San Diego 'I have known persecution and oppression all my life," Neuman Britton says and clasps his callused hands above his coffee cup in an Escondido Denny's.
"Oppression and prejudice. We were more discriminated against than any Mexican or nigger. We were the lowest of the low."
He pauses. Considers his hands.
"I've known controversy all my life too."
In a certain light, Neuman Britton's earliest spiritual forebears appear to be the 16th-century Puritans who believed the Last Days were at hand, and that Britain, and, later, America, were destined by God for a singular role in the establishment of the eternal, shining "New Jerusalem."
The Puritan understanding of Anglo "chosenness" wasn't racial. But the notion was powerful enough to energize later British thinkers who sought a more literal link between their national destiny and Providence. By the end of the 19th Century, this longing formalized into a movement called British-Israelism which, through painstaking Biblical interpretation and recondite study of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, established Anglo-Saxons as direct descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.
It wasn't until British-Israelism achieved a following in 20th-century America, however, that the movement developed the idea of Anglo chosenness more fully. The movement's logic revealed that not only Anglo-Saxons, but also their Teutonic and Celtic brethren, were descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes. And if all white Christian Europe were the true inheritors of God's covenant with His "chosen people," who were the Jews if not impostors? From this premise it was only a very small leap to understanding that the so-called Jews were none other than the "seed of Satan," the product of an unfortunate sexual union between Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Begotten by evil, Jews were therefore destined to do evil. To beguile, deceive, sow dissent, foster doubt, to blind humanity with sham intellectualism, and, ultimately, enslave the entire world through such devilish trickery as racial equality, Communism, and international banking.
These and other startling revelations coalesced into a loose-knit American theology known as Christian Identity, and it was Neuman Britton's introduction to this theology after World War II that transformed him from Dust Bowl Pentecostal to one of the most significant figures in right-wing extremism today. Last week Britton was tapped to become successor to Richard Butler, head of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, the religious arm of Aryan Nation.
Britton's journey to Aryan Nation's armed compound in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, began 70 odd years ago in northeastern Oklahoma. Britton was one of ten children. Their father was a farmer and Pentecostal minister, a calling then considered questionable. Although Pentecostalism has now entered the American mainstream, the movement encountered often violent suppression throughout the 1910s and 1920s. This was especially true for the non-Trinitarian, or "Oneness" Pentecostal denomination to which Britton's family belonged. Historical accounts of that period offer many instances when Pentecostal preachers were beaten, gagged, shot with shotguns, thrown in jail, or threatened with death and mutilation.
As Britton contends, his introduction to unpopularity and controversy began early in life, although, he remembers, "our neighbors were very tolerant. They never bothered us. They knew my father and they respected him."
Britton describes his early childhood as happy. Not wealthy, not poor, his father was a "little more prosperous than other farmers in the area." But the 1929 Depression and the mid-1930s Dust Bowl forced his family to Tulare County, California, where Britton's father found work on a large cattle ranch near Visalia. Britton remembers being struck by California's lushness and by the hills and mountains.
"I'll never forget it. It must have been the first day after we got here. Me and my brothers climbed the highest mountain in the area. We liked to hike and look around. We climbed to the top. It must have been 4000 feet. It was very beautiful. We saw a lot of deer, I remember, on the way up. We felt like we could see forever.
"We were excited. But when we got to school we were excluded. We were Okies. Religiously, we were different. And we were so poor. We didn't dress as well as the other kids. We'd watch the other kids stand around, exclude us, talk about us, make fun of us, laugh at us. We were lower than niggers and Mexicans. It was bad."
The move to California was good for Britton's family. His father established a congregation and continued to preach. Britton and his brothers excelled at sports. Britton was graduated valedictorian from eighth grade. When he finished high school he and one of his brothers found work building Norton Air Force Base near San Bernardino, "one of the best jobs, the best-paying jobs, in the area at that time."
In 1943 Britton was drafted and served in New Caledonia, near New Zealand, as a mechanic until the end of the war. His military service seems to have left little impression on him. When he returned to the United States, his family had moved to San Bernardino and his father had established a close relationship with Conrad Lynch, another Pentecostal minister, who had begun to investigate and preach a gospel very different from the one Britton had grown up with.
Conrad Lynch, who much later cut a wide swath through the extreme Right, was at the time of Britton's return befriending a Los Angeles-based minister named Wesley Swift, a man whom political scientists now regard as the "single most significant figure in the early history of Christian Identity."
It was Swift who successfully combined British-Israelism, demonic anti-Semitism, and political extremism to form the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. And it was Conrad Lynch, enthralled by his theology, who on September 16, 1963, the day following the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, told a group of exultant Klansmen that the four little girls killed in the blast were "old enough to have venereal diseases" and were "no more human or innocent than rattlesnakes."
"So kill 'em all," Lynch shouted, "and if it's four less niggers tonight, then good for whoever planted the bomb. We're better off."