Thursday, July 17, 2014

Teach Me Thursday: American Terrorists

The idea of committing heinous and violent crimes in the name of Jesus Christ is something that is both hard to comprehend as well as something that seems all too real in today’s society. From the pro-life to the anti-gay marriage campaigns, God seems to be put as the sole reason people continue to bully and deny legislature passage for those who are “committing unGodly acts.” These movements are among some of the violent and vicious attacks that are made in the name of Jesus Christ. The Phineas Priesthood takes these actions to the extreme. While most protests and campaigns resist violence, the Priests act out in violent and heinous ways in the hopes to create a new nation.

The concept that all started the Phineas Priesthood group’s beliefs, ideals, and motivations to commit their terrorist acts began with a book that was written in 1990 by a white supremacist and Christian Identity follower Richard Kelly Hoskins called Vigilantes of Christendom: The Story of the Phineas Priesthood, (Anti-Defamation League, 2005). The members of the Phineas Priesthood, according to Hoskins, are inspired “by an Old Testament figure Phinehas who, in order to protect the purity of the Israelites and keep them from harm, killed a fellow Israelite that had taken up with a foreign woman,” (Anti-Defamation League, 2005). The Phineas Priests aimed to rid the nation of immorality as well as those who violated Biblical Law. Banks were seen as praising money above all else, while charging interest immorally. They also targeted abortion clinics, murderers, or any other individual or group that they believed to be committing immoral sins or acting in an unGodly way. Phineas Priests have spent their time committing crimes they believe to be against those who have violated Biblical law. “‘God’s Law’ requires them to fight “usury,” (banking and taxation), “adultery” (race mixing), homosexuality, abortion, and Jews in government and commerce. Some of their “required” actions include “plundering” (robbing banks and armored cars, committing fraud and counterfeiting) to undermine the so-called “usury system” and finance a white Christian revolution. They also advocate the bombing of federal buildings and abortion clinics,” (Leader, n.d., para. 3).

Terrorists join terror groups for numerous reasons. According to John Horgan, PhD, those who are more prone to be recruited or actually join a terrorist groups (DeAngelis, 2009):
  • Feel angry, alienated or disenfranchised.
  • Believe that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change.
  • Identify with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting.
  • Feel the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem.
  • Believe that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral.
  • Have friends or family sympathetic to the cause.
  • Believe that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity.
Many of those reasons are exactly what fuel the Priests to commit their acts of terror. They believe that the nation should be one comprised of Christian-only people who are mainly, if not exclusively, white. They are angered with any violation of “Biblical law” and take it upon themselves to punish those in order to send a message to others who may violate those laws as well as a punishment they see fit for the “crime.”

The organization of the Phineas Priesthood is based on leaderless resistance to "The System," (Hensinger, 2009). Following the rules of anyone other than God is not a value the Priests hold. This Christian based terrorist group is also not a membership based group. Instead, the group is comprised of extremists who claim to be “Phineas Priests” after committing violent crimes against those they believe are violating “Biblical law,” (Anti-Defamation League, n.d.).  

The very first attack that was committed by what would become the Phineas Priesthood was on April 1st, 1996 (Hensinger, 2009). On this day, two men in ski masks set off a pipe bomb at the local newspaper in Spokane, WA, the Spokesman Review. When the bomb exploded, it blew out several doors and windows. They followed this attack with another establishment on the same avenue, a US Bank, (Hensinger, 2009). The men went into the bank armed with a handgun, shotgun, and another pipe bomb. They ordered the bank’s occupants to line up against the wall as they took the cash out of the drawer’s, all while they were shouting:
Tell the cops to free the people of Justus or we’ll be back!
Tell your government and its people not to mess with the Freemen!
It’s free the people in Justus!
Justice for the people in Justus!
(Hensinger, 2009)
After they finished, the ordered everyone out of the bank and set off the bomb. This bomb caused major damage to the building. In addition to the bomb, the assailants left a typed letter signed by the Phineas Priests “which referred to "Yahweh," the ancient god of the Israelities and which included the symbol of the Phineas Priesthood – the letter "p" and a cross combined,” (Hensinger, 2009, para. 4). This group carried out numerous other attacks, including another on the bank and a Planned Parenthood clinic, before being arrested 6 months after the first attack, (Hensinger, 2009). These attacks were among the first that had been committed by the Phineas Priesthood. In 1999, the Priests attacked a Jewish daycare.

