Ex-guard tells of firebomb

Spokane Spokesman Review/August 30, 2000
By Bill Morlin

Two former Aryans testify that Butler was active in illegal acts Coeur d'Alene _ A former Aryan Nations guard told a jury Tuesday that he built a firebomb with help from Richard Butler two years ago and went looking "to burn down" property owned by a Jewish activist.

Another former Aryan guard testified that an SKS assault rifle used in a July 1998 attack on a woman and her son was given away as part of a cover-up Butler orchestrated after a civil suit had been filed against him and the Aryan Nations.

Ex-Aryan guards Charles W. Hardman and Scott Dabbs were lead-off witnesses in the suit brought against the Aryan Nations by attorneys affiliated with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

They represent Victoria and Jason Keenan, who are seeking a monetary judgment for being chased and shot at by three Aryan guards -- Jesse Warfield, John Yaeger and Shane Wright.

Victoria Keenan, who lives in a 12-by-15-foot cabin on 10 acres in Bonner County, wept softly as lead attorney Morris Dees described the assault. Her son, Jason, put his arm around his mother.

"She is proud of her Native American heritage, but she had to deny it that night," Dees told the jury in an hourlong opening statement. "She and Jason said their goodbyes because they thought they were dead," Dees told the packed courtroom.

Victoria Keenan continues to suffer from stress and anxiety associated with the attack, he said.

"She cries for no reason. She has nightmares," Dees said, and the assault "virtually destroyed relations with her husband."

In moments of intimacy, she sees "the face of Jesse Warfield, who she describes as the devil himself," Dees told the jury.

Dees said the plaintiffs seek damages, but he didn't suggest a specific amount in his opening statement.

Defense attorney Edgar Steele responded by asking the jurors to "set aside the emotions and feelings" generated by Dees.

Steele told the jury the assault on the Keenans was "terrible and reprehensible. I join the other side in condemning it."

The defense attorney said the jury will hear other witnesses describe Butler as a racist, but one who doesn't condone violence.

"Misfits and malcontents have left the Aryan Nations over the years because all Butler does is talk," the defense attorney said.

"He's well beyond being politically incorrect," Steele said, "and we're not going to deny that.

"But I'm going to prove that Mr. Butler isn't responsible for these terrible things," he said.

The guards weren't acting as agents for Butler or the Aryan Nations and, in fact, were off duty and "stinking drunk" at the time of the assault, Steele argued.

Then he pointed at ex-guards Jesse Warfield and John Yaeger, acting as their own defense attorneys in the civil trial.

"They did it," Steele said, raising his voice. "They went off the property. They pled guilty, they have been sentenced to prison, and they don't have a prayer of avoiding liability" in this trial, Steele said.

Dees kicked off the trial not by calling Butler to testify, but by reading to the jury what the 82-year-old Aryan leader said under oath during a pre-trial deposition.

In that deposition, Butler testified that he sends away felons unless they produce paperwork from a parole officer approving their visit to the Aryan Nations.

With Butler's own words as the setup, Dees then called Hardman as the plaintiffs' first witness.

Hardman told the jury he learned about the Aryan Nations while serving Georgia prison time after convictions for burglary and statutory rape. He said he sent the North Idaho white supremacy group $2,000 for books and literature.

Once out of prison, he broke parole by leaving his electronic monitoring bracelet in Georgia while he took a Greyhound bus to the Aryan Nations compound north of Hayden Lake.

Just days after his arrival in November 1997, Hardman testified, he told Aryan chief of staff Michael Teague and Butler that he was a fugitive and a felon.

Butler told Hardman he "could stay, but not to get into trouble," the witness testified. Butler then married Hardman to a 15-year-old runaway who had accompanied him from Georgia.

"We got married and we didn't get along, so three days later I put her on the bus and sent her back home," Hardman testified. He later lived at the Aryan Nations with another female runaway, Hardman said.

While living there in early 1998, there was a string of vandalism, including a mattress fire in a bunkhouse and the cutting of an electrical power line. Butler became enraged and blamed Jews for the vandalism, Hardman said. The witness said he had been entrusted with providing security at the Aryan compound and believed he had failed in that duty.

"I felt that he (Butler) was the leader of the white race and the second Adolf Hitler," Hardman said.

Stunned by Butler's anger, Hardman said he told him he had a gallon of gasoline.

"I said, `I'll go burn something down. All I need is a jar,' " Hardman said in recounting his conversation with Butler.

Butler responded, "Well, just a minute." He went into his residence and returned with an empty Coca Cola bottle that he gave Hardman for a Molotov cocktail, Hardman testified.

Hardman said he took the bottle and made the firebomb with soap and gasoline, before leaving the compound with Butler's knowledge.

Hardman said he and other Aryan guards had gone on earlier surveillance outings and collected the addresses of property owned by Marshall Mend. He is a Coeur d'Alene-area Realtor and Jewish activist member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Rights.

"We were thinking about burning Marshall Mend's office down," Hardman testified.

At Mend's office in Hayden, Hardman said he thought he saw security cameras. Minutes later, the car driven by another Aryan got stopped for a traffic violation.

Hardman said he became nervous and abandoned the firebombing plan. Scott Dabbs, a Navy veteran, said he traveled to the Aryan Nations "to seek knowledge" in August 1998, a month after the assault on the Keenans.

He said he was given an SKS assault rifle by Teague, and believed it was the weapon used to fire at least five bullets at the Keenans.

The witness said he was in the Aryan Nations office in January 1999 when a newspaper reporter called Butler to seek a response to the filing of the Keenan suit.

Butler had not been served with a copy and was surprised, Dabbs testified. "He said we had to get rid of (the gun)," the witness said. "He said it would be used as evidence against us in the trial."

Dabbs said he later went with Butler to the Owl Cafe, in Hayden, where they were to give the SKS rifle to private investigator David Perry. When Perry didn't show up, they returned to the Aryan compound and gave the assault rifle to Jason "Swany" Swanson, Dabbs testified.

Swanson is a former Aryan Nations leader from Michigan, who operates Bullet Proof Tattoo on North Division in Spokane.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Swanson said Tuesday when contacted at the tattoo parlor.

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