The end of the Aryan Nations' long tenure here came with a whimper today when a federal judge awarded title to the Aryans' 20-acre compound to a local woman and her son who successfully sued the white-supremacist organization after they were assaulted by two security guards on the premises.
Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason Keenan, Native Americans, won $6.3 million in damages against the organization last year, a judgment that forced the hate group's leader, Richard Butler, to put the land up for auction to satisfy the claim.
The Keenans won the auction today and said they hope to sell the property soon in order to repay loans taken out to support their bid, including one from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which played a pivotal role in their lawsuit. They expect to have no difficulty in finding a buyer, with the chief condition being that the tract remain out of Butler's reach.
"It's our hope to return it to its original use, which was as a farm and ranch," said Jason Keenan. "We hope to get the evilness out of there."
"It won't go back to them -- never, ever," said Victoria Keenan.
Watching the proceedings in the federal courthouse here was Butler, the elderly leader of the hate group who was forced into bankruptcy because of the judgment. Afterward, he bitterly denounced the outcome as the product of a court system corrupted by Jewish conspirators.
"I tell you what, the truth is gonna come around," he told reporters. Though he lost the property, "I haven't lost my honor," he said.
There had been some concern that the property could wind up back in Butler's hands despite his court loss last year. One of his chief supporters, a millionaire named Vincent Bertollini, has been providing Butler with a home and other financial support, and it was believed he might try to bid on the $250,000 parcel, and then allow Butler to live there free.
However, a federal judge had placed strict conditions on the bidding process that included a $15,000 deposit, a $300,000 line of credit and other barriers to easy participation. In the end, only the Keenans, with help from the Southern Poverty Law Center, wound up bidding for the land.
Butler purchased the tract in 1974 and moved the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, previously based in Los Angeles, to the wooded hillsides of the Idaho Panhandle. His intent was to turn the Pacific Northwest into a whites-only homeland, and the compound he built there became the headquarters.
Over the subsequent years, a litany of criminal acts emanated from the Aryan Nations, enough to attract the attention of law enforcement.
One investigation, into a possible arms smuggling operation working out of western Montana, wound up ensnaring a figure named Randy Weaver in 1991. Ultimately, Weaver retreated to his nearby home at Ruby Ridge and engaged federal authorities in a standoff that culminated in the deaths of three people: a federal marshal and Weaver's wife and son.
However, the end of the Aryan Nations does not necessarily mean the end of Butler's career of preaching racial hatred. He is planning another annual "Aryan Congress" in the area this summer, except that now it will be held at Farragut State Park, a large facility on the southern end of nearby Lake Pend Oreille.
Nor have his followers disappeared. Already, many of them are reorganizing under the banner of the racist Christian Identity movement that Butler promoted. One such group, calling itself the Church of True Israel, has begun holding services in Noxon, Mont., about 80 miles east.
But the compound itself was a major magnet for racists, ex-convicts and mentally unstable followers, including Buford Furrow, the man who shot up a Los Angeles day-care center in August 1999. Now, the draw is gone.
"The immediate social value is that the Buford Furrows will not have this place to learn their hatred and train for it anymore," said Norm Gissel, the Keenans' attorney. "After this, they're going to have to go somewhere else."