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Road Trip For America's Future with Tim Murphy

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in Hayden Lake, Idaho

| Fri Oct. 1, 2010 9:01 PM EDT

Moscow, Idaho—Okay, a confession: We never actually saw the site of the former Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake. We got really bad directions and drove around for a while looking for it, but we had to be in Moscow at a decent hour, so we kept on going. Sorry. Basically, though, the story is this: For about three decades northern Idaho was the notorious base of operations for the Aryan Nations, who'd turned to Hayden Lake because of its isolation and general absence of non-whites. By day they'd attend services at their shrine to Adolf Hitler,* or conduct exercises at their 20-acre wooded compound outside town; by night, they'd unwind to pagan death metal. Once a year, white supremacists from around the world would converge upon Hayden Lake (population 494) for a big conference.

Of course, if you happened to live in Hayden Lake and didn't hate the rest of the planet, this was a really frustrating situation. But it wasn't until 1998 when things finally reached a tipping point. That's when a bunch of Aryans Nations guards opened fire on a mother, Victoria Keenan, and her son, Jason, who had stopped on the side of the road to look for a wallet. The guards—drunk, I should note—hopped in a truck, assault rifles in tow, and followed the Keenans for two miles, spraying the car with bullets until the Keenans swerved into a ditch. Then the guards held them at gunpoint and beat them.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit (pdf) on the Keenans' behalf, and won a $6.3 million judgment in 2000, throwing the Aryan Nations into bankruptcy and forcing them to give up compound**. An Idaho millionaire, Greg Carr, then bought the land and re-gifted it to North Idaho College of Coeur d'Alene, and the college, in turn, decided to turn the property into a "peace park."

The only problem with purchasing a giant white supremacist compound is that white supremacist compounds have, historically, been occupied by white supremacists, and so most of the buildings at Hayden Lake were built with some sort of sinister, martial intent—guard towers, barracks, and the like—and plastered with swastikas. There's only so much remodeling you can do, in other words, before you give up and decide to burn the whole place down. So that's exactly what Carr did. Which brings us to this money quote, from an old VOA story:

"...the fire chief told me that they got more training in those two months than they'd gotten in 10 years," [Carr] said. "And when we finished, there was nothing left but the trees and the fields. And I have to add that where that compound was located is one of the more beautiful parts of northern Idaho; it's surrounded by beautiful farms and it's just gorgeous country."

Kind of awesome, right? This is probably just my way of rationalizing what I missed, but I'm kind of glad I didn't find the park. Not that it isn't a beautiful idea, but there's something wonderful about driving through town and seeing no evidence whatsoever the compound ever existed (a few residents simply stared blankly when I asked for directions), as if the scars had simply receded back into the earth, swallowed up by the hills and the cattle.

*Seriously

**As a result of the judgment, the Aryan Nations also lost the legal rights to its name, the "Aryan Nations." Not as damaging, perhaps, as the $6.3 million, but still kind of a crushing blow.