He Cared: Rev. Richard G. Butler (1918-2004)
by Edgar Steele
17 September 2004
"My life's been full, I savored much,
Good friends, good times,
A loved one's touch."
--- from Richard Butler's memorial program folder
I knew Richard Butler. He was my friend.
Pastor Butler was a client of mine for a much-publicized lawsuit. Though we never became buddies, always we were friendly toward one another. Indeed, that seemed to be a constant with him - friendliness. Not once did I observe Pastor Butler raise his voice or disparage another who was not unjustifiably hounding or maligning him or those he loved. Always, I was struck by the disparity between his public image and the man I knew.
I knew Richard Butler only very late in his life, just during the past five years, so cannot speak to how he was or what he did earlier. I know from personal experience that one cannot believe anything one reads in the media concerning such a man, however. Current reporting, especially from the local Spokane newspaper, which has chosen to boorishly, crudely and falsely mock the man in death, has borne this out with a vengeance.
In my experience, Richard Butler was soft spoken and respectful of those around him. He cared. Indeed, caring was his downfall. He cared too much for those who came to him in need. Always, he offered a bed, a meal, some encouragement, to the derelicts, homeless and societal rejects that drifted through his compound in Hayden, Idaho. Some were okay. Some were not. Some were criminals and, when found out, sent on their way.
Ultimately, it was three of the people he took in who cost him his home and his church. At trial, I was flabbergasted by the lies told by witnesses who had been bought and paid for by Morris Dees and company. Because of the endless media vilification and despite our having proven up so many of those lies, the jury chose to slap Pastor Butler with the most ridiculous verdict I have ever seen. Idaho's bond requirement made it impossible for us to appeal. For what it is worth, I was in the trial and at his side every step of the way. We put up an excellent fight, the best of my career. We beat Dees at every turn. We beat him on the law. We beat him on the facts. What we couldn't beat was the passion and prejudice of the community, as reflected in the minds of the jurors. Some of them spoke to the press afterwards, recounting how they considered not one shred of evidence, not one factual issue, not one legal principle, in immediately resolving to bankrupt Pastor Butler so that he would leave North Idaho. For that, the press is largely accountable, as it had been conducting a relentless war of disinformation against Butler and his followers for years.
Always, the attempt is made to link Robert Matthews' violently revolutionary group, The Order, to Richard Butler simply because Matthews once was a member of the Aryan Nations. Butler explained to me that Matthews' demand for a more proactive, even violent, approach is what led to Matthews being shown the door. Blaming Butler for what Matthews did is like blaming the Army for every crime committed by a veteran.
"Are you a White supremacist?" I asked Pastor Butler one day. "No," he responded, "I am a White separatist. I don't wish harm to befall other races - I just want to be able to live apart from them."
Always, the media endeavors to paint Butler as a criminal never jailed because he managed to dance just out of reach of the authorities. In reality, he was never jailed because he never did anything wrong. Unless you view speaking your mind and standing by your principles to be wrong.
Even the true Richard Butler public image was calculated for effect. In private, he showed me to be a much more accepting and forgiving man than he dared show his followers. In a sense, he was a captive to his followers, albeit a willing captive. Most leaders are, you know. The Buford Furrow shooting in LA took place while I was working with Pastor Butler on his case and, before his followers got to work on him, he authorized me to issue a press release that condemned Furrow's actions in no uncertain terms and made plain that Furrow and the Aryan Nations had parted company long beforehand. The people with Fox News, to whom I read the statement, literally dropped their jaws in amazement at Butler's reasonableness and compassion. Eventually, however, his web site was to carry a much different sort of statement.
Richard Butler had a large number of followers, all around the globe, most of whom genuinely loved him. A much larger number of the local population here in North Idaho thought well of him than the media would have you believe. I know because they continually come up to me and say so (though they might not admit such even to their own families).
I have met and spoken with his daughters and their husbands. While they did not share his beliefs, they loved him.
Nor did I share Richard Butler's beliefs. However, I respected his honesty and his simple dignity. I admired his way with others.
Say what you will about Richard Butler. However, anyone among us would do well to pass on while loved so much, by so many.
I remember Richard Butler. He was my friend.