PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Domestic terrorism from white supremacists is the most lethal terrorist threat in the homeland.
MARK POTOK (SENIOR FELLOW, CENTRE FOR ANALYSIS OF THE RADICAL RIGHT): Why is the radical right growing? Why are these ideas resurging in such a dramatic way?
ARCHIVAL (CHARLOTTESVILLE MARCH, 2017):
DEMONSTRATORS: You will not replace us!
PETE SIMI (ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY; AUTHOR, “AMERICAN SWASTIKA”): We’ve been unwilling to really grapple with our history. We have to understand where this problem has been in the past and what’s kept us from addressing it.
RICHARD BUTLER (ARYAN NATIONS): Hate is our law.
MARK POTOK: In the 1980s, The Order became one of the most remarkable terrorist groups in the history of this country.
BILL MORLIN: This was a new breed of animal. I mean, this was a group that was bent on war with the United States government.
TEXT ON SCREEN:
EXTREMISM IN AMERICA
JUNE 18, 1984
RADIO ANNOUNCER: You’re listening to Alan Berg on KOA.
BILL MORLIN (JOURNALIST, 1946-2021): Alan Berg was a very famous talk show personality. And he was really outspoken and would love to take on racists.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 3-27-85):
ALAN BERG: You’re not a Christian, you’re un-American, is that your point, sir?CALLER: That’s right.
BILL MORLIN: He was driving back to his condo alone in his Volkswagen Beetle. And somebody gunned him down in his driveway.
REPORTER: Police say Berg’s body was riddled with bullets.
ARCHIVAL (POLICE VIDEO AT THE CRIME SCENE):
POLICE: Shell casings on the driveway…
BILL MORLIN: It was a huge story throughout the country. Here’s a Jewish talk show host who was assassinated. Who could carry out such a horrible crime?
NEWS REPORT Police in Denver say they have no firm leads yet regarding the murder of a radio talk show host.
NARRATION: The story behind Alan Berg’s murder starts with an ideology that took root a thousand miles from Denver in a remote corner of northern Idaho, at the Aryan Nations headquarters.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 3-27-85):
MEN AT ARYAN NATION HEADQUARTERS: Heil Victory! Heil Victory!
NARRATION: The 20-acre compound was home to Richard Butler, who preached to his followers that white people were under threat from racial minorities, immigrants and Jews, whom he believed controlled the federal government.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 5-29-85):
RICHARD BUTLER: We are faced with extinction. We have a right to do whatever we can do to preserve ourselves.
NARRATION: Butler soon attracted the attention of F.B.I. agent Wayne Manis.
WAYNE MANIS (FORMER F.B.I. AGENT): The most significant thing that Richard Butler did is he would have a gathering of people from all these different organizations.
MARK POTOK: They might be Klansmen. They might be skinheads.
ARCHIVAL (KXLY, 5-29-85):
MEN AT ARYAN NATION HEADQUARTERS: What do we need? White power!
MARK POTOK: All of these people would come together for the Aryan World Congress.
NARRATION: Robert Mathews was one of them.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 8-11-99):
ROBERT MATTHEWS: You Jews get the heck out of here!
NARRATION: Mathews gathered some of the men from the Aryan Nations and other groups and formed a secret splinter cell that broke off from the Aryan Nations. They pledged their lives to create a whites-only nation. They were called The Order, a name taken from a novel.
MARK POTOK: “The Turner Diaries” depicted a group of people who made war on the federal government, culminating in the blowing up of the FBI headquarters and the nuclear bombing of the state of Israel.
BILL MORLIN: They thought, why should this be fiction? Why don’t we take up arms and start a race war? And that’s what they set about to do.
MARK POTOK: The Order wanted to fund the rest of the radical right to create essentially an army of white men.
NARRATION: To fund their plan, The Order attacked an armored truck on a highway in California in broad daylight, in a brazen robbery.
THOMAS MCDANIEL (FORMER F.B.I. AGENT): This was the middle of the day. People going by thought that they were filming, Hollywood is, like, filming a movie.
BILL MORLIN: They opened the back of the armored truck and helped themselves to $3.6 million. They made one mistake, however. They left behind a handgun.
WAYNE MANIS: And when they leave, we have the pistol and that opens up a whole avenue of investigation.
