Hate groups preach and practice terror

Violence: Incidents such as the L.A. shootings are expected to continue, as religious supremacists gear up for the new millennium.

August 15, 1999|By Sally Macdonald and Carol M. Ostrom

BUFORD O'NEAL Furrow's shooting spree at a Jewish community center might have come straight from the biblical interpretations of America's white-supremacist movement, but it's not a theology most Christians would recognize.

When Furrow walked into an FBI office in Las Vegas on Wednesday and confessed to gunning down five people at the Los Angeles facility and killing a Filipino-American postal worker, he told authorities he wanted his act to be "a wake-up call to America to kill Jews."

Even before his chilling statement, the Washington state resident was linked to the country's sometimes-lethal hate movement.

Hate watchers and law-enforcement specialists say they're girding for more such incidents, possibly committed by loners such as Furrow, as 2000 approaches, with its Y2K paranoia, conspiracy theories and millennial fervor.

"When it comes to hate groups that are religiously based, we'll probably see violence from them," predicts Chip Berlet, senior analyst for Political Research Associates, a Massachusetts think tank that studies such groups.

"Theologically based hate groups see the millennium as the time to do the right thing," he says. "If you're a racial hate group, the 'right thing' is to exterminate Jews and blacks and homosexuals."

In the past two months, rampages in California and the Midwest were attributed to men with ties to white-supremacist groups. Two brothers, Matthew and Tyler Williams, were charged with setting three synagogues afire in June and with killing a gay couple in California.

Benjamin Nathaniel Smith shot himself to death last month after he killed a black man and a Korean man and wounded six Orthodox Jews and a man of Taiwanese descent in Indiana and Illinois, police said.

Some of the most controversial supremacist writings come from Richard Kelly Hoskins, author of "Vigilantes of Christendom: The story of the Phineas Priesthood." Another of Hoskins' books was found in Furrow's van.

Hoskins' fictional priesthood is named for an Old Testament figure who deflected God's wrath by killing an interracial couple.

"A Phineas priest is by his very existence required to become a terrorist," says Larry Richards, a counterterrorist specialist with a Southern California law-enforcement agency. Richards, who has written about the priesthood philosophy, says he believes that officers must be extra vigilant, especially with Phineas adherents, until well into 2000.

Furrow is not the first white supremacist to link racial hatred, God and gunfire.

The Phineas Priesthood, Richards says, is "the radical fundamentalist wing" of the Christian Identity movement, whose tenets are shared by most of America's hate groups.

Christian Identity is firmly rooted in the Pacific Northwest. The Rev. Richard Butler, who had been working his way up through the ranks of hate groups since shortly after World War II, settled on a farm in Idaho in the late 1970s. There, he started the Church of Jesus Christ Christian and its political arm, the Aryan Nations.

Butler called for white supremacists to relocate to the Pacific Northwest, where there were relatively few people of color to stand in their way of creating a white homeland.

Experts estimate that the Christian Identity movement has between 25,000 and 50,000 members.

To followers, Christian Identity is a Bible-based religion. Its leaders concentrate their invective primarily on Jews, whom believers have declared the offspring of a sexual liaison between Eve and Satan. African-Americans and other people of color are subhuman, they say, the results of God's first attempts at creating human beings.

Northern Europeans, they add, are the true descendants of the lost tribes of Israel and thus God's chosen people. Christian Identity believers foresee an apocalyptic battle, in which the forces of light, or white, triumph over darkness.

Unlike most fundamentalist Christians, they believe that battle, cleansing the world of satanic forces, must take place before Christ will return to Earth.

Sovereign rights

Most supremacists say God gave sovereign rights to white males; everyone else's rights come from the Constitution and the blessings of white men. They also warn of an international Jewish conspiracy, with Jews running financial institutions, political systems and the media.

"Having grown up Southern Baptist, I look at that and say that's ludicrous, that's unbelievable," says Eric Ward, regional coordinator for the Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, a Seattle-based organization that works with 120 human rights groups in the region.

But historically, he says, using the Bible to justify racist ideas hasn't been solely the province of hate groups: "My mother would say it wasn't so long ago that we were saying that Jews were the killers of Christ, that we were using the Bible to justify slavery."

The bible of some Christian Identity adherents is Hoskins' "Vigilantes of Christendom."

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