Cult of Personality

By Christopher Zoukis

By the 1950s, Swift was delivering his ideology by means of daily radio broadcasts.  A dynamic and charismatic speaker, Swift’s message appealed to more and more people, slowly spreading across the country, appealing primarily to malcontents, those disaffected by their lot in the social and financial pecking-order of life.  These converts felt success and happiness were being taken from them by a vast conspiracy, which was composed of the government and its life-sucking taxes; the Jews, who were perceived as controlling the government; and the ‘mud people,’ who stole the jobs rightfully belonging to white people.  Righteous anger at what was happening was the common denominator among Swift’s adherents.  Richard Butler / Photo courtesy

Somewhere in there, Swift hooked up with Colonel William Potter Gale, who organized anti-tax and paramilitary groups in the United States, including the California Rangers and the Posse Comitatus.  Colonel Gale introduced Swift to Richard Girnt Butler, who later founded the Aryan Nations.  Butler was an ardent white supremacist, who had never really considered the advantages of combining his racist philosophy with religion.  But he was willing to listen.  Once he heard the verbal pyrotechnics of Swift’s message, Butler saw the light.  Race and religion were the way to go.  For religion added a spiritual urgency to the hate of racism.  The result was an unprompted and spontaneous fanaticism – the army of God’s chosen people.

With Swift at the helm, aided by Butler and Colonel Gale, Christian Identity continued to grow, slowly but surely.  Then things started to fall apart for two reasons.  First, Wesley Swift died in 1970.  It quickly became apparent that Christian Identity was as much a cult of personality as it was a religion.  The movement was only as strong as its honcho.  Butler assumed control, but didn’t have the force of personality or flair of Swift.  Membership began to sag as members looked for someone to prop them up. 

In the end, all that remained were the most rabid dupes – hardcore white supremacists energized by fear and hatred.  Butler changed the name of the group, calling it The Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations.  The new name reflected the changing emphasis of the church.  Butler wanted the group to take a more proactive stance.  A separate national entity – populated by whites only – was the order of the day. 

As a first step toward that ultimate, Utopian goal, Butler purchased a piece of property in Hayden Lake, Idaho.  He and his remnant moved there, establishing an “armed white compound,” where they separated themselves from the ‘mud people.’

With Wesley Swift’s death and Butler’s inability to fill the dead man’s big shoes, the second reason things fell apart lurched into the open.  A green-eyed monster called jealousy.  Christian Identity was made up of small groups scattered across the U.S.  Each group or ‘church’ had a local leader or ‘pastor.’  These leaders were ambitious and held themselves in high esteem.  Every leader felt he should be in charge.  So when Swift died and Butler failed to consolidate his eminence, the local leaders began jockeying for position.  In other words, there was a power struggle, with each local leader trying to win as much support as possible.  Which resulted in antagonism and division within the ranks of God’s army. 

Eventually, the local leaders decided it was better to be a big fish in a little pond rather than take orders from someone else, which would make them a little fish in a big pond.  So a multitude of parochial groups sprang up.  With minor variations, all were Christian Identity in their beliefs, but each had its own name, its own organization, its own recruiting program and its own power structure.  And they all had their own agendas.