There were four members who were apart of the attacks in Spokane in 1996; Verne Merrell, Charles Barbee, Robert Berry, and Brian Ratigan.
Verne Jay Merrell , 51: Merrell was a long-time follower of white supremacist causes and a writer for "some of the more prominent Christian Identity newspapers such as Jubilee." He considered himself a preacher and had been a speaker at "America’s Promise Ministry." He was unemployed although he had previously served in the US Navy for 12 years and worked as a nuclear engineer on submarines. He lived in Northern Idaho.
Charles Harrison Barbee, 42: Barbee also lived in Northern Idaho. He had previously worked for AT&T but quit because he felt it was an "immoral" company due to the fact that women were allowed to work at AT&T. Barbee felt women should be at home, He had previously been arrested, in 1995, on weapons and drugs charges.
Robert Sherman Berry, 42: Berry was arrested along with Barbee in 1995. He worked "off-the-books" as a mechanic and had stopped doing business with the general public as he refused to pay taxes. He had served in the US Air Force previously. Berry lived in Northern Idaho.
Brian Edwards Ratigan, 38: Ratigan also lived in Northern Idaho. He was the last person to join this cell of the Phineas Priesthood.
(Hensinger, 2009).
This group plays on the fears of others. They believe that “purifying” America should be a priority. This means that they aim to have a white, Christian-only population. They have instilled fear in anyone who may step out of the confinements of Christianity. They mainly aim their attacks on abortion clinics and banks.

Many of those who claim to be apart of the Phineas Priesthood have been arrested, convicted, and punished for their attacks in the United States. Three of the original members were arrested and charged with their robbery of the bank in Spokane, Washington. Charles Barbee, Robert Berry and Jay Merrell, were linked to white supremacist and "Identity" groups and were also charged with setting off bombs at a newspaper office and a Planned Parenthood clinic. All three were convicted (Anti-Defamation League, n.d.).  Paul Hill, an anti-abortion advocate, was another one of these arrests. Hill murdered an abortion doctor, Dr. John Bayard Britton, in Pensacola Florida when he attacked the clinic in 1994 (Phineas Priesthood, n.d.). He was arrested and charged with the murder. He was executed in 2003 (Phineas Priesthood, n.d.). In 1991, prosecutors in Mississippi linked white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith to the Phineas Priesthood (Anti-Defamation League, n.d.). He was imprisoned at this time for the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963.  

The Aryan Republican Army (ARA), led by Peter Langan, robbed 22 banks in the midwestern states in order to “finance white supremacist causes and overthrow the U.S. government” in 1994 and 1995 (Anti-Defamation League, n.d.). Langan was later seen in a video seized by the FBI after their arrests ranting about the gang’s plan to take over the US, encouraging other groups to follow suit. He was also in possession of the Vigilantes of Christendom book that was like the handbook and what the Phineas Priesthood was founded on. A few years later, in 1999, former Aryan Nations member Buford Furrow fired on children at a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles and murdered a Filipino-American postal worker. Among his personal effects were copies of documents of the Phineas Priesthood along with a copy of War Cycles, Peace Cycles.

DeAngelis, T. (2009). Understanding Terrorism. Monitor on Psychology, 40(10), 60.
Anti-Defamation League. (2005). Phineas Priest. A Visual Database of Extremist Symbols, Logos and Tattoos. Retrieved from
Hensinger, S. (2009, October 13). Beware The Lone Wolf - The Phineas Priesthood. Daily Kos. Retrieved from
Hensinger, S. (2009, October 27). Extremist Event Analysis - Phineas Priesthood Attacks. Daily Kos. Retrieved from
League. (n.d.). ADL Backgrounder - The Order and Phineas Priesthood. ADL Backgrounder - The Order and Phineas Priesthood. Retrieved from
League. (n.d.). Phineas Priest. A Visual Database of Extremist Symbols, Logos and Tattoos - Phineas Priest. Retrieved May 28, 2014, from
Leader, S. H. (n.d.). Terrorists Go for Broke. Homepage. Retrieved from
Phineas Priesthood. (n.d.). Terrorism Worldwide. Retrieved from
Werzit - Intel - Terrorism - Groups - Phineas Priesthood. (n.d.). Werzit - Intel - Terrorism - Groups - Phineas Priesthood. Retrieved from

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