YOUNG AND OLD: Billy Joe Roper (left) with Richard Butler (center).
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
“The Second Coming”
William Butler Yeats
By MICHAEL WHITELEY
RUSSELLVILLE — Arkansas could have climbed the next rung in America’s ladder of hate.
The state that gave a home to the first group that planned the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, spawned an epic constitutional battle over desegregating Central High School in Little Rock and combined with Oklahoma to produce Elohim City, the religious community Timothy McVeigh called shortly before the bombing, also reared Billy Joe Roper Jr.
Until September, the former high school history teacher was considered the most likely candidate to replace the Rev. Richard Butler, the Aryan Nations founder once dubbed the “elder statesman of American hate.”
Butler, 86, died in his sleep at his home in Hayden, Idaho Sept. 8, after a prolonged battle with heart disease, kidney failure and emphysema, leaving his cathedral of white supremacy in further disarray. But even though Roper is no longer set to succeed Butler, he remains committed to his cause. He remains a concern to the groups that monitor the small, but often noisy, supremacist groups in America.
In an interview last May, Butler named Roper as the only likely successor to run Aryan Nations, the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based neo-Nazi group that once plotted to seize control of five western states and spawned the Order, a paramilitary group whose followers were implicated in a string of armored car robberies and the 1985 murder of controversial Denver talk show host Alan Berg.
Aryan Nations later splintered and spawned rival groups in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Butler filed bankruptcy and sold his Hayden Lake compound after the Southern Poverty Law Center won a $6.3 million judgment in 2000 on behalf of a female motorist attacked at gunpoint outside the compound by Aryan Nations security guards.
Butler said in the telephone interview with this reporter that Roper’s role as conciliator among neo-Nazis, skinheads and white separatists operating under the religious umbrella of Christian Identity could be the only means of uniting the group.
“It’s possible. I haven’t seen anybody else yet,” Butler said in the interview. “I think he’s going to go a long way. And, yes, I do think everybody is going to have to work together. The movement has a got a lot of shaking out to do.” Butler granted the interview shortly after Newsweek magazine on May 10 named Roper a “rising star among white supremacists.”
Whether he assumes Butler’s chair or not, Roper, 32, who lives in rural Pope County and works for a mortgage company, remains a subject of interest to the Anti-Defamation League’s top neo-Nazi watchers. But they say his power may be declining.
“Roper has filled the void in a way that has set him apart from the old concept of white rednecks, because he is bright and has the ability to build coalitions,” said Marilyn Mayo, associate director of the ADL’s Fact-Finding Department in New York. “One of his skills is that he’s been able to stay above the fray,” Mayo said. “The situation right now is that there is a real lack of leadership.”
Rick Spring, Aryan Nations’ national security director and Butler’s personal bodyguard, said Sept. 24 that a group of the dead neo-Nazi’s lieutenants will run Aryan Nations indefinitely under a contingency plan drafted after Butler grew ill.
He declined to discuss potential replacements but he said Roper is better suited to build coalitions within White Revolution, the group of 100 or so white supremacists he founded from his home near Hector on Sept. 27, 2002.
“Billy will run White Revolution,” Spring said. “That’s his organization.”
Butler’s passing has some hate group leaders such as Tom Metzger saying that Roper may be too much of a conciliator at a time when Aryan Nations is dying under the weight of past troubles.
Metzger, the ex-Klan leader who founded White Aryan Resistance and launched the pre-Internet computer “WAR Board,” said in a series of e-mails that Butler’s followers might be seeing the beginning of the end.
“Roper … is trying to unify apples and oranges,” Metzger said prior to Butler’s death. “The old right must be totally excluded from our new thing.”
“I don’t think the group will survive without Butler,” he said in an e-mail Sept. 14. “Even the loss of his compound cut his forces, because many hung around for the festivities. Such groups are doomed in a post 9-11 world.”
Aspirations — scattered, smothered and chunked
Balancing the intricacies of politics, poetry and God in an interview in the back corner booth of a Waffle House, Billy Roper seems more chubby historian than rising minister of hate.
Between bites of his ham-and-cheese omelet, Roper vows to reunite the 1970s- era network of white supremacy.
He says his guiding principle is simple:
“What’s good for the race is good,” he says. “And what’s bad for the race is bad.”
He is an enigma dressed in schoolteacher clothing with a keen mind and a knack for catchy phrases.
Born Billy Joe Roper Jr. in Morrilton in 1972 and raised in Conway County, he’s a Southern Baptist who has kept religion from the tenets of White Revolution, which he launched two days after being fired from a key recruiting post at the National Alliance in Mill Point, W. Va.
