They're free, white and full of hate

Pa. bigot quickly climbs Aryan Nations ladder, plans to bring it home

Philadelphia Daily News/October 23, 2001
By Dana DiFilippo

Coudersport, Pa.-- At first glance, August Kreis looks like a cop, with his crisply ironed, black, military-style suit, soldiers' boots and authoritarian air.

But the silver ring on his right hand suggests something more. Bearing a skull and crossbones with ruby eyes, the ring - a gift from his wife - belonged to an SS officer in Nazi Germany.

It's fitting adornment for the man tapped this month to be the official mouthpiece of the Aryan Nations, an international, white supremacist, anti-Semitic group.

The 46-year-old father of eight joined the Aryan Nations just last year. But already he's second-in-charge and prepared to oversee the group's move from Idaho to his 10-acre plot of scrubland in north-central Pennsylvania's rural Potter County.

Experts are baffled as to how he earned his influence.

"Kreis has been singularly unsuccessful in building up the movement in any way," said Mark Potok, spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based group that monitors hate groups.

Despite Kreis' shortcomings, some experts and Potter County citizens worry that the group's shift to Pennsylvania could give Kreis, an unemployed carpenter, the resources and power to transform his message of hate into dangerous action.

They also fear that the move's timing - in the wake of backlash against racial and religious minorities since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - will mean more momentum for Kreis and his army of intolerance.

Although the Aryan Nations' power has waned in recent years, its members were once among the most violent of radical racists and have been linked to several hate murders and countless attacks.

The promotion of Harold Ray Redfeairn - a convicted felon who shot an Ohio police officer in the 1970s - as the group's national director has some civil-rights advocates fearing their resurgence.

"I don't rule out violence, because I deem it warranted if it's an act of self-defense," said Redfeairn, 49, of Dayton, Ohio. "We have the right to free speech, and we will defend ourselves to the fullest extent necessary."

Kreis agreed: "We might be pressed into fighting."

August Kreis is a man of contradictions. Despite his ominous costume, he looks like a cop who's eaten too many doughnuts.

He's an anti-government, anti-tax militia member whose children attend public school and who lives off Social Security.

He applauds the terrorists who toppled the World Trade Center for their willingness to die for their convictions and their attack on "Jew York City," and yet he himself treads carefully in spreading his message of hate, seeking to avoid a criminal record.

"May the WAR be started," Kreis wrote on the Internet even before the twin towers collapsed. "DEATH to His enemies, may the World Trade Center BURN TO THE GROUND!"

But the self-taught computer whiz was savvy enough on the Internet to attract the attention of Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, who recruited Kreis to run the group's Web site and who this month appointed him "director of information and propaganda."

Kreis, who was born and raised in Newark, N.J., said he began to resent minorities when his neighborhood "went black."

Racial fights at school were common. He dropped out of Irvington High School in the 11th grade to join the Navy. After his military service, he returned to Newark and worked as a building manager for a Jewish developer.

He was fired in 1981 after he held Ku Klux Klan meetings in a predominantly Jewish apartment complex.

That was the start of an ideological shift, in which he came to see Jews as "Satan's spawn" and racial minorities, or "mud people," as their minions.

"By any means necessary, I want every last Jew exterminated," said Kreis, whose Web site bears the logo: "Fighting Jewish Takeover for 25 Years."

He was active in many racist and anti-Semitic groups and militias, most recently the Sheriff's Posse Comitatus, before joining the Aryan Nations last year.

He left New Jersey, which he now sees as a "multicultural cesspool," and relocated to the Allentown area, where he spewed his racist message primarily on the Internet.

In 1993, he fled unpaid debts and settled in Potter County, about 270 miles from Philadelphia.

Adjoining the New York border, Potter County is a place of pickup trucks and gun-toting hunters in fluorescent orange.

It's a place where American flags fly from most homes and telephone poles, where you can get a grilled cheese sandwich and fries for $1.50, and where the cars go barely faster than the Amish buggies as drivers of both goggle at the flaming, changing leaves.

The county's beauty and remoteness attracted Kreis.

But his biggest draw? Its population.

