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04/03/98 07:05:49 PM
By JUDY L. THOMAS c. 1997 Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Christian Identity, a race-based religious movement that teaches that Jews are satanic and that nonwhites are inferior, is undergoing a revival in the buckle of the Bible Belt.

The resurgence of the belief system -- Identity churches or groups now number 16 in Missouri and three in Kansas -- is a concern because authorities say the movement has a track record of spawning violence.

In the past 15 years, adherents have been convicted of robberies, bombings and murders, have engaged in shootouts with police and have plotted assassinations and the overthrow of the government to attain their stated goal: a white Christian nation.

"I think the (Christian) Identity movement is the up-and- coming fad among extremists in Missouri," said Capt. Jim Keathley, who tracks right-wing groups for the Missouri Highway Patrol. "It's really dangerous when you start mixing guns with religious beliefs that are far to the right...."

The violence had subsided in the late 1980s with the arrest and conviction of numerous followers, some with Kansas and Missouri ties. But now the pace and severity of crimes allegedly committed by people who share a belief system similar to the Christian Identity doctrine appear to be increasing:

  • In December, three right-wing extremists were charged in Little Rock, Arkansas, with plotting to overthrow the government by killing public officials and police to create a whites-only nation. Two of the men have also been charged with the 1996 murders of an Arkansas man, his wife and her 8-year-old daughter.
  • Last month, a federal grand jury in East St. Louis, Illinois, indicted four men on charges of conspiracy after raids at their southern Illinois homes turned up guns and hand grenades. According to court records, the men were members of a white supremacist group called The New Order, patterned after The Order, a group whose members committed violence in the 1980s as part of their plan for a white revolution.

The FBI said the men had planned to bomb federal buildings, assassinate a civil rights lawyer and a federal judge and poison municipal water supplies. - Authorities say that Eric Robert Rudolph, for whom an arrest warrant has been issued in the Jan. 29 fatal bombing at a Birmingham, Alabama, abortion clinic, was a longtime follower of a Christian Identity leader in Andrews, N. C., who died last fall.

Authorities and those who monitor the movement say that although not all Christian Identity followers are violent, the message that the white race is superior and others are evil or inferior can be used by some extremists to justify violent acts to further their cause.

"Christian Identity uses biblical references to justify white supremacy and violence against other races," said Leonard Zeskind, a Kansas City author who researches right-wing groups. "They're trying to say their motives are noble. But the bottom line is that their theology, their belief in who is good, who is evil and who can be redeemed, is all racially determined."

The more people who accept the Christian Identity doctrine, said Michael Reynolds of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the greater the likelihood of violence.

"Crimes like murder and bank robbery are not crimes to them, because they believe the laws they're breaking are merely man's laws," said Reynolds, whose Alabama organization tracks right-wing groups. "To them, if you're acting in furtherance of God's law, then you are doing the righteous thing."

Devin Burghart of the Center for New Community, a Chicago group that educates churches about right-wing extremists, said the Christian Identity message was starting to creep into mainline denominations.

"We're getting quite a few calls from pastors who are confused about what it is and what it means," Burghart said.

Fifty years ago, the Christian Identity movement had fewer than 100 followers, according to Southern Poverty. Today, the center says, Identity has more than 50,000 followers in North America.

A 1997 Identity directory lists 16 groups or churches in Missouri. In Kansas, it lists three groups. One reason for the increase, experts said, is that leaders are toning down the racial aspect of the Identity doctrine.

"They've got to bring the mainstream in if they ever hope to succeed," said Kerry Noble, the former second-in-command at the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord, a heavily armed Christian Identity compound along the Arkansas-Missouri border that was broken up by federal authorities in 1985. "To get the mainstream, you can't be bad-mouthing the Jews all the time."

The Identity directory contains an example of the "toning down" in an explanation of why the title was changed in 1996 from The Directory of Christian Identity to The Directory of the Covenant People.

"The term 'Identity' has come under increasing pressure and condemnation today by some of the minions of churchianity as well as the godless heathen," it said.

Some pastors in Missouri denied that their groups had any association with Christian Identity, despite being listed in the directory and distributing newsletters and literature indicating similar beliefs.

"Some of these groups wearing the name Christian Identity, we might share some points in common with them," said Dan Gayman, pastor of the Church of Israel in Schell City, Mo. "But one of those areas we have strong disagreement with is the use of any kind of violence."

Gayman said that a small group of radicals had taken over what used to be called Christian Identity, bringing "shame and reproach" to the name. He refers to himself and his followers as "Christian Israelites."

Authorities, however, say that it doesn't matter what name the groups go by -- their belief systems are identical.

Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998 10:53:50 +0800 From: Haryadi Wardono <HaryadiW@kpc.co.id>

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