He says he advocates non-violence and obeying the law and was a victim of a serious beating at the hands of anti-racist protesters during a National Alliance rally in Washington, D.C. He became a major focus of concern for the ADL based on an e-mail Roper penned shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 declaring, in part, “Anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright by me.”
He’s authored some departures from white supremacy’s traditional mantle of violence. Roper stresses the use of “weapons of mass construction,” such as the pen, the Internet, leaflets and rallies done in cooperation with local police. He says he wants all but Aryans moved out of the country peacefully.
Of Jews, he adds, “I don’t hate any parasite that attacks me, but I will crush it. I will destroy it before it destroys me. It’s question of survival.”
Roper was the protege of National Alliance founder William Pierce, the former Oregon State University physics professor who wrote “The Turner Diaries,” a novel of Aryan revolution that suggested using ammonium nitrate to blow up the FBI’s headquarters. ADL and others say it provided McVeigh with an Oklahoma City road map.
Like Pierce and Butler, an aeronautical engineer, Roper — who has a master’s degree from Arkansas Tech — has used his education to make inroads. But the message remains.
Ask him about Jews, and he swears he’s not an anti-Semite. But then he explains that Semitism is a creature of language and not genes.
“Palestinians speak Aramaic, which is a Semitic language,” he said. “I want to see them chase the last Jew in Israel into the Mediterranean with his yarmulke on fire.
“So I’m pro-Semitic,” he said, “not anti-Semitic.”
He says he lives by the message in Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming.”
“I never would have been wealthy. But I would have had kids and a normal family and watched the world go to shit around me,” he said. “I could have watched our nation become a third-world country.”
Billy Joe Roper Sr., a retired utility employee who served as political point man and secretary/treasurer for the Monroe, La. chapter of the Knights of the KKK, saw the handwriting on the wall before the birth of his fifth child, Billy Jr.
His distaste for his children sharing classrooms with black children in Mississippi was growing. When his oldest son was beaten, Roper decided he’d had enough.
The senior Roper grew up in Wilmot in Southeast Arkansas, and he and his wife moved to Morrilton in 1971 searching for whiter turf. The percentage of minorities appeared to be growing slowest around Pope County. They had Billy a year later, left for temporary utility assignments in Indiana and Illinois and settled in Atkins. By the time he returned from Indiana, history was becoming Roper’s passion. Schooled in Hector and at Arkansas Tech, his affinity was growing with Pope County Republicans. But Roper said he hadn’t reached his own state of “racial consciousness.”
That would come three years later after his work in the 1992 U.S. Senate campaign of now-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. There he learned simple conservatism wouldn’t save him from what he saw as the growing minority threat.
Roper left an impression on some in the Arkansas GOP.
Huckabee said through spokesman Jim Harris that he doesn’t remember Roper.
“I’ve never heard of him. But if he ever supported me in the past, he has clearly changed his point of view now,” Huckabee said. “Bigotry and racism of the supremacy groups is the polar opposite of my deep-rooted convictions.”
But Corey Cox, Huckabee’s legal liaison on justice and prison issues, remembers Roper.
Cox was a College Republicans leader and a classmate at Arkansas Tech.
“He [Cox] thinks the last time he saw Billy was in 1994,” Harris said. “Billy told him, ‘Republicans are good and conservative. But, after the white revolution comes, you better choose the right side. Because we’ll kill you the same as Democrats.’ ”
Roper graduated from Arkansas Tech in 1995 with majors in history and political science and a dream to teach school.
Then came the 1997-98 school year at Bradley High School, where he taught world history, civics, American history, geography and economics and coached the school team for the Quiz Bowl.
Perched on the Arkansas-Louisiana border in Lafayette County, Bradley offered a 50-50 mix of white and black kids and a challenge Roper never mastered. But Roper and the school’s principal say race wasn’t the issue.
“I was shocked at the problems I had teaching,” Roper remembered. “I walked in thinking, ‘I am going to be able to educate people.’ I was going to be able to enrich their lives and impart to them knowledge of their heritage and culture. But I had to spend most of the time with discipline issues.”
Brandon Morrison, Bradley’s principal, taught English that year in the classroom next door. He heard so much chaos in the classes next door that he offered Roper lessons in student control.
“He never really fraternized a whole lot with the faculty. He was kind of to himself. He was cordial and everything, but he didn’t buddy up,” Morrison said. “I tried to teach him classroom management. But I think what he tried to do with the kids made them think he was kind of weak. He spent most of his time trying to keep his kids in their seats.”
Roper left after his first school year and returned home to obtain his master’s degree in history at Arkansas Tech.
If he taught again, he decided, it would be in college.
“Rather that,” he said, “than have 20-year-old 10th graders stand up and curse and throw their desks.”
