Wesley Swift, one of the more active Depression-era white supremacists.
In 1973, Butler moved the operation to a fenced and secluded 20-acre site here at the edge of Coeur d'Alene National Forest, near the banks of a pure, ice-blue lake surrounded by a dense stand of dark-green Douglas fir.
The church's name reflects Butler's angry rejection of the assertion that Jesus Christ was born a Jew. The name "Aryan Nations" reflects his belief that the "white nations" of the world, in North America and Western Europe, are the true Aryan descendants of the original tribes of Israel, described in the Bible as the Chosen People.
Butler, 65, a nervous, thin-faced man with a surprisingly unmenacing manner -- his conversation is laced with "Gosh!" and "Heck!" -- set about spreading his views that Jews and blacks are the children of Satan and have corrupted U.S. institutions and government.
Butler said in an interview last week that he views his mission as "spreading the message."
"We must win the hearts of the people," he said. "It is a battle, or a war, for minds. It can only be done in the open."
Accordingly, Butler has spent the last decade distributing literature, taking part in public debates and recruiting converts.
He has an extensive catalogue of Aryan Nations literature and paraphernalia. Items for sale range from a new edition of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" ("pro-Hitler translation," the catalogue promises) to plastic coffee mugs and key chains bearing the red-and-blue Aryan Nations seal.
Butler has fought a continuing battle with local and federal taxing authorities, who repeatedly have denied his group a religious-organization tax exemption.
At one point, Butler said, he had a mailing list of 6,000 people, but this was stolen by two dissident followers who left his compound last summer.
When Canadian authorities refused to let Butler's hate literature into the country, he started a computer bulletin board to spread the message electronically. He says several hundred people in the United States and Canada gain access to the system every day to read anti-Semitic, anti-black messages.
Butler holds regular Sunday church services that draw a few dozen people. His church also runs a small "Christian Academy" where a handful of local children get their education.
Butler has also hosted at least two sessions of the "National Aryan Congress," an annual gathering of Ku Klux Klan, American Nazi Party, Posse Comitatus and similar extremist group members from around the nation.
At these summertime sessions, participants in brown American Nazi uniforms, bright-blue Aryan Nations suits or white Ku Klux Klan robes gather around the Nazi and Confederate flags and exchange stiff-armed Nazi salutes, according to those who have attended.
Butler's Idaho "church" also has served as a temporary base for such allies as Louis Beam Jr., former Grand Dragon of the Texas Ku Klux Klan, and Robert Miles, a Klan leader from Michigan.
Over the years, Butler directed much of his proselytizing at prison inmates, particularly in the West and deep South. He says that "a number" of ex-convicts whom he contacted while they were in prison moved here after their release and became members of the "Aryan Nations uniformed headquarters division."
But this influx of prisoners led to an eventual split in the extremist movement, as Butler tells it.
"In their view, the program . . . to reach the masses of our people through truth, logic, and reasonableness would never be allowed" because "the media are controlled by our enemies," Butler said.
And so a number of young neo-Nazis split away from Aryan Nations, Butler said, to pursue a more violent approach toward making the United States a "pure" white Christian country.
Some observers of the extreme right doubt Butler's story and say he is still closely connected to the violent faction of his movement. Butler has not been charged, however, with complicity in any of the recent crimes.
In any case, a group of Aryan Nations members began a bloody trail of criminal conduct, which the FBI says is based on the novelistic account of a neo-Nazi uprising. FBI agent Stephenson said an informant has described the novel as "the bible" of the violent faction.
In the last year, the FBI believes, Silent Brotherhood members have successfully carried out at least one bank robbery and two lucrative ambushes of armored cars.
Stephenson told a magistrate in Seattle that "some of the documents recovered from members' homes state that in order to become an 'Aryan Warrior,' applicants must complete a series of . . .points . . . and that the method of compiling such credits includes the murder of federal judges, FBI agents, and other federal officials and employes, as well as the murder of Jewish people, black people and others."
The Secret Service, which investigates counterfeiting, has seized a professional printing press in central Washington state that allegedly was used by Robert E. Merki, a member of the right-wing group.
Counterfeiting is used by the extremists not only to get cash but also to disrupt the Federal Reserve System, which Aryan Nations literature describes as a tool of Jews.
Law-enforcement officials began to make a strong move against the group this fall after one member, Gary Lee Yarbrough, an ex-convict who later became Richard Butler's "bodyguard" at the Hayden Lake church, allegedly fired at FBI agents approaching his house.
A subsequent search of Yarbrough's home revealed a large cache of explosives and weapons ranging from submachine guns to crossbows.
Among the guns found in Yarbrough's home was a "Mac-10" automatic pistol. Ballistics tests proved that this was the gun used to kill Berg, the Denver radio host.
After the shooting at Yarbrough's home, agents tracked the fleeing Yarbrough and another extremist, Robert Jay Mathews, to a motel in Portland, Ore. After a firefight there, Yarbrough was arrested, but Mathews escaped.
Mathews was cornered earlier this month at a cottage on Whidbey Island, Wash. After a gun battle with 100 agents, Mathews was found dead and four other Silent Brotherhood members were arrested.
Yarbrough's brother, Stephen Ray, and Denver Daw Parmenter II, also reportedly members of the group, have also been arrested recently.
No one has been charged with Berg's murder, much of the money that was stolen or counterfeited remains hidden and several more suspected members remain at large despite a dragnet across the United States and Canada.