COLUMBIA, S.C. — Avowed white supremacist August Kreis III has said plenty of racist, hateful and violent things, but suggesting that his Aryan Nations group should join with al-Qaida against their common enemies — Jews and the American government — is what finally led him into legal trouble for fraud.
The FBI determined the statement was all bluster from the man who had appeared several times on The Jerry Springer Show, including an episode called "A Racist Family." But the FBI's investigation also led authorities to dig into his finances. They found Kreis was drawing a need-based pension for military service, yet failed to report thousands of dollars in other income.
Kreis, who pleaded guilty to fraud in August, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Columbia, S.C., to the six months he had already served in jail since his arrest. He also was ordered to serve six months of home arrest while serving two years of probation and told to pay back the nearly $193,000 prosecutors said he improperly received in benefits.
He didn't apologize at his sentencing, and he left no doubt that his legal problems haven't changed his thinking on social issues.
"I haven't gotten out there to hurt anybody. I don't preach to hurt anybody, except the Jews, and I'll keep doing that. But that's my First Amendment rights," said Kreis, confined to a wheelchair with multiple amputations because of complications from diabetes. "As long as I obey God's laws, I don't care about anything else."
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, saw Wednesday's sentencing as a just fate for a man who they said has made hate his calling as he collected welfare or pension benefits from a government he says he despises.
"This guy has always been a parasite," center spokesman Mark Potoc said. "He has spent most of his life hurling profanities at the government, even as he lived off it."
Kreis was a high school dropout who became eligible for the pension by serving nine months in the Navy during the Vietnam War before he was discharged for not being fit for service, authorities said.
He joined the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey in the late 1970s, first making a media splash in 1981 when he was fired by a Jewish real estate developer for holding Klan meetings in his apartment, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Kreis moved up the ranks of various white supremacy organizations, becoming known for his appearances with his teenage daughters on The Jerry Springer Show in the 1990s. In a 1995 show he wore a priest's collar and almost got into a fight with the Jewish host after denying the Holocaust took place.
"I've got your mom in the trunk of my car," Kreis told Springer. "Your relatives — weren't they all turned into soap or lampshades? I'm looking for one of those lampshades."
In a 2005 interview with CNN he suggested the alliance with al-Qaida.
"You say they're terrorists, I say they're freedom fighters," Kreis told the network. "And I want to instill the same jihadic feeling in our peoples' heart, in the Aryan race, that they have for their father, who they call Allah."
That statement caught the attention of the FBI. Although investigators found no link between Kreis and the terrorist organization that planned and paid for the 9/11 attacks, investigators did find problems in his bank statements, assistant U.S. attorney Dean Eichelberger said.
Kreis' nine-month Navy stint was during war time, making him eligible for a need-based pension. Recipients must report their income. Starting in 2003, Kreis reported earning no additional money, collecting $192,837 in benefits he didn't earn, prosecutors said.
Kreis, who is 57 and has seven children under age 17, said the income in question includes $14,000 in 2005 for selling a house, and $7,500 awarded after a dog bit his 3-year-old daughter. He said he sold some of his clothes and electronics on eBay, his mother-in-law gave him $5,000 over several years and he sold two guns, including an AK-47, for $1,200 and $1,000.
"People helped me out. They sent money to the Aryan Nation and I cashed it, yes," he said, not specifying how much. He said it's not a money-making business.
"It's a website. It's a very small cog in the wheel," Kreis said. "This has been a cat-and-mouse game with the FBI that's been going on for years."
The Aryan Nations group continues to support Kreis despite his legal problems, spokesman D.J. Anderson said.
Anderson said Kreis' comments about al-Qaida were misinterpreted and that he only was pointing out they have similar enemies.
"That is where the similarities stop, for obvious reasons," Anderson said. "Just the idea that a nationalist organization set up to promote the ideals of a white lifestyle, our culture and our heritage, would want to band up with an Islamic, fascist entity such as al-Qaida, is — I don't know. Unfortunately, many of our statements get misinterpreted misrepresented when it comes to the mainstream media."
Potoc said the Aryan Nations is a shell of what it used to be, in part because it had to pay a $6.3 million after losing a lawsuit filed by two people who were attacked by group members. Kreis tried to take over the organization, but failed to regenerate it.
"He represents no one now," Potoc said. "He represents a hate group of one."