BILL MORLIN: That handgun was traced to a member of The Order.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 12-8-85):
NEWS REPORT: Scores of FBI agents were shipped onto this rural island in Washington state, prepared to do battle.
BILL MORLIN: The FBI finally finds out that Matthews is holed up in a cabin on Whidbey Island and that he’s heavily armed.
WAYNE MANIS: Bob refused, refused to surrender. We were met with gunfire. I took about seven rounds just over my head.
NARRATION: After a 36-hour standoff, a flare ignited the cabin, and Mathews burned to death. The other members of The Order were quickly arrested. During its investigation, the FBI uncovered plans to poison major water supplies and threats to hang members of Congress. And they found the gun used to murder Alan Berg.
THOMAS MCDANIEL: I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that had we not stopped them, there would’ve been federal buildings that would’ve been blown up. These guys were for real.
BILL MORLIN: Prior to The Order, domestic terrorism was like, what’s that? Klansmen had killed civil rights workers and so forth. But this was a new breed of animal. I mean, this was a group that was bent on war with the United States government.
NARRATION: It was a wakeup call that the white supremacist movement was a growing danger. The federal government believed The Order was not acting alone, and that their crimes were part of a larger plot orchestrated by the leaders of several far-right groups, including Richard Butler.
REPORTER: Were you the leader of this conspiracy?
RICHARD BUTLER: No, I was not.
NARRATION: In a bold move, prosecutors brought nine of them to trial on charges of seditious conspiracy, or plotting to overthrow the government.
ARCHIVAL (11-9-87 ):
NEWS REPORT: Prosecutors hope that in convicting the godfathers of organized racial hatred, they’ll have finally broken the back of the white supremacist movement.
MARK POTOK: The idea was that they could wipe out this movement in one fell swoop.
JAMES ELLISON: And I’m just doing my duty.
NARRATION: The government’s key witness was James Ellison, a former extremist leader. He testified that he attended secret meetings at the Aryan World Congress – meetings he described to his deputy, Kerry Noble.
KERRY NOBLE (FORMER MEMBER, THE COVENANT, THE SWORD AND THE ARM OF THE LORD): Jim said most of the plans included counterfeiting money, robbing armored cars to help finance the right-wing movement.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 4-20-85):
KERRY NOBLE: You know, just all the men are on alert.
NARRATION: Noble, who also testified for the government, says Ellison claimed movement leaders were in on The Order’s plan to overthrow the government.
KERRY NOBLE: It was a declaration of war. This was real, a real ideology, a real goal for people.
NARRATION: But Ellison also had credibility problems. He liked to call himself “King James of the Ozarks,” contradicted himself on the witness stand, and was trying to get a reduced sentence. His testimony wasn’t enough.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 4-7-88):
DAN RATHER: A stunning verdict this afternoon in the trial of 13 white supremacists.
MARK POTOK: The defendants were acquitted of all charges, every single one of them. The government had simply overreached. It really didn’t have the evidence.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 4-7-88):
U.S. ATTORNEY: We thought we proved it beyond a reasonable doubt. But apparently we hadn’t.
BILL MORLIN: The defense attorneys said how on Earth could this ragtag group of people possibly overthrow the U.S. government? And that was the question that the federal prosecutors could never overcome.
ARCHIVAL (KXLY, 4-7-88):
REPORTER: The defendants left the courtroom triumphant and defiant.
DEFENDANT: One, I want to praise Yahweh’s holy and precious name. Two, I want to say, to hell with the federal government.
MARK POTOK: To kind of add insult to injury, one of the jurors actually married one of the defendants. The government had tried to destroy the radical right in America, and it failed abjectly.
KERRY NOBLE: Everybody knew it would be a long time before the government would ever try that kind of thing again. That emboldened the right-wing movement a little bit more.
NARRATION: To avoid the attention of law enforcement, some in the movement embraced a different tactic – operating in small cells.
KERRY NOBLE: Three to five people. Even stronger is the lone wolf that communicates with nobody and can go out autonomously and do whatever he wants to do to further the goals of the right-wing movement.
WAYNE MANIS: We managed to dissolve The Order. However, we didn’t make any impact on the ideology. The ideology still existed all across this country.