HELENA – Several accusations that the Montana Human Rights Network bought stolen books from a former member of the racist World Church of the Creator are unfounded, a law enforcement official said this week.
And there’s a chance that the racist group has no legal claim to the books anyway because the Southern Poverty Law Center won $1 million of the group’s assets in a 1994 U.S. District Court judgment, said Heidi Beirich of the center.
The books in question – some 4,100 white supremacist books worth $41,000 – were sold several months ago to the Montana Human Rights Network by a defector from the organization for $300.
The defector – who was second in command of the Montana faction of The World Church of the Creator when he sold the books – left the group shortly after selling the stash.
Mineral County Sheriff Anita Parkin said she knew that the network came to Superior to buy the books. In fact, the network asked deputies to stand by, for fear the purchase was a setup.
Parkin said the transaction appears legal, and that no one from the church has pressed charges against the man who sold the books.
“The church can make a complaint, but unless there’s probable cause to prove that a crime has been committed, there’s nothing,” Parkin said, adding that the church doesn’t have much “probable cause.”
Parkin also said she knows that the Southern Poverty Law Center has some legal claim to the books. The law center endorses the network’s purchase, and applauded the Montana organization for taking the books out of circulation.
Beirich said the Southern Poverty Law Center never picked up the books, figuring it wouldn’t be worth the effort.
But some of the remaining group members, and others in the community at large, think the books were stolen. One of the remaining two members of the church, Slim Deardorff of Superior, did call the Sheriff’s Office looking to make a complaint but never followed through, Parkin said.
The other member of the Montana faction, Dane Hall of California, called the sale a “grand theft” in the group’s most recent newsletter.
And at least one letter to the editor, and comments made to the Gazette State Bureau, suggest that the Montana Human Rights Network knowingly bought stolen property. Former World Church of the Creator member Dan Hassett of Missoula recently wrote letters to several Montana papers expressing his dismay over the sale.
“It appears that law enforcement has failed to apply the law in this situation,” Hassett wrote. “The law should not be forsaken because the government is ambivalent towards the victims in this situation. This scenario establishes a very dangerous precedent.”
Sen. Ken Toole, D-Helena and co-director of the network, said his organization did nothing wrong.
“We certainly had no reason to think they were stolen,” Toole said. “And we had no reason to think that (the man who sold the books) didn’t have legitimate control of the books.”
The network has a signed bill of sale for $300, and the former second in command, or “Hasta Primus,” signed his name on the receipt. Toole also said the network sought legal advice before making the purchase.
“Push come to shove, the bottom line is the Southern Poverty Law Center got all these books in a judgment,” Toole said.
Beirich of the law center she doesn’t know for sure if the books the network bought are actually the same books the center won in the $1 million judgment.
But Rep. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena and co-director of the network, said the latest copyright and printing date on the books is 1992 – two years before the 1994 judgment and four years before the church split off into factions and divided the group’s remaining property.
“I think what is happening here is that there are a lot of people trying to shift the focus to the Human Rights Network doing something wrong,” Toole said. “These are people who have long standing grudges against the human rights network.”