The fall of the Aryan Nations
A post-mortem from the heroes who helped bring one of the nation’s most dangerous hate groups down.
|FBI informant Dave Hall infiltrated the Aryan Nations from 1997-1999|
Of all the hate groups on its radar in the 1990s, the federal government considered the Aryan Nations the most dangerous. In 1997, the head of its New Vienna-based Ohio chapter, Ray Redfeairn, was heir apparent to take over the national organization.
That September, leading up to Ohio Aryan Nations’ rally in Hamilton, the white supremacist group began a campaign to spread hate materials against Dayton’s organized Jewish community.
Antisemitic flyers showed up in several small towns through northern Kentucky and southwestern Ohio, listing Dayton-area synagogues, their phone numbers and names of rabbis, along with phone numbers of the Anti-Defamation League and The Dayton Jewish Observer.
The organized Jewish community turned for help to Dayton area FBI Special Agent Tym Burkey.
The individual who created and distributed the hate flyers was Dave Hall, Ohio Aryan Nations’ propaganda minister. As it turns out, Hall was also an informant for the FBI, answering directly to Burkey.
Hall’s hate projects allowed him to gain the trust of the upper echelon of the Aryan Nations. He ultimately discovered and disrupted a plot to assassinate Morris Dees, the founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Dees would later litigate the Aryan Nations into virtual extinction.
In 2008, Hall and Burkey documented their infiltration of the Aryan Nations in the book Into The Devil’s Den (Ballantine), co-written with Katherine Ramsland.
Their story will also be featured in 2009 as part of a 13-part television series about undercover work, to be broadcast on Discovery Networks’ Investigation Channel.
In 1996, Burkey had arrested Hall, who lived on the west side of Dayton, for his involvement in a drug deal with an informant from Kentucky. The federal judge in Kentucky delayed Hall’s sentence for six months if Hall would agree to become an informant for Burkey. Their target would become Redfeairn.
Hall would stop by a Dayton bar frequented by Redfeairn and slowly befriended him. Eventually, Redfeairn invited Hall to attend the Aryan Nations church, where Redfeairn was pastor.
|Ohio Aryan Nations leader Ray Redfeairn (L) and FBI informant Dave Hall pose with a bust of Adolph Hitler at the Aryan Nations compound, Hayden Lake, Idaho, 1998|
“I had to walk the walk, and talk the talk,” Hall says. “And when I was appointed propaganda minister, that was my job and I had to do it as well as I could.”
When Hall distributed one extremely virulent flyer near Miami University in Oxford, community leaders contacted Burkey within the hour. After that, Burkey insisted on approving any future flyers before Hall could distribute them.
“I also instructed him,” Burkey says, “if he was by himself, that he would put one flyer on one car and then throw the rest in the trash and leave. But by no means was there any sponsoring of violence, because I also remember during that period of time that I talked to several rabbis that had windows in their cars and homes broken. If we would have found out who those were, we would have dealt with that, and had them taken care of, probably by the locals (law enforcement). It was just that, at that particular juncture, Dave did his job too well and we had to quash that.”
Hall was no racist. He adored his several biracial nieces and nephews. The time he spent with the Aryan Nations — pretending to be one of them, the palpable fear of getting caught, and members’ paranoid gunplay fueled by drugs and alcohol — caused him deep psychological trauma. Even so, when his term of service was up, he continued to work for the FBI as an informant.
“After I went to court and had been sentenced to probation, the FBI or nobody had anything on me, I could have walked,” Hall says. “But earlier, I had made a promise to Tym that I would stay with the investigation until Redfeairn was run out of Ohio or until he was in jail for a lengthy term. I never break a promise.”
“The judge gave Dave six months to help himself out,” Burkey says, “in other words, come back and help me. He actually gave him another six months because he (Hall) was doing so well.”
At the end of a year, the judge set aside Hall’s conviction.
“If I had pulled out and they had, God forbid, bombed another federal building and killed a bunch of people, my conscience would’ve just killed me,” Hall says.
In July 1998, guards at the Aryan Nations national headquarters in Hayden Lake, Idaho shot at passersby Victoria Keenan and her son when Keenan’s car backfired. Dees and the SPLC joined Keenan in a lawsuit against the Aryan Nations.
Based on the information Hall provided to Burkey, on April 14, 1999, the FBI arrested Aryan Nations member Kale Kelly near Waynesville on a weapons charge. Kelly was on his way to assassinate Dees at the behest of Redfeairn and Kentucky-based Ron Edwards, imperial wizard of the Imperial Klans of America.
“In some ways, I think, when we arrested Mr. Kelly, I almost think he was relieved,” Burkey says.
Through the arrest of one man on gun charges, Burkey says, the entire Aryan Nations was disrupted.
|FBI Special Agent Tym Burkey|
“Suddenly, because Kelly was arrested and he was trusted by Redfeairn, and Dave was recruited by Redfeairn,” Burkey says, “suddenly they (members) started looking at Redfeairn and saying, ‘Why aren’t you arrested? What’s going on here?’ And they started to self implode in Ohio and it started the ripple effect to headquarters back in Hayden Lake and Redfeairn never had the prominence after Dave’s departure.”
