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Beyond the hardcore cadre, the backbone strength of Aryan Nations is the estimated 50,000 Americans who share the anti-black, anti-Hispanic and vehemently anti-Semitic beliefs of the Christian Identity movement, plus several times that number who may sympathize with the sect. "Becoming part of this movement means you're Yahweh's elite," Williams boasted in an interview. "You won't find a religion of fewer people, but the numbers don't mean anything because we go to war for Yahweh."
Williams is slightly built, affable, 26 years old, and -- unusual for Aryan Nations storm troopers -- has no visible tattoos. He said he was raised by Klan grandparents in Atlanta and is ordained as a Pentecostal minister. "I never joined the Klan," he said. "I wanted a different aspect," which turned out to be the Christian Identity theology and leadership offered by Aryan Nations founder Butler.
Butler's appeal is significant. "These people find fellow travelers with simple explanations to complicated problems," said Brian Levin, a former cop who heads a hate-group study center at California State University, San Bernardino. "A group like Aryan Nations, these are true believers, not just skinhead jerks who go out to beat someone up. Butler gives the group historical legitimacy; he spanned the 20th century of hate groups. In the 1970s, when the Klan hit bottom, he was there with Aryan Nations."
Williams' religious expertise comes from two correspondence courses offered by the American Institute of Theology, a Christian Identity repository of wisdom. The institute's website features a crudely drawn cartoon of a coiled snake with a body festooned with Stars of David and a head that's a caricature of a hooked-nose Jew.
Christian Identity is a branch of "Anglo-Israelism," a quirky movement that began in 1840 and taught that Europeans, especially the Brits, were the true chosen people. It wasn't inherently anti-Semitic and even embraced Jews as fellow Israelites. However, when Anglo-Israelism spread to America, anti-Semitism became a pillar of belief -- and was promoted by such notables as automobile magnate Henry Ford. In the 1930s, the religious sect attracted many of America's Nazi sympathizers, including Butler.
The Christian Identity theology holds that white Europeans are the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. Jews aren't even God's children, Williams asserted, but the offspring of a sexual get-together between Satan and Eve.
"That's what the Bible is talking about in the story of the devil offering Eve the apple," Williams said. "Someday, the blinders will fall off Judeo-Christians" -- those whose religion, according to the Aryan Nations lexicon, has been distorted if not actually dictated by Jews.
Christian Identity also contends that Jesus -- Yahshua, as the Aryan Nations folk call him -- "was NOT a Jew," Williams asserted. Christ was one of a small group of true white children of Adam and Eve who remained in the Middle East after most of the real Israelites endured a diaspora that ended with them becoming Europeans. Only one of the 12 disciples -- Judas Iscariot, of course -- was actually a Jew, Williams added.
Throughout the Laurens gathering, leaders projected themselves as the "true Christians." Williams alternated between wearing a baggy, gray, knit polo shirt and a black suit with a clerical collar. He favors the Catholic white-tab-in-front variation, a bit ironic since Catholicism was denounced during the congress as "backward" and, even more damning among this congregation, "Judeo-Christian."
"There are many out there we want to reach with a message that's not watered down," Williams said. "Our heritage is the true Israel. 'Jew' is the name of a mixed-race people. The biggest lie besides the Holocaust is that Jews are the 'chosen people.' Satan is their father."
And, according to the Aryan Nations leader, non-white races were created before Adam, and are the sub-human "beasts of the field" referred to in Genesis 2:19. "It's clear they have lower intelligence," Williams said. "Blacks are soul-less mud people who never had Yahweh's breath of life."
DURING THE CONGRESS, staccato blasts of whites-fighting-for-whites oratory were interspersed with that staple of all conventions, milling around vendors' tables. Big sellers included The Apple Story booklet, which claims Jews are descendants of Lucifer; and CDs, such as the Definite Hate rock band's Welcome to the South album, whose cover features an empty noose dangling from a leafless tree.
And, like all conferences, catching up on news was important. The hot items generally focused on perceived affronts to white people. One hooded Klansman in a black robe with red, white and blue piping slumped dejectedly in a chair and complained loudly to anyone who would listen, and quite a few did, that there aren't "hardly any stores where I live where you don't have to deal with niggers."
Many parents brought their children to play amid the swirling white, red, green and black Klan robes, and swastika-emblazoned banners. During a break, two moms, one holding a babe, the other corralling a toddler in camouflage jammies, could be overheard chatting about things that worry all mothers. "At that age," said one, "you've always got to keep an eye on them."