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Identity Crisis

The death of a prominent Christian Identity campaigner brings home memories of his bizarre encounters with Identity's twisted fundamentalists, recalls Nick Ryan.


IT WAS A simple email. The kind of thing you receive from an anonymous list. Yet it brought home a half-forgotten, half-buried world and experience, one of the most surreal moments during my time researching the book HOMELAND.

"Lorraine Swift: July 31, 1920 – November 1, 2005"

A death notice. But Lorraine Swift was no old lady from your local Women's Institute. And the person sending it was no friend.

Lorraine Swift was the widow of the late Dr. Wesley A Swift. She had died of acute leukemia. Accompanying the email were melancholic photos in faded colour, taken sometime during the 1950s or 1960s. They showed a slightly square, nervously smiling couple, conservatively dressed. Your granny or grandad perhaps, in better days.

Yet Wesley Swift had founded the rather grandly-named Church of Jesus Christ – Christian in the 1940s. According to my email, 'even the enemies of Christ acknowledge him to be “the single most significant figure in the early years of the Christian Identity movement in the United States”.'

Then a clue. 'His powerful form of preaching the Word has never been equaled by the Kingdom Identity teachers who have since risen to carry on these truths.  Following Dr. Swift’s death in 1970, Mrs. Swift faithfully continued the work of Church of Jesus Christ – Christian until turning this ministry over to Kingdom Identity Ministries in 2002. She was a hard worker in the vineyard of our Redeemer for many years, and actually administered the ministry Dr. Swift founded longer than he did himself.'

The eulogy carried on in similar form for several more paragraphs, before signing off 'Kingdom Identity Ministries'.

Kingdom Identity Ministries. The name struck like lightning.

Into the Lair

Chicago, Detroit, Memphis – blurring cities, different transit areas. An exhausting day finally ends at a tiny airport in the north-west corner of Arkansas.

Twisting rolling hills and forest accompany me on the drive to the regional capital of Harrison. This is 'home' to Kingdom Identity Ministries, one of the most visible Christian Identity sects in America. It has a powerful outreach ministry that has been extremely popular with white-power prison gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood. It is also one of the main theological organs of the Identity movement, offering advanced doctrinal courses to adherents worldwide. Its leader, Mike Hallimore, is not an orator or pulpit leader himself, but he’s at the spiritual and intellectual heart of the heretical sect.

Pastor Dave Ostendorf, back at the Center for New Community in Chicago, had invited me into his office and handed me a copy of Kingdom Identity’s coursework folder, the words ‘American Theological Association’ emblazoned in gold letters on its cover. ‘We see Christian Identity as the theological glue that holds together the whole white-supremacist movement in the US,’ Pastor Dave told me. ‘From that point, it’s very important, a key phenomenon. It’s highly influential within the movement, and beyond it.’ Race was central to its ideology. ‘And that’s why I don’t think there’s any innocence in this movement. Jews are the offspring of Satan, and coloured races are referred to as “mud people”.’

As I nudge the car through the long, narrow strip of Harrison’s main street, past the pale neon dripping from the chain restaurants and malls, I look over at the undulating, quilted hills surrounding the valley. Originally a centre for Scots-Irish immigration, Harrison is now a magnet for white-supremacist movements. Nearby are the headquarters of one of the USA’s main Klan leaders, Thom Robb, as well as the men behind the American Front, a group with ties to English extremist Troy Southgate.

The night is sweltering, hanging close over the idyllic, sweeping woodlands and dotted farms. My motel is situated near the end of town, a collection of concrete buildings on the side of a steep hill. I sit near the doors, gazing up at a lazily turning fan and through the window at the infrequent passing vehicles. My eyes follow a cream-coloured jeep swinging in fast through the car park, crunching to a halt in a slew of gravel and dirt. A figure gets out, too far away for me to distinguish.

Mike Hallimore and I have already swapped more than a dozen lengthy emails, one of them asking if I could find a good Christian English lady who might be willing to work and live with him. I’d noticed a similar ad, ‘For White Christian Ladies’, on his ministry website.

A tall, broad-shouldered figure, he gradually emerges from the dusk, then strides into the lobby where I sit. A slight paunch hangs over his shiny leather belt. His slicked, greying hair gives him a distinguished look, as do the navy trousers and carefully pressed short-sleeved shirt, whose front pocket holds a meticulously placed gold pen.

Hallimore is nervous – more nervous, it seems, even than I. He coughs and clears his throat. His hands fiddle with a pair of glasses. I notice he’s holding a large envelope stuffed with papers. ‘Can I, uh, trust you?’ he asks, his searching eyes lingering over mine. He coughs, then falls silent. I smile, reassuringly.

