Saturday, February 22, 1997
Militants pound local pulpit

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Rev. Harold "Ray" Redfeairn preaches anti-government, anti-Jewish, anti-black, anti-gay messages from his pulpit in New Vienna, Ohio.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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NEW VIENNA - The Church of Jesus Christ Christian is not your typical country church.

It uses the flag of Israel as a doormat.

A Nazi banner hangs behind the pulpit.

And no sign invites a passerby to worship.

''Most people just say they don't bother us, so we don't bother them,'' said Lisa Davis, 32, who works downstairs from the church hall in New Vienna's only video store.

This church, which operates in a former Masonic lodge owned by the Ku Klux Klan, has been mostly ignored since it settled last summer in the Clinton County farm town. Some in the village of little more than 900 people didn't even know it was there.

''We decided we wanted to be in a little, tiny town,'' said the Rev. Harold ''Ray'' Redfeairn, the pastor and leader of the state's white-separatist Aryan Nations chapter. ''It's quiet. We're quiet.''

But last weekend's shootings in Wilmington have brought new focus to the church 12 miles away.

The two brothers indicted in connection with the gun battle - Chevie Kehoe, 24, of Colville, Wash., and his 20-year-old brother, Cheyne Kehoe - have ties to Aryan Nations and the Christian Identity movement in the Northwest, where the local chapter has its roots. Christian Identity is the umbrella characterization for a number of Christian-based, white separatist groups.

A hooded member guards the door of the church. Those who enter walk on the Israeli flag.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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Aryan Nations' members hold the belief that they, the white race, are God's chosen people. In New Vienna, the church is a place where members wear swastikas and Aryan Nations emblems down to their belt buckles and as tattoos.

The Rev. Mr. Redfeairn - who preaches anti-government, anti-Jewish, anti-black and anti-gay messages - organized last weekend's rally in Columbus protesting Black History Month. But he downplayed the possibility that the rally attracted the Kehoes to the area.

The brothers, who temporarily took refuge in the nearby community of Frankfort, are the focus of a nationwide manhunt.

In a letter to his hometown paper several years ago, Chevie Kehoe embraced the very ideas the Rev. Mr. Redfeairn preaches. ''I wrote to let everyone know that there are more of us 'Identity' out there than you realize,'' he told the Colville Statesman-Examiner. ''We are in the schools, government, law enforcement, health and everywhere you look.''

The Rev. Mr. Redfeairn says he doesn't know the Kehoe brothers and blames the government for hyping the idea that they are ''domestic terrorists.''

''We're not idiots,'' he said. ''We're not uneducated. The things we say, we believe. We are not con men.''

Fabric of society

The Aryan Nations, whose headquarters is a 20-acre compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, purports to have supporters across the country. The Northwest, where the Kehoe brothers are from, is considered a stronghold for the group.

The Church of Jesus Christ Christian is on the second floor of the old Masonic Lodge, owned by the Klu Klux Klan, in the middle of Main Street in New Vienna, about 45 minutes northeast of Cincinnati.
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Like many other groups with extreme anti-government sentiments, members of the Aryan Nations criticize how federal agents acted in the deadly confrontations with Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas.

The Rev. Mr. Redfeairn and other followers spread their ideas nationwide on cable television and the Internet. Publicity has been a recruiting tool. He won't say exactly how many members he has, only that it's ''more than 10 and less than a million.''

Extremist groups are prone to exaggerate the extent of their membership, said Ted Almay, superintendent of the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in the state attorney general's office. Whatever number they give, he cautioned, ''take off two zeros.''

Mr. Almay and others watching the Aryan movement say the Midwest is seeing more radical activity than ever - from Klan splinter groups to militias.

''It's not surprising,'' said Art Jipson, an assistant professor of sociology at Miami University in Oxford, who taught a class on white supremacy last semester. ''The Midwest has always been fertile ground for discontent.''

Groups such as the Aryan Nations often attract social misfits who are fed up with some aspect of government, said Neil Kressel, a social psychologist in Wayne, N.J., and the author of the 1996 book Mass Hate.

