Top 50 Stories: 1986 — Bombs rock Coeur d'Alene

Explosions drew more scrutiny to nearby Aryan Nations group

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comJune 11, 2014 

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    To celebrate 150 years of producing this newspaper, we are reprinting one of our Top 50 stories each day through July 6. Then you can vote for your Top 10 stories, which will appear in our commemorative special section on July 26.

One of Idaho's most picturesque cities looked more like a war zone on Sept. 29, 1986.

On that day, a trio of bombs went off around Coeur d'Alene - one at the federal building, another in a restaurant parking lot and a third on a store rooftop. A fourth bomb was found on another rooftop but was disarmed. No one was injured in the blasts, which caused damage to buildings.

"Small Town USA has never been hit like this before," city administrator Dana Wetzel said the following day. "But I think it's evident now that any city can have this type of thing occur."

Attention quickly turned to the Church of Jesus Christ Christian (Aryan Nations), a white supremacist group based in nearby Hayden since the mid-1970s. The church's leader, Richard Butler, denied involvement when asked about the acts.

However, on Oct. 4, the filler in the bombs was matched to one that exploded in front of a human rights activist's home Sept. 15.

On Oct. 6, Robert Pires was arrested for the downtown bombings - Pires was found to have ties to the Aryan Nations. He said the explosions were meant as a diversion to rob two banks and a National Guard armory to help finance the group, but the quick response to the explosions thwarted that plan.

He also named two co-conspirators, Edward Hawley and David Dorr, the latter the Aryan Nations' security chief.

The following April, Pires was sentenced to 20 years for the Coeur d'Alene bombings, and he was given a life sentence the next month for his part in an August 1986 murder.

Throughout the 1980s, various Aryan Nations splinter groups were found to have committed multiple killings, including the assassination of a Jewish talk-show host in Denver. They also bombed a synagogue in Boise, counterfeited currency and held up multiple armored cars.

With more law enforcement attention, the Aryan Nations' numbers soon dwindled, and the compound was torn down in 2001 as a result of losing a civil rights lawsuit.

The Aryan Nations headquarters moved out of Idaho following Butler's death in 2004.

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