Richard Girnt Butler, the former head and founder of the Aryan Nations, died on Sept. 8. Cause of death was not released. He was 86.
Born in Colorado and raised in Los Angeles, Butler served with the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Pacific theater during World War II. An admirer of Adolf Hitler, he returned to the states after the war and became a follower of Wesley Swift, a white-supremacist pastor. Butler also worked at Lockheed as an aerospace engineer. When the company began to hire more minorities, in compliance with federal loan regulations, Butler retired and moved to Idaho.
In 1973, Butler formed the Aryan Nations, the political arm of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. The organization’s doctrine combined a warped view of Christianity with Nazism. A self-proclaimed “Reverend,” Butler called the Jews “Satan’s children” and described African-Americans as “mud people.” He espoused the belief that “white” blood should remain “pure,” and that any woman who slept with a minority should be killed. The Aryan Nations’ 20-acre, barbed-wire-rimmed estate was decorated with stained-glass swastikas, Third Reich memorabilia and signs that read: “Whites only.”
Beginning in the mid-1980s, members of the Aryan Nations formed splinter groups and launched a campaign of violence against homosexuals, minorities and Jews. Such actions ultimately led to the group’s downfall. Over the last two decades, the Aryan Nations saw its members convicted of murder, racketeering, assault and robbery. The organization also inspired the formation of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, one of the strongest human rights groups in the United States.
In 1998, Aryan Nations security guards shot at Victoria Keenan, a local resident, as she drove near the Idaho compound. They also ran her off the road and assaulted her and her teenaged son. With the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Keenan filed a civil suit and won a $6.3 million judgment. The suit essentially bankrupted the Aryan Nations and forced Butler to auction off the compound. Without a central headquarters, the group downsized to about 200 members across the country.
Last year, Butler ran for mayor of Hayden, Idaho, in order to “keep it white.” While the bid failed, he did receive 50 votes.