Friday, August 29, 2008

Devil's Den: Inside the Aryan Nations (Book Review)

Intelligence Report
Fall 2008

Into the Devil's Den: How an FBI Informant Got Inside the Aryan Nations and a Special Agent Got Him Out Alive
By Dave Hall and Tym Burkey, with Katherine Ramsland
New York: Ballantine Books, 2008
$25.00 (hardback)

The most intriguing character among the rogue's gallery of racist skinheads, bikers, dope fiends, gunrunners, Klansmen, informants and feds who inhabit this oral history true-life thriller isn't co-author Dave Hall, who infiltrated the Aryan Nations at the behest of the FBI. It's the devil himself, in the human form of Harold "Ray" Redfeairn, aka Pastor Ray, the schizophrenic, murderous cokehead who ran the Ohio branch of the Aryan Nations in the mid-to-late 1990s, when the once-powerful neo-Nazi organization was at the height of its power.

Redfeairn in early 1997 was a regular at Ike's, a biker bar in Dayton, Ohio, controlled by the Outlaws, a notorious motorcycle gang. It was the kind of place where, as Hall puts it, "Almost every day, some biker broad was running around naked or someone else was getting the hell beat out of 'em."

Sporting his trademark priest's collar, Redfeairn, a self-styled pastor of Christian Identity (the radical theology that claims Jews are biologically descended from Satan and was practiced at the Aryan Nations), was in his element at Ike's, delivering cocaine-fueled, hate-filled tirades against Jews and "muds." Unfortunately for Pastor Ray, Hall was equally at home in this beer and blood-soaked milieu.

A 6-foot-4-inch, 350-pound, hard-drinking, heavily tattooed former biker who counted several members of the Outlaws as good friends, Hall had agreed to become an FBI informant and attempt to gain Redfeairn's confidence in order to avoid prison after pleading guilty to distributing marijuana.

Alternating chronologically between the first-person accounts of Hall and his FBI handler, Special Agent Tym Burkey, Into the Devil's Den provides a richly detailed, step-by-step account of Hall's rapid rise through the ranks of the Aryan Nations, from his first meeting with Redfeairn at Ike's to his attending the Aryan Nations World Congress in 1998 at the AN compound outside Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where he was assigned front-gate guard duty.

Along the way, Hall repeatedly attends Christian Identity church services led by Redfeairn. They're held in a dilapidated building near Dayton where an Israeli flag is used as a doormat and portraits of Adolf Hitler are hung in places of honor side-by-side with paintings of Jesus Christ.

Other stops on his journey include a neo-Nazi wedding officiated by Pastor Ray, at which the newlyweds embrace in front of a giant flaming swastika, and, most importantly, the rural Kentucky headquarters of the Imperial Klans of America (IKA), where Hall uncovers a plot to assassinate Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) co-founder Morris Dees. The plotters were enraged that Dees and SPLC had just filed a lawsuit against Aryan Nations and its leader. Ultimately, thanks to Hall's and Burkey's work, the would-be assassin was arrested as he prepared to head south to carry out his plans in April 1999.

In his account of that assassination plot, Hall writes that he suspected that the leader of IKA, Imperial Wizard Ron Edwards, was involved. Edwards was never charged in the case. (As it happens, the SPLC filed a suit in 2007 against the IKA and Edwards, on behalf of a teenage youth who was beaten by IKA members at a county fair. The trial is scheduled for November.)

An interesting aspect of the book is its account of Hall's struggles to maintain his own identity and his risking addiction to pills and booze in trying to chemically soothe his chronically jangled nerves. He suffers from nightmares and endures several harrowing moments during his two and a half years under cover.

While the story arc of Into the Devil's Den follows a well-worn path—the undercover operative finds a way in, loses a part of himself, then emerges damaged but victorious — its setting is not the mafia, a terrorist cell or a narcotics ring, but a strange and terrifying subculture in which hatred and paranoia are valued character traits and a maniac like Redfeairn is treated with reverence by mindless followers.

Hall's knack for recollecting the finer points of his many white-knuckled interactions with the late Pastor Ray, who died of a heart attack in 2003, bring a nasty piece of work back to life. It feels at times as if Redfeairn could almost leap off the page and stick a .45 in the reader's face.

The devil, in this book, truly is in the details.

—David Holthouse