''They tend to be people who have some major-league gripe with mainstream, middle-class Americans,'' he said. ''They think the government is giving something to every group but them - homosexuals, Jews, blacks, Hispanics. They feel left out.''

It's illegal for the government to keep tabs on fringe groups, but authorities can track individuals who pose a threat of violence, Mr. said.

''The weapon of choice is intimidation,'' he said.

A climate of terror is exactly what extremist groups want, said Frederick Clarkson, author of a new book called Eternal Hostility, about such groups.

''People shouldn't think of these sort of movements as a fringe element,'' he said. ''They're not crazy. They're living in your neighborhood. They're very much part of the fabric of the society that we have. They're not that far away.''

'We think they're nuts'

If ''the reverend Ray'' looks like he lives next door, that's what he says he had in mind. Take away the blue clerical collar and emblem on his sleeve, and he says he could be anyone else.

''We never ask anybody that we talk to to listen to what we have to say and take it as Gospel,'' he said. ''We encourage people to check out what we say and if they can, pick it apart and then listen to what the other side has to say.''

He says people don't like to talk about the good points of his church - that it provides shelter and food for those who need it - if they are white.

To some, he is a prophet. To others, his group is plain crazy.

''We think they're nuts, like most other people,'' said Edd Doerr, executive director of the Americans for Religious Liberty in Silver Spring, Md., who spends his career supporting the free exercise of religion. ''Everybody has their First Amendment rights, but they do not have a right to threaten people or invade anyone else's rights.''

The Rev. Mr. Redfeairn says he can take the naysayers.

''I couldn't care less how the media portrays us,'' he said. ''We're not the Republican party, we're not the Democratic party, and I'm not running for anything.''

He claims he doesn't invade other's rights. But some of what he preaches is colored by his past.

He admitted that he shot a Dayton police officer in and that he shouldn't have done it.

''The officer was doing nothing wrong,'' he said. ''I, at that time, was not connected with the Aryan Nations or anything. I was basically a criminal.''

He had committed two robberies that day - March 1, 1979 - and his getaway car had no license plates. David Koenig, a former Cincinnati police cadet from Elmwood Place, pulled him over for a traffic stop, and Mr. Redfeairn, then 26, shot him in the neck, shoulder and stomach.

The officer survived, and Mr. Redfeairn was captured after an extensive manhunt. He was ruled incompetent to stand trial and was treated at the Dayton Mental Health Center - where he once tried to escape.

In 1985, he stood trial for the robbery and shooting and was convicted and given an 11- to 50-year sentence. He served six years and was paroled in 1991.

Sometime in between - he won't say exactly when - he converted to the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, which is active in prisons as the Aryan Brotherhood.

Officer Koenig survived and is now head of security at a bank. He has moved on with his life and says he doesn't want to talk about what the Rev. Mr. Redfeairn is doing these days.

Hate 'alive and well'

Others are quicker to criticize the ideas the pastor embraces.

''Their sole desire is to create an all-white America,'' said Judith Lee Berg, whose ex-husband, former Denver talk-show host Alan Berg, was executed in a burst of machine gun fire in 1984. Two members of a neo-Nazi group called The Order were convicted of civil-rights violations in the slaying.

Since then, Ms. Berg, a former schoolteacher, has made a career of writing and speaking about ethnic hatred. She's now attending Oklahoma City bombing hearings and plans to write about the trial.

She said she's sickened by groups such as the Aryan Nations but sees them thriving.

''This is alive and well,'' she said. ''Hate is the biggest business in America.''

Despite the controversy fringe groups stir, even their opponents uphold rights for even the most extreme groups to believe whatever they want.

''They can pray to whatever God they want, but upholding their rights isn't enough,'' said Alan Katchen, head of the Anti-Defamation League in Columbus, which tracks fringe groups in the region. ''At the point they act out, society has the obligation to do everything they can to stop them.''

For authorities, that's a fine line between the threat of violence and the freedoms America allows, said Mr. Almay, of the attorney general's office.

''There is one good thing about all this,'' he said. ''By having public rallies and media exposure, it does raise the mainstream awareness that these things are out there. It shows us we cannot become complacent.''


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