"Christian Identity is for pantywaists"

Right-wingers debate Buford Furrow's goals and his organizational ties.

Published August 11, 1999 2:30PM (EDT)

Neo-Nazis are hoping attacks like Buford O. Furrow's push the nation toward stricter gun control, say conservative students of right-wing hate movements, because they believe such restrictions will touch off anti-government warfare.

"They really believe 'The Turner Diaries' is the road map to their success," says J.D. Cash, an Oklahoma reporter with long associations among right-wing activists who broke stories about Timothy McVeigh's links to white-supremacist groups like Christian Identity.

"The Turner Diaries," an apocalyptic novel embraced by McVeigh and other Christian extremists, portrays a "patriot" who foments a right-wing backlash against the government's effort to crack down on guns by setting off bombs.

Police found Christian Identity literature in the van of Furrow, a 37-year-old Washington state man who turned himself into Las Vegas police after allegedly wounding three children, a teenager and an adult with bursts of automatic weapons fire at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb, Tuesday. Furrow is also suspected of the murder of a postal worker an hour after the community center shooting.

The discovery of Christian Identity material led some commentators to link Furrow to notorious abortion bombing suspect Eric Rudolph, who disappeared into North Carolina's Smokey Mountains after police connected him to the bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala., in January 1998. The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which tracks hate groups and has a file on Furrow, believes he followed the beliefs of the so-called Phineas Priesthood, a branch of Christian Identity. That loose-knit group also has been linked to 1996 bombings and bank robberies in the Spokane, Wash., area.

But the Christian Identity links to Furrow are less apparent than the movement's links to Rudolph, right wing experts told Salon News. Furrow is close to the neo-Nazi Aryan Nation in Washington state, while Rudolph had no known neo-Nazi associations.

"We're talking about two different regions here, two different sets of friends, two different sets of beliefs," said Mike Vanderbaugh, a leader of the Alabama militia movement, in a telephone interview. Vanderbaugh has made a hobby out of ridiculing Christian Identity followers and excludes them from his organization. "Rudolph is more Identity, this guy is more Nazi, is my read on it," he said.

"Rudolph, to the extent that we know about his associates and his friends, hung around with Nord Davis' Christian Identity folks" in North Carolina, "while this guy was hanging around Bob Mathews' widow and the Aryan Nations," Vanderbaugh said. Furrow lived with Debbie Mathews, whose husband, Robert J. Mathews, founded the neo-Nazi group the Order, a violent offshoot of the Aryan Nations.

Nord Davis, who died two years ago, hosted Christian Identity military training camps at his mountain home near Andrews, N.C., where Rudolph disappeared. Ex-Green Beret and self-styled Populist Party leader James "Bo" Gritz led some of the sessions. Rudolph, who has been indicted in other bombings, including the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was educated briefly at a Christian Identity commune in Missouri, where he embraced white supremacy and neo-Nazi literature, according to his brother.

Rudolph knew Nord Davis, according to North Carolina sources, but was not known to train at his camp. He learned how to make bombs from found materials in the Army, when he was assigned to an air cavalry unit, according to a law enforcement source.

Another difference between Rudolph's bombings and Furrow's alleged attack Tuesday was that Rudolph's missions always appeared to be aimed at police, as well as the primary target -- a key tenet of Christian Identity tactics, according to manuals associated with the movement. No security personnel were attacked at the Jewish Community Center.

Christian Identity offers a convoluted, Old Testament gloss to traditional anti-Semitism and racism, teaching that white Northern Europeans are the real Israelites and all others are "mud people." Neo-Nazis and chrtisitian Identity followers, who have a scattering of churches, mainly in the South, share anti-Black, anti-Jewish, anti-gay and anti-abortion sentiments.

"I think in some ways Christian Identity is designed for pantywaists who are afraid to declare themselves true Nazis," Vanderbaugh jibed. "These are the folks who have to tell their mommas or their wives, "It's OK that we hate blacks and Jews, dear, because God and Jesus told us it's OK. Whereas the Nazis don't worry about that kind of thing. They're sort of beyond excuses.

"You know, when you've got Adolf Hitler as your standard-bearer, what else have you got to be embarrassed about?" Vanderbaugh said.

"They each come to their pus-filled beliefs by different roads, but they agree on the destination."

Vanderbaugh agreed with J.D. Cash that the neo-Nazis hope to incite and gain control of pro-gun sentiment by attacks like the one on the Jewish Community Center.

"It definitely makes sense from their point of view," Vanderbaugh said. Their "long-term goal is to climb up the resistance tree" of anti-gun control forces in "a civil war that will be provoked by the complete confiscation of guns."

"Trust me, conflict will break out," Vanderbaugh said. "It doesn't take the neo-Nazis to start it, but they're more than happy to benefit from it."

By Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the coauthor, with Khidhir Hamza, of "Saddam's Bombmaker: The Daring Escape of the Man Who Built Iraq's Secret Weapon." He writes frequently for Salon on national security issues from Washington.

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