Trouble in Paradise : White Supremacists in Idaho Mar LAPD Retirees’ Tranquillity
As nearly as any one can remember, Walt Hardy came first. Twenty years ago, after his former partner was gunned down during a traffic stop, a disillusioned Hardy quit the Los Angeles Police Department and eventually settled here, finding tranquillity on 40 acres of land deep in the pines.
Word spread. Ever since, dozens of former Los Angeles-area lawmen, including nearly 30 from the LAPD, have settled in this area of northern Idaho’s panhandle, each seeking serenity in a sportsman’s Utopia of gentle mountains and deep, cold lakes--the kind of place where men still flair their sideburns and only women pierce their ears.
Yet not all has been serene of late around Coeur d’Alene, where a small sect of white supremacists who call themselves the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, Aryan Nations, also has found a home in the adjacent hamlet of Hayden Lake.
In the last two years, present or former Aryan Nations members have been linked by authorities to a multistate string of murders, robberies and, more recently, at least three bombings in this resort community of 24,000.
The former big-city cops, along with a handful of Los Angeles-area firefighters who also have settled here, have found themselves amid a swirl of tensions and national news, all of which they thought they had escaped when they left Southern California.
Some authorities consider the Aryan Nations to be among the most dangerous extremist groups in the country, and the presence of hardened LAPD alumni would seem to bode confrontation. But the relationship can be best described as a grudging coexistence tinged by animosity.
Veterans of past skirmishes with radicals like the Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Army, the former policemen scoff when asked if the sect’s presence has disrupted their retirement tranquillity. They regard their neighbors, the neo-Nazis, as mere nuisances.
“These guys are nothing,” said Glenn E. Bordeman, a retired Los Angeles homicide detective who sells real estate in Coeur d’Alene. “Any (junior high) street gang . . . could wipe them out.”
However, not everyone in these parts is so casually indifferent to the Aryan Nations, which claims an active membership of 6,000 but is thought to number no more than 150 nationwide. Local officials say “excessive” media coverage of the sect has inflated fear among some townsfolk while denting the area’s once-booming tourist trade.
Even so, two more LAPD veterans--narcotics detectives married to each other--moved to Hayden Lake last month, undaunted by talk of the sect and its alleged activities.
Those who have moved here, oblivious to the Aryan Nations, say the area’s attractions can entice any potential transplant: spectacular scenery, outstanding hunting, fishing and skiing, relatively mild winters and affordable housing. For $75,000, an old lawman can sip coffee in his split-level palace nestled among the evergreens and watch deer forage just beyond his driveway.
It didn’t take much more than that to attract Wayne C. Haas, who runs a thriving golf-club repair business from the garage of his home four miles south of Coeur d’Alene. The former homicide detective moved here after retiring in 1977.
Robert W. Steele, a former SWAT sergeant, came to the Idaho panhandle two years later after he got his Los Angeles police pension, and promptly got a job here with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department, where another ex-Los Angeles officer, John Miller, was chief deputy. Steele eventually become police chief in Post Falls, a mill town of 6,500 just west of Coeur d’Alene, and is planning to run for Kootenai County sheriff in 1988.
“The biggest problem we usually have around here is dogs going to the bathroom on other people’s yards,” said Steele, whose 16-member department has not had a murder case in nearly seven years. “I suppose you could say those Aryan Nations people . . . are a police problem, but if it weren’t for the press, you’d never even know they were up here.”
Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Frank W. Premo is also an LAPD veteran, as is Carl Thompson, an Idaho state narcotics investigator whose makes his home in Hayden Lake, almost directly behind the Aryan Nations’ property.
“I don’t think there’s too many of us who miss Los Angeles,” said retired LAPD Lt. Terrance W. Hannon, one of this town’s most prominent attorneys. “We’re not as cosmopolitan as L.A., but that’s what makes this attractive for so many of us.”
Yet the Aryan Nations’ 67-year-old founder, Richard Girnt Butler, a former aerospace engineer who formerly lived in Whittier and Palmdale, is convinced that there is another reason why so many Los Angeles police officers--all of them white--have retired to the Coeur d’Alene area.
Statistics show that among Kootenai County’s 67,359 residents, less than one in 67 is Latino. Countywide, there are only 77 blacks, and probably even fewer Jews. The numbers are comparable to the rest of the Northwest, where whites and Christians account for an estimated 95% of the population.
“These policemen come up here to get away to a white, Christian community, but then they denigrate it by ridiculing us,” Butler said during an interview at his sect’s compound. “None of them has ever even asked me what we’re all about, what we’re trying to do, which is to preserve a place for our race. They’re total hypocrites and cowards, and I despise cowards. I don’t know why they don’t go back to all that filth in Los Angeles and spend their pensions down there.”
‘Basically Redneck Place’
Los Angeles police veterans such as attorney Hannon and Bob Steele, the chief in Post Falls, deny Butler’s contention that they moved away from Los Angeles to intentionally distance themselves from minorities. Hannon conceded that while Coeur d’Alene “is a basically redneck place,” his law firm employs the area’s only black female attorney.
“We have a former Chicago policeman here, Ray Johnson, a colored gentleman,” Steele added. “I buy my Amway from him.”
In October, Butler and about 20 of his followers burned a cross in southern Idaho, demanding that the Northwest be declared a white republic void of minorities. Some Aryan Nations members wore blue uniforms emblazoned with the stylized swastika that is the sect’s symbol. Others dressed in the hooded robes of the Ku Klux Klan.
Such scenes, as well as paramilitary training sessions, are not infrequent at the Aryan Nations’ Hayden Lake headquarters, a collection of innocuous wood-frame buildings that include a chapel, farmhouse, offices and an observation tower. The washboard dirt road leading into the compound is marked by a sign warning, “Whites Only,” and the place is patrolled by a German shepherd dog named Von that enjoys retrieving pine cones.
But Walt Hardy, who lives “right around the corner” from the compound, said he never hears nor sees any activity there--a common observation among other former Los Angeles police officers living here.
Hardy said he and Butler often chatted when Butler first moved to Hayden Lake in 1975. Butler did business at the lumber yard that Hardy and his brother owned at the time, and never raised racist or anti-Semitic issues, Hardy said. But as Butler began to make known his supremacist attitudes, Hardy said he and Butler’s other neighbors began ignoring him.
Sees Him at Restaurant
Today, the only time he sees Butler is when the Aryan Nations leader stops in to eat at the Arby’s restaurant, which is among several businesses Hardy owns in Coeur d’Alene, Hardy said. Sometimes, Butler stands at the counter and orders his sandwich while wearing a cloth field cap like those issued to World War II German soldiers.
“I rarely even speak to him at this stage of the game because I don’t want to give even tacit approval of his activities,” Hardy said. “I am a staunch, dyed-in-the-wool Christian person who doesn’t believe a word of what he says. He’s just a misguided individual and his organization is a sore on our community that hopefully will be gone before too long.”
In the meantime, the former Los Angeles policemen who spent their best years fighting big-city subversives in Los Angeles are not planning to step back into this fray, such as it is.
Hardy is spending his spare time deer hunting with his two young sons; Glenn Bordeman, the real estate agent, is panning for gold and green garnets along the Coeur d’Alene River; Wayne Haas, the golf club repairman, is working on rounding up enough players for another game of double-deck pinochle.
“I’ll be going down to L.A. for a visit in January,” said Haas, grimacing. “And that’s when I’ll carry a gun again.”