Shaun Winkler’s beliefs are no secret in north Idaho. The 34-year-old was a protégé of Richard Butler, the former leader of the Aryan Nations, once headquartered here. More recently, Winkler has picketed Mexican restaurants and a Martin Luther King Day event in Coeur d’Alene.
So when Winkler announced he was running for county sheriff, photojournalist Matt McKnight asked to meet with him.
“I met him there at his property … It was pretty obvious to me that what he’s after is building a compound, having that compound for people to live on," McKnight says.
McKnight met with Winkler four times at his property in the Hoodoo Mountains of north Idaho last spring. He was invited to photograph a cross burning and family barbeque the Winklers regularly host. And one Saturday, McKnight got permission to record Winkler’s sermon at a fireside gathering.
“The bad, evil rotten Jew is behind a lot of things. We look at the media. We look at society in general. We look at even our public school system …” Winkler can be heard saying on the recordings.
In the recording, Winkler and his wife Shealyn trade off finding passages in the Bible that they feel justify their anti-Semitism. Winkler’s young daughter can be heard in the background following along in her own Bible.
“He feels like this minority of people in northern Idaho needs to be together and they need to practice their beliefs," McKnight says. "And plan for the future together.”
McKnight’s experiences brought key information to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The watchdog group found Shaun Winkler was trying to build a new compound in the vein of the Aryan Nations’ stronghold. Mark Potok is the editor of the center’s investigative magazine. Speaking by Skype, he said Winkler’s activities are a concern because the old Aryan Nations compound was an important meeting place for racial extremists.
“In other words, we would see klansmen, we would see Neo-Nazis, so called patriots, racist skinheads and all kinds of people essentially making connections," Potok says.
But Potok’s group also found something else: Winkler had logged his property without permission, violated state land use rules, and had stopped making payments. The property is now going into foreclosure. Voters also rejected Winkler’s bid for sheriff.
Potok says Winkler epitomizes the contradiction facing right-wing extremists. On the one hand, there are many more groups than there were a decade ago, galvanized by the election and reelection of President Obama. On the other hand, Potok says, the movement is rudderless.
“We have tiny little groups of people claiming to be the real heirs of Richard Butler and the original Aryan Nations," Potok says. But none have had any real success at all and this just looks like the latest failed attempt.”
One person who agrees that the white supremacy movement is fractured is Shaun Winkler. We reached him on his cell phone. He confirmed that he hopes to provide a new meeting place for like-minded separatists and says he’s looking at another property in north Idaho.
“It’s kind of our job to carry on the legacy if you will and the means to carry on the fight and struggle for the future of the white race," says Winkler.
But locals doubt Winkler will get a compound up and running. Tony Stewart is a longtime human rights leader in north Idaho, an area that’s struggled to shed the infamy of the Aryan Nations. Stewart thinks Winkler’s effort is a sign -- but not a sign that history will repeat itself.
“The story there for me is that he’s failed at this attempt," Stewart says. "That’s the real story here today.”
Winkler’s property is scheduled to be auctioned off Jan. 14 at 10 a.m. in Sandpoint.
On the Web: Neo-Nazi Builds North Idaho Compound to Replace Defunct Aryan Nations - Southern Poverty Law Center