Ninety-eight percent of its 18,000 residents is white, and Coudersport - the biggest town, with 2,650 residents, closest to Kreis' homebase in Ulysses Township - is 97 percent white, according to 2000 census data.

In Potter County, Kreis has been most active on the Internet, running Web sites for both the Aryan Nations and the Sheriff's Posse Comitatus, a militia group.

He's held organizational meetings at the 10-acre property he rents in Ulysses, but few big gatherings.

"I haven't noticed that he's been too active, and I've never seen him or met him," said Don Low, 60, a lifelong Potter Countian who lives in Shinglehouse, Pa. "I don't think people here are all that worried about him."

But others foresee trouble.

"Most people regard him as a nut and treat him as such," said Joe Wolf, pastor of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in Potter County and a leading voice against the Aryans.

"But what's concerning now is that although August Kreis has always been a threat, now it seems like he's going to have some resources and will be bringing in much nastier racists."

Kreis' only sizable party in Potter County was in 1993, when about 700 followers converged on his compound for a racist rock concert. Several attendees nearly killed a bicyclist when they opened their car door as they sped past him on their way to the concert. They were later convicted.

The county's growing diversity also could prove combustible for the arriving racists, Wolf said.

Adelphia, a cable TV company headquartered in Coudersport with 5.5 million customers nationwide, is one of the region's biggest employers and has attracted dozens of minority workers to Potter County in recent years.

Particularly disturbing is the promotion of Redfeairn, formerly Ohio's state leader of the Aryan Nations, as the national director and his plans to join Kreis in Potter County, Wolf and other observers say.

"When you have a violent group led by an individual with a violent past, that's a bad combination," said Ted Almay, superintendent of the Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation.

In 1979, Redfeairn shot a Dayton, Ohio, cop three times. As the critically injured officer lay bleeding, Redfeairn climbed atop him, pointed the gun at his head and growled: "You think you're so bad now, cop?"

After his arrest, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. In trial testimony, psychologists said he was a paranoid schizophrenic and had religious delusions since childhood. But he was found competent for trial, was convicted and served six years in prison.

Most recently, he was nabbed at an Ohio McDonald's plotting, police said, with a supporter to overthrow the federal government. He wasn't charged in that case and denies any overthrow plot.

Redfeairn and Kreis plan to build a "churchgrounds" in Ulysses where they will hold the group's annual Congress and Youth Congress.

Although Butler - now the group's "spiritual leader" - has insisted the headquarters will remain in Idaho, Redfeairn plans to move from his Dayton, Ohio, home to Potter County within the year. "The headquarters is wherever the leadership resides," Kreis said.

The group has big plans for attracting new members.

It plans to release video and audio tapes called "Out of the Ashes" - a reference to the Idaho compound that burned - within the month.

Leaders also hope to be more active in leafletting and holding rallies, both locally and around Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Kreis plans to host the annual Youth Congress, a pep rally and racist rock concert for young neo-Nazis, on April 20 - Adolf Hitler's birthday.

And they hope to step up the group's prison ministry, in which they distribute racist materials to inmates under the guise of religious freedom.

Law enforcement officials warn that violence won't be tolerated.

"We are going to be closely monitoring the group's activities," said Barbara Petito, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

But experts hope Kreis' and Redfeairn's incendiary views will repel potential converts.

While patriotism is at an all-time high because of the Sept. 11 attacks, Kreis and Redfeairn are bashing the United States and applauding the terrorists. (A brother of Kreis is a firefighter who has participated in rescue and cleanup efforts in New York City.)

Kreis and Redfeairn are free and frank with their low opinions of Americans.

"Most of our people [white Christians] are stupid," Kreis said. "We call them 'sheeple' - they're like lambs with hooks in their noses being led to slaughter."

Still, civil-rights advocates urge citizens to avoid complacency.

"Pennsylvania, don't sit around and wait and see what happens," said Ann Van Dyke, civil-rights investigator for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

"Take a look at your communities and think about who is alienated and feeling unwanted and unvalued, because those are the people that groups like the Aryan Nations reach out to for members. Reach out to your alienated young people, because if you don't, someone else will."

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