Boxing the ‘Barbarian’
Roper had a few run-ins with police as a juvenile. But he’s never been arrested and has gone virtually unnoticed by local police and prosecutors.
There have been visits from the FBI in Little Rock.
“I’m familiar with the name, obviously,” said David Gibbons, prosecuting attorney for the district that includes Roper’s home. “As far as Billy Roper’s concerned, he hasn’t committed any crime. We prosecute people who’ve committed crimes.”
Roper was questioned by Russellville police in 1999, following complaints that white supremacist literature was being placed in roadside newspaper boxes and yards around town. The literature targeted blacks, Jews and Spanish-speaking people. But both Gibbons and Russellville’s new police chief, James Bacon, said there is no record of an arrest in the case and no reason to launch an investigation now.
His lack of lawlessness made Roper a natural for William Pierce’s National Alliance, a rabid, neo-Nazi group that courts the white middle class. Pierce built the organization to more than 1,000 members with a hate-music project called Resistance Records and weekly radio broadcasts that the ADL labels “incendiary.”
“We were fit 3,000 years ago when we lived in an environment that did not include Jews,” the ADL quotes him as saying in a Jan. 27, 2000 radio broadcast. “Even in Europe when Jews were present, we eventually developed antibodies against them that allowed us to survive … letting Jews into the United States was like giving smallpox-infected blankets to the Indians.”
When Roper attended a National Alliance congress at the group’s West Virginia headquarters in 2000, Pierce asked him to remain as deputy membership coordinator.
From the beginning, he established a coalition-building niche that, following Pierce’s death on July 23, 2002, proved Roper’s undoing.
The ADL says Roper reached out to college students and skinheads alike. He ran the Kinsmen Rescue Project, a website mobilizing support to save “those of European descent from the horrors of African rule in Southern Africa either through relocation or intervention.”
But Roper’s comments in the weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks proved a misstep and were quickly followed by a Pierce-ordered admonition they didn’t reflect the views of the National Alliance. Roper says now his comments were taken out of context.
In May 2002 Roper scored a success at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. when he attracted 250 neo-Nazis, racist skinheads and others by requiring their attendance for admission to a “white power” music concert staged later that night.
In tribute to Pierce, Roper scheduled another concert of white-power music groups in Baltimore on Aug. 24, preceded by a “Rock against Israel” rally at the U.S. Capitol a month after the neo-Nazi’s death. That event attracted more than 1,000 people, according to the ADL.
But it angered Erich Gliebe, who had emerged from his post at the helm of Resistance Records to take Pierce’s job as chairman of National Alliance.
A former tool-and-die worker who earned the name “Aryan Barbarian” in his boxing career, Gliebe posed a departure from Pierce’s educational legacy, says Roper.
What neither Pierce nor Gliebe wanted, said ADL’s Mayo, was an alliance with people who wear swastikas and yell “Sieg heil in the streets.”
Roper said he was fired within weeks of the rally without a formal meeting of National Alliance directors.
The most recent questions have come from the National Socialist Movement. Roper angered some the nation’s top neo-Nazis when he asked them not to wear their swastikas, Nazi uniforms or even their swastika-decorated T-shirts to a May 15 rally Roper staged in Topeka to protest the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
National Socialist Commander Jeff Schoep said the group was on its way to building a solid coalition with White Revolution. He said Roper’s request on clothing may have set that back. National Socialist members simply stayed home, leaving Roper with an estimated 24 to 70 protesters.
“I don’t want to say Topeka was a failure,” Schoep said. “But there are people in our organization who weren’t real happy with that rule.
“I definitely think he’s got some good ideas as far as groups working together,” Schoep said. “But we could have doubled their numbers in Topeka.”
Roper said he suggested the ban to court followers who shun such rallies because they don’t want to stand beside people in Nazi uniforms.
“A lot of people said, ‘If you just didn’t have those dress-up Nazis show up, I would show up too,’ ” Roper said. “I decided everyone who shows up is going to dress in normal American street clothes. They want to put that image of a swastika in people’s face. And that’s not what I’m about.”
But after between 90 and 100 supremacists gathered in Scottsboro, Ala. Sept. 18 for Butler’s memorial and the White Heritage Days Festival, Roper appears to have embraced some of the older icons. In an Internet post entitled “Goodness and Gracious” three days later, Roper noted the pony rides for Aryan children.
He said he enjoyed the post-hurricane “warm Hitler weather” and met Klansmen from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee.
“Somehow, when the dozens of assembled Klansmen fired up the three massive crosses in the clear Alabama night sky, and the swastika blazed in their wake,” Roper wrote, “it felt different, like a Viking funeral.”
Michael Whiteley is a writer working in Fort Worth, Texas, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.