In September 2000, Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center won a $6.3 million jury verdict for Victoria Keenan.
With no way to pay the verdict, the Aryan Nations’ 20-acre Idaho compound became the property of Keenan. The property is now a “peace park.”
“That was pretty much the death knell for them,” Burkey says.
Although Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler officially named Redfeairn as his successor in 2001, Redfeairn moved to Pennsylvania to start a splinter group. He was unsuccessful. Redfeairn died in Dayton in 2003.
“A once powerful organization has been reduced to just a couple of pockets of a handful of people,” says Burkey, who now works for the FBI in New Mexico.
Hall had also informed Burkey that Aryan Nations members were planning to bomb the Earle Cabell Federal Building in Dallas: echoing the horrific Oklahoma City bombing.
“We never determined how far along that plot developed, as far as the federal building goes,” Burkey says.
The most important aspect of terrorism investigation, he says, is knocking on doors and talking to people.
“It’s not always (that) you make mass arrests,” he says.
Hall decided not to enter the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program, so that he could maintain contact with his mother. Even so, he lives in an undisclosed location for his safety.
“I’ve become somewhat of a hermit, me and my dog,” Hall says. “I’m living in a pretty secluded part of the country. And with my looks, I can’t just go anywhere because I stand out in a crowd like a sore thumb.” Hall is 6 feet 4 inches and weighs 350 pounds.
He says that Into The Devil’s Den is the first book written jointly by an informant and his FBI handler.
“Tym says that’s because most informants don’t live long enough to write a book,” Hall adds.
Burkey says the FBI vetted the book for sources and methods only. “They want to protect the way that we do things, so that we protect other people,” he says. “I would never want to give away anything that would be harmful to somebody else.”
“Dave is a true American hero,” Burkey adds. “He laid it all on the line.”
One of Hall’s most cherished possessions is a gift from Dees.
“Morris Dees sent me a copy of his latest book,” Hall says, “and on the inscription inside it says, ‘To Dave Hall: Thank you for saving my life. Your indebted friend, Morris Dees.’”
Details of plot to kill Dees come out at November 2008 Klan trial
On Nov. 15, Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center won a verdict of more than $2.5 million against the Imperial Klans of America, which has 16 chapters in eight states. SPLC sued IKA leader Ron Edwards of Dawson Springs, Ky., on the grounds that his Klan members attacked a 16-year-old, thinking he was an “illegal spic.”
On Nov. 13, the second day of the Meade County, Ky. Circuit Court trial, Kale Kelly took the witness stand and testified that Edwards had told him to assassinate Dees.
“He commissioned me to the rank of lieutenant,” Kelly said. “He was placing rank on a sub- secret underground unit cell that was to operate outside the IKA.”
Kelly testified that Edwards showed him a piece of paper with Dees’ name on it and instructed him to kill Dees. They also used Dees’ image for target practice.
“It was all planned,” Kelly testified. “He (Edwards) was the one that was to take the weapon and I was the one to take care of the assassination.”
Kelly was incarcerated for four years on weapons charges in 1999. He has since turned his life around.
In an interview with The Observer, Dees said there were two simultaneous plots to kill him in 1999 and prevent the SPLC from suing the Aryan Nations.
“Redfeairn got two different underground cells going to knock me off. One of them was operated out of Illinois.”
The Illinois plot was also broken up through an FBI informant.
“Ron Edwards was the main one behind Kale Kelly’s actions,” Dees said. “Had the FBI known all this, they would have indicted Ron Edwards for conspiracy to commit murder. It would have been a slam dunk. But they didn’t, because Dave Hall did not ever get a chance to talk to Ron Edwards on his own. He never heard anything about what Ron Edwards was telling Kale Kelly.”
Edwards resigned from the IKA after the jury reached its Nov. 15 verdict.
“He’s out of it now and we’re moving to seize the compound down there,” Dees said, because it’s in Edwards’ name. “He found a lawyer and he’s appealing the case, but I don’t think he has a chance.”
Dees said there are 35 people “in prison or have been in prison for threats to kill me or blow our building up.”
– Marshall Weiss
Ten years ago, the potential for violence from hate groups in southwest Ohio ran extremely high. It was a time of Aryan Nations and Klan rallies, organized phone harassment, hate flyers and heightened vandalism.
Though such outward signs of hate have abated, hate groups have not. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, hate groups have grown since the year 2000 by 48 percent. SPLC’s Web site lists more than 888 active hate groups.
FBI Special Agent Tym Burkey — who helped bring down the Aryan Nations — says we don’t hear much about hate groups now because of the Internet.
“They used to use rallies and television and newspapers to get their word across,” he says, “but now they don’t need it.”
SPLC’s Morris Dees told me that Klan and neo-Nazi groups have morphed together. He attributes the growth of hate groups to anti-Latino bias.
“But the core issues of all these hate groups is Jews,” Dees says. To hate groups, “they’re the ones who are destroying America by letting these immigrants come in.”
Dees says we have a perfect storm for hate, with the economy and unemployment. “And they’ve got to have a scapegoat.”
– Marshall Weiss