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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gary Lee Yarbrough, onetime bodyguard of Aryan Nations founder, dies in prison

Spokane police protect Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and his bodyguard, Gary Lee Yarbrough, during a June 1983 rally in Spokane’s Riverfront Park. Yarbrough later joined like-minded racists to form a splinter group known as The Order. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

A radical racist who once served as the personal bodyguard of Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler has died.

Gary Lee Yarbrough was also a member of the neo-Nazi splinter group known as The Order, which sought to divide the nation along racial lines and establish, through a violent uprising, an all-white territory in the Pacific Northwest. He died of liver cancer early Monday in a hospice center in Pueblo, Colorado, according to his wife, Susan Hillman Yarbrough. He was 62.

Pueblo is a short drive from the Supermax federal prison where Yarbrough was serving a 60-year sentence. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for information, but an online prison roster confirmed that Yarbrough died on Monday. He had been in custody, in one facility or another, since November 1984.

The Order funded its activities by counterfeiting cash and by committing a string of armed robberies, culminating with the July 1984 theft of $3.6 million from an armored truck on a highway in Ukiah, California. Some of that money was distributed to other white nationalist groups.

Members and sympathizers of The Order planted real and fake bombs to divert attention while they conducted robberies in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Seattle in the mid-1980s. Those crimes were believed to have inspired bombings and robberies that took place in 1996 in Spokane Valley.

Among the many crimes that investigators linked to Yarbough was the murder of Alan Berg, a provocative Jewish radio personality who was gunned down in the driveway of his Denver home on June 18, 1984. Yarbrough never was charged for that crime, though two of his conspirators, Bruce Pierce and David Lane, were identified as the gunman and getaway driver, respectively. They, too, have died in prison.

Four months after Berg’s assassination, on Oct. 18, 1984, Yarbrough shot at three FBI agents who were surveilling his house in Sandpoint. They had been looking for his brother, Steven Yarbrough.

Gary Yarbrough, then 29, later fled when agents entered the house. Inside, they found a portrait of Adolf Hitler, Aryan Nations uniforms and a cache of weapons that included a dozen firearms, 6,000 rounds of ammunition, four loaded crossbows, 100 sticks of dynamite, C-4 explosives, police scanners, booby traps and fragmentation grenades.

One of those firearms, a MAC-10 sub-machine gun capable of firing more than 1,000 rounds a minute, was later identified as the weapon that killed Berg.

After fleeing his house, Yarbrough remained at large until Nov. 24, 1984, when he was captured in a Portland motel after a shootout with the FBI.

A few weeks later, speaking to a throng of reporters at the Ada County Jail in Boise, Yarbrough insisted he had nothing to do with Berg’s assassination.

“I know nothing about Alan Berg,” he said, “except that he was a Jew.”

Yarbrough had previously told the Seattle Times that his young daughter, Autumn, would someday be “firing bullets into the heads of kikes.” At other times, he proudly referred to himself as an “Aryan warrior.”

Meanwhile, Robert Mathews, a founder of The Order who had been with Yarbrough at the Portland motel, fled to a house on Whidbey Island, near Seattle.

Authorities laid siege to the house that December, and Mathews attempted to fend them off with an automatic rifle. The house caught fire when an FBI agent fired several flares into the house, setting off a box of hand grenades and a stockpile of ammunition. Mathews kept shooting as the house burned, but when the wreckage cooled, authorities found him dead with a pistol still in hand. No law enforcement agents were injured.

In 1985, Yarbrough received a 25-year prison sentence after he was convicted on 11 federal charges, including the assault on the FBI agents. The following year, he and four other members of The Order were convicted of racketeering and conspiracy charges stemming from armored truck robberies in Washington and California. Yarbrough received another prison sentence of 60 years.

In writings from prison that his widow posted on a blog and on Facebook, Yarbough often claimed he had never wanted to resort to violence, and he drew a murky distinction between white separatism and white supremacy.

In a phone interview, Susan Hillman Yarbrough said her husband had believed only “that white people were allowed to love their own people and preserve their own culture, just as any race.”

The couple married in 2009, about five years after she learned about his story and decided to send him a letter while he was in prison in Indiana. She insisted that the government “came after” The Order and “forced their hand” into committing crimes.

“The money that was stolen and counterfeited was actually meant to go to buy a town in Washington state that would have been outside of government control,” she said. “It wasn’t really about race or anything. It was mostly about government control.”

Then again, she said: “He really thought the government was controlled by Jews.”