Inside, drinking lemonade, Hallimore starts telling me about himself, and about Christian Identity. ‘Call me Mike,’ he says. Then, as the elevator music pumps into the air around us, ‘Do you understand the Two Seeds theory?’ Perhaps I should, but I shake my head, glancing at the pensioners and others sitting nearby. ‘We’re Seedline,’ he says. My face is blank.

Mike explains that this is ‘traditional’ Identity belief; that the Jews were actually created as Satan’s children. Through a very select reading of the Bible, Identity adherents have convinced themselves that the Jews are the enemy, the agents of Satan. Seedline believers take that one step further, and make a literal argument that the Serpent seduced and lay with Eve, producing these ‘anti-Christ’ offspring. ‘The Jews hear not because they are not of God,’ Mike quotes, self-satisfied.

The other main area of Identity belief is that the ‘white man’ is a true descendant of the tribes of Israel, and not the Jews. Unlike other races, we, the sons of Adam, have true souls and bodies – plus a ‘spirit’ which can be ‘quickened’. ‘We’re trichotomous beings,’ is how Mike puts it. We’re supposed to take dominion over these other peoples, which he frequently calls ‘the nigger races,’ claiming ‘colonialism is their natural state’. I cough and mumble something suitably neutral. His strangely unlined face doesn’t blink once in irony.

A life in hate

Mike was raised in Orange County in Southern California then studied engineering. His claim that he is a direct descendant of Sir Francis Drake, the great English naval hero, is a little strange, but I let it pass. That he was a ‘conservative rebel in my youth, not liberal’ is moderately interesting. Even the fact that he deliberately chose to attend one of the most conservative Christian colleges in the US, to study theology, could be considered within the parameters of normality. Of his attempts to ‘date a sweet woman’ in the Christian bookshop – ‘but she wasn’t interested; women tend to hang up on me when I explain my views’ – I think, fair enough. Until he talks about his first revelation from God – Yahweh – when he was eight.

He was given a bullet by his grandfather, which had been used to kill the first deer of the hunting season. Running out to play by a river on his grandfather’s ranch, Mike lost the bullet. He couldn’t find it, no matter where he looked. Distraught, he prayed to God as hard as he ever could. After 15 minutes, he looked down and saw the bullet in the grass, glinting by his foot. It was a miracle, he says. Tears spring into his eyes and run down his cheeks. I stare in disbelief and discomfort. I hope he hasn’t got a gun nearby, is all I can think. I can’t really pat him around the shoulders. Maybe these are tears of joy. All the same I remain frozen, my hands stretched out in front of me on the cheap plastic tablecloth, aware that the world is carrying on around us.

Home sweet home

In his warren of rooms at his secluded house another hour away, the smell of musty pine competes with a clutter of furniture that harks back to the 1960s and 1970s. There are printing presses, on sober brown carpets. Also recording machines for radio programmes, and thousands of items Kingdom Identity sells each week. It’s clearly a flourishing business. Among all the books – he says he inherited the rights to publish works from several prominent Identity pastors – is a ‘traditional correction stick’, a long, thin piece of wood used to beat children. There are also kids’ books reprinted from decades ago. ‘Traditional, wholesome works,’ Mike calls them. Soon after he is talking about his 'bitch' ex-wife and how he was hounded from his previous church by allegations of sexual harassment, then showing me proof that anal sex is not a Biblical sin.

Mike takes me on a small tour of the land, starting to talk in greater detail about Christian Identity’s development and doctrine, how he wants to bring about the government of Yahweh’s anointed people and how he refuses to be bound by the laws of man. He has no social security number, for example. ‘I’m called to teach the Truth!’ he suddenly thunders, pointing up towards heaven. Then, in a piece of language reminiscent of William Pierce, he says: ‘One day, some people will be hanging from the lamp posts in this country.’

By now he has already admitted believing in ethnic cleansing, and that ‘racism has been planted on my heart since before birth.’

Dangerous Times

All the time I was thinking how David Copeland had been visiting Mike's website in the days and weeks before his nailbomb attacks on London. The anti-abortion murderer Eric Rudolph believed in this stuff, too. I knew that violent racists had been to stay with Mike, some of whom he suggested might have been in trouble with the authorities. All these thoughts and more came flooding back as I looked at his email about Lorraine Swift. How could this man with the comical face and manner be associated with David Lane, founding member of The Order, writing to him in prison? Yet he was.

It had been like a Groundhog Day clip crossed with a Louis Theroux Weird Weekend. But just as I'm doing now, I had to remind myself there are very real – and very dangerous – consequences from all of this twisted innocence.

This story was commissioned for Searchlight magazine© 2005



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