Idiosyncratic form of Protestant religious belief

Aryan Nation — Racism

The Aryan Nations (AN, aka Church of Jesus Christ Christian) is a Christian Identity-based hate group that was prominent in the 1980’s with roots dating back to the 1940’s and includes neo-Nazi, skinhead, Ku Klux Klan (KKK), white supremacist, and militia groups, many of which congregated and networked at the AN compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho (Lambert, 2011). The group worked to unite different groups that had a common denominator of believing in white supremacy relative to other races. The group had some success in organizing and one splinter group had actually stole four million dollars with the hopes of overthrowing the United States government. This analysis will look at the origins of the group, it’s activities that the groups engaged in a the peak of their momentum, and the reasons and factors that represent the groups steady decline from this peak.


The roots of the AN movement have been traced back to at least the 1940s when there were many different Christian Identity movements began to organize around the belief that white Aryans were the “chosen” people. They also believed things like blacks were somehow subhuman and that Jewish people were descended directly from the devil himself.

In 1970, Richard Girnt Butler, newly ordained by the American Institute of Theology (AIT), which reflects Christian Identity beliefs, took over a large Christian Identity congregation in Lancaster, California, after its leader, Wesley Swift, died; in 1973 Butler moved the congregation to a compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, and created the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. In 1978 Butler founded the church’s political arm, the Aryan Nations (Lambert, 2011).

Figure 1 – Richard Butler (Southern Poverty Law Center, N.d.)

Butler was an aerospace engineer who moved from the Pacific Northwest in the early 1970s and purchased land on an old farm in Idaho which later became the home of the most notorious American hate groups the Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations (Southern Poverty Law Center, N.d.). The twenty acre compound who housed many people who believed in the supremacy of the Aryan white race and many of these individuals were criminals.

Butler was the leading patriarch of this group and he was convicted of such crimes as kidnapping, plotting to overthrow the government, and many other crimes. The full name of his organization was the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, Aryan Nations and believed in such things like that Jesus Christ was not Jewish and that the Jews were descendants of Satan (Balch, 2006). White people were believed to be the descendants from the Lost Tribes of Isreal and minorities were called “mud” races and believed to be pawns of the Jews. The Aryan Nation (AN) was the political arm of this movement.

However, despite the many criminal charges, it was actually a civil suit that worked to overthrow the Aryan nation. On July 1, 1998 a car stopped in front of the Butler’s compound and apparently backfired which made a loud noise. This led the Aryan guards that were on the premises believe that they were under some kind of attack and they chased down the vehicle of the Keenan’s, shot at them, and forced them into a ditch before finally releasing them (Southern Poverty Law Center, N.d.). The Southern Poverty Law Center took the case of the family and sued the Butler’s civilly and won over a million dollar judgment and close to five million of this was directly owed by Butler for hiring ex-convicts and providing them no training (Southern Poverty Law Center, N.d.).


On September 7, 2000, an Idaho jury awarded over six million dollars to Victoria Keenan and her son who were assaulted by the Aryan security guards. This has been widely attributed to the event that began the group’s demise. The SPLC lawsuit delivered a devastating blow, but some argue that AN was a dying organization long before the lawsuit (Balch, 2006). Balch (2006) collected primary data through 1) participant-observation at the group’s annual World Congress and Aryan Youth Assembly, 1991 through 2004, and 2) interviews with former members about AN’s social organization during its peak years in the early eighties. The data suggested that it was not the civil suit alone that brought down the organization, the internal structures of the organization were already breaking down and many key members had already resigned.

The group’s religious beliefs were one of the rallying points for organization. Christian Identity is an idiosyncratic form of Protestant religious belief that considers white Christians in the United States to be descended from the 12 tribes of Israel, and thus God’s ‘Chosen People’; Christian Identity evolved from a pre-existing theology called Anglo-Israelism or British Israelism, which grew as a movement in the late nineteenth century and made similar claims about white Christians living in the British Isles and the core claim is of an historic covenant with God expressed through the nation, defined as a biological ‘racial’ entity (Berlet, 2004).

The goal of the Aryan Nation was to unify the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel who were now known as the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Teutonic, Scandinavian, Celtic peoples of the earth. They believed that the Jewish people were the descendants of Cain who was only produced because of Eve’s original sin and thus this race was inherently evil. Thus the true descendants and the descendants were believed to be in a constant struggle for domination. Any other minority was deemed as not relevant and their lives were essentially valueless.

Religion and Apocalypse

Christian Identity has many commonalities with Hitler’s Nazis that include racism and antisemitism, but also a vision of a racialised apocalypse that will usher in a thousand year Reich — or reign of the white man’s God: a millennium (Berlet, 2004). It is these beliefs that allowed the group’s organizers to appeal to the religious beliefs and form a totalitarian fascist organizational structure. This also fits well with the Apocalyptic stories that are included in the Bible and can be manipulated to fit various causes. The combination of fundamentalism and scapegoating in combination with these other factors can provide the ideology that can be used to build right-wing populism and neo-fascist movements (Berlet, 2004).

“Richard Butler declared, ‘a new rightwing organization suddenly appearing on the Christian Identity and the Politics of Religion scene’. It was ‘the on-going work of Jesus the Christ… calling His people to a state for their nation to bring in His Kingdom!’ The Bible was ‘the family history of the White Race’ and there would be ‘a day of reckoning’ in which ‘The usurper will be thrown out by the terrible might of Yahweh’s people’ and ‘Christ’s Kingdom (government) will be established on earth, as it is in heaven’ (Durham, 2008).

Using such religious concepts the group was able to build a violent wing of the organization that would act in a terrorist manner. Sacred Warfare and Tactics SWAT) Committee group urged the study of ‘Biblical examples of resistance’ and printed an edited version of an article on ‘Leaderless Resistance’ (Durham, 2008). Each of the different divisions that led local movements could thus act on their own accord and without an official leadership. The acceptance of violence was not accepted by all of the Identity believers however even despite preachers using examples of vigilante priesthood such as the stories about Phineas. There were also disputes over the calls for a National Socialism which also served as a division from different groups.


There are many reasons that the Aryan Nation was able to organize and form social norms within the group. The leaders used religiosity and portrayals of the apocalypse to scare people into conformity. There were stories about the descendant linage of the white peoples that were traced back to the Bible and the twelve tribes of Israel, and thus God’s ‘Chosen People’. The group’s leaders such as Butler were able to convince members of the group that other races were “out-groups” with no intrinsic value and the Jewish people were descendants of Satin. They were lead to believe that they were in an epic war with the descendants of Satin and this also supported conformity to the group’s objectives.

The group’s demise can be attributed to many sources. Although many people use the group’s diminished resources after the civil suited initiated by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which awarded over six million dollars of the group’s money to the victims, other primary data indicates that the group was already suffering from internal divisions and several key members had already resigned by that point. Furthermore, there were also divisions about the use of violence and various theological debates that also constituted division in the AN which slow led to the group’s dismantling.


Balch, R. (2006). The Rise and Fall of Aryan Nations: A Resource Mobilization Perspective. Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 81-113.

Berlet, C. (2004). Christian Identity: The Apocalyptic Style, Political Religion, Palingenesis and Neo-Fascism. Totaliarnian Movements and Political Religions, 469-506.

Durham, M. (2008). Christian Identity adn the Politics of Religion. Totaliarnian Movements and Political Religions, 79-91.

Lambert, L. (2011). Aryan Nations. Retrieved from The SAGE encyclopedia of terrorism:

Southern Poverty Law Center. (N.d.). Richard Butler. Retrieved from Southern Poverty Law Center:

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