Aryan Nation leader reaches out to al Qaeda
Editor’s Note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN’s Investigative Unit, has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in “Tracking Terror,” he reports on the people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism and efforts to combat those. He is the author of the newly published book, “Hunting Eric Rudolph.”
SEBRING, Florida (CNN) — A couple of hours up the road from where some September 11 hijackers learned to fly, the new head of Aryan Nation is praising them — and trying to create an unholy alliance between his white supremacist group and al Qaeda.
“You say they’re terrorists, I say they’re freedom fighters. And I want to instill the same jihadic feeling in our peoples’ heart, in the Aryan race, that they have for their father, who they call Allah.”
With his long beard and potbelly, August Kreis looks more like a washed up member of ZZ Top than an aspiring revolutionary.
Don’t let appearances fool you: his re’sume’ includes stops at some of America’s nastiest extremist groups — Posse Comitatus, the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nation.
“I don’t believe that they were the ones that attacked us,” Kreis said. “And even if they did, even if you say they did, I don’t care!”
Kreis wants to make common cause with al Qaeda because, he says, they share the same enemies: Jews and the American government.
The terms they use may be different: White supremacists call them ZOG, the Zionist Occupation Government, while al Qaeda calls them the Jews and Crusaders.
But the hatred is the same. And Kreis wants to exploit that.
A Nation in turmoil
The best thing that can be said about August Kreis is that he has helped preside over the decline of the once-feared Aryan Nation, a movement inspired by the racist tenets of Nazi Germany. He cannot or will not say how many followers the group now has.
What’s clear is that Aryan Nation had a violent streak aligned with its anti-Semitic and racist ideology. One of its followers, Buford Furrow, received two life sentences, plus 110 years, for an August 1999 shooting spree in which he shot and wounded four children and one adult at a Jewish community center in the Los Angeles suburb of Granada Hills. Furrow then drove to nearby Chatsworth, California, where he shot and killed a Filipino-American postal carrier.
Others had been accused of involvement in bank robberies, shootouts with authorities and the murders of blacks and others.
More recently, the Aryan Nation lost its Hayden Lake, Idaho, compound, after losing a civil suit led by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Last year, founder Richard Butler died just as the group’s leaders were fighting amongst themselves.
Around that time, Kreis tried to open up shop for Aryan Nation in northern Pennsylvania, but got run out by locals. Now he is in Sebring, Florida, and, although his rhetoric is full of revolution and defiance, he wanted to meet our CNN crew at a local park because he didn’t want trouble from his neighbors.
You might think white supremacists like Kreis would spurn al Qaeda, since they tend to view non-Aryan Christians as, in their own term, “mud people.” In fact, most of them do. But Kreis wants to change that.
“That’s old-school racism, white supremacy, this is something new,” he said. “We have to be realists and realize what didn’t work [previously] isn’t going to work in the future.”
Supremacist, Islamist connections
The idea of a Nazi-Islamic alliance dates back to World War II, when Adolf Hitler played host to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, that city’s Muslim leader. Some Nazis, moreover, found refuge in places like Egypt and Syria after the war.
Three years ago, I met a Swiss Islamic convert named Ahmed Huber, who began his life as a devotee of Adolf Hitler and moved on to praising former Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who led that nation’s Islamic revolution and vigorously opposed U.S. policies.
Huber wanted to forge a fresh alliance between Islamic radicals and neo-Nazis in Europe and the United States. And he cannot be simply dismissed as a crackpot: Huber served on the board of directors of a Swiss bank and holding company that President Bush accused of helping fund al Qaeda.
Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that while some U.S. extremists applauded the September 11 attacks, there is no indication of such an alliance — at least not yet, and not on a large scale. If it exists anywhere, he said, it is in the mind (and the Internet postings) of August Kreis.
For its part, the FBI says it hasn’t seen any links between American white supremacists and groups like al Qaeda.
“The notion of radical Islamists from abroad actually getting together with American neo-Nazis I think is an absolutely frightening one,” said Potok. “It’s just that so far we really have no evidence at all to suggest this is any kind of real collaboration.”
So while August Kreis may be calling, there is no sign that al Qaeda is listening.
But that hasn’t stopped him. As we ended our interview, we asked Kreis if he had any message for Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants.
“The message is, the cells are out here and they are already in place,” Kreis said. “They might not be cells of Islamic people, but they are here and they are ready to fight.”