The founder of the Aryan Nations lost his compound outside of town to bankruptcy several years ago, but moved into a Hayden house bought by a supporter. Now Butler is running for mayor of this town of 9,000, linking Hayden in the public mind once more with his anti-Semitic, white separatist views.
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“I’m not really anxious to become mayor,” Butler, 85, said recently. “I’m just anxious to get my word out.”
Two Butler supporters are also on the ballot, running for City Council. The three had to gather five signatures each to get on the ballot.
Despite heart problems and legal woes in recent years, Butler for three decades has been a bane to many Hayden boosters.
Because Hayden and nearby Hayden Lake were the closest towns to Butler’s rural compound, the Hayden name became synonymous with the hate group, which has no more than maybe a dozen active members but has hosted an annual world gathering of white supremacists here for the past two decades.
“No matter where you travel, if you mention you are from Hayden or Hayden Lake, they associate it with the Aryan people,” complained Mayor Ron McIntire, who is running for re-election Nov. 4 to the $500-a-month job. “They look at it as the headquarters of a million people or something.”
McIntire, who owns several grocery stores in the area, is campaigning door-to-door and putting up yard signs. He does not plan any joint appearances or debates with Butler.
“That just stirs it up,” McIntire said. “I don’t really know how much support he has in the area, but this will be a good way to find out.”
Butler, for his part, recently distributed a flier criticizing the mayor’s Mormon faith. Butler called the Mormon Church a cult that preaches false doctrines. McIntire called the attack an act of desperation.
Butler moved to northern Idaho from California in the early 1970s because the region was mostly white and he figured it would make a good place to launch a race war. He and his followers rail about Jewish conspiracies and rising numbers of blacks and other minorities in the United States.
Butler said his campaign is intended to restore Christian ideals, especially the Ten Commandments, to public life. But in truth, Butler admitted, Hayden is “running pretty well.”
White supremacists have not had good luck running for office in northern Idaho. Several years ago, Butler supporter Vincent Bertollini ran for mayor of the nearby resort town of Sandpoint. Bertollini got just 30 votes. Shortly after the election, he skipped town to escape a drunken driving charge.
Butler lost his 20-acre compound in 2000 after being hit with a $6 million judgment in a civil rights lawsuit filed by two people attacked by Aryan Nations security guards. The property was bulldozed and turned into a peace park.
Leadership of the Aryan Nations moved to rural Pennsylvania for a time. But Butler did not move. Bertollini, who made a fortune in the computer industry in California, bought him the $110,000 house in Hayden.
After keeping a low profile in the past couple of years, Butler managed to draw about 100 followers to his Aryan World Congress in a nearby state park this summer.
Pastor Steve Massey of the Hayden Bible Church called Butler’s beliefs a “tragedy” and said his run for mayor is not being taken seriously.
“He has no critical mass of a following at all,” Massey said.
Tony Stewart, a leader of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, which for years battled the Aryan Nations at every turn, dismissed the candidacy as Butler’s bid for more publicity.
“His movement has done so much damage, and unfairly affected our image,” said Stewart, a teacher at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene.
Human rights groups are urging Hayden voters to turn out in force on Election Day.
“There should be a resounding `no’ to his candidacy,” Stewart said.