Story of The Order
By Ron VandenBoom
The light casts a mysterious glow over the stern faces of the new recruits as they stand like statues tall, straight and silent.
With one voice they shout the words, "I, Aryan warrior, swear myself to complete secrecy to The Order total loyalty to my comrades... Let me bear witness to you, my brothers... Let us go forth by ones and by twos, by sword and by legion... Face the enemies of our faith and our race with courage and determination."
Is this just a brief glimpse into history or a horrendous nightmare from which sanity may never emerge?
It is a question the Montana Actors Theatre will attempt to answer when they present the play "God's Country" by Steven Dietz.
The play is based on actual events that surrounded the rise of The Order a white supremacy movement headquartered in Idaho and led by Pastor Matthew Butler, and the murder of radio talk show host Alan Berg in Denver during the 1980s.
Jay Pyette, director of the play, calls it a docudrama.
"Everything that happens in the play is based on real events," Pyette said.
A trial of Order member Robert J. Matthews, (played by Grant Olson,) an accused robber and murderer, serves as the glue that connects the various elements of the story. As the trial progresses, flashbacks take the audience through the stages of Matthews' evolution into The Order and his life of crime in support of his radical beliefs.
It's through the trial that you learn the characters and the events, Pyette said.
The audience becomes the jury and witnesses the myriad of dramatic and sometime bone-chilling events that lead to the trial. All of the trial sequences are taken verbatim from actual court transcripts.
Pyette describes the play as aggressive, gripping and intriguing.
"It's one of those shows I always knew I would direct," Pyette said.
Pyette first saw the show about 10 years ago in Eugene, Ore., and described it as "one of the most moving shows I had ever seen."
"It's powerful, it's aggressive, it's on-the-edge theater and it's very cerebral," Pyette said.
Much research went into the production as the 14-member cast struggled to grasp the reasoning of The Order membership.
"A lot of us have the impression that white supremacy and Klan movements are nothing but a bunch of rednecks hanging out in the woods with a bunch of guns saying bad things about other races," Pyette said. "In reality that's not true."
Grant Olson, one of the original founders of MAT, said the groups are unbelievably well-financed and organized.
"And they are very well-armed and have very strict doctrines," he said.
Olson said the various supremacy groups base their philosophy on religious principles that dictate the white race is composed of the lost tribes of Israel chosen by God.
"Thus there is no wrong in what they are doing," Olson said "For me the play goes a long way in describing how people get sucked into and involved in these (groups) without even really meaning to without really understanding why."
A scene from the play where armed members of The Order chase away a sheriff who has come to take away a family farm illustrates the point. The farmer's whole life is changed from that moment. He can no longer look at the government, the news, and his life in the same way. He is now at war.
Pyette said Dietz is not trying to preach to the audience, but make the point that what we understand becomes less frightening and easier to fight.
Tickets to this highly charged drama are $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Advance tickets will be available beginning Thursday at Creative Leisure, Mel's Foods, and the MSU-Northern Book Store. Tickets will also be available at the door.
Eight performances have been scheduled for 8 p.m. starting June 22-23, and continuing on June 25-26, 29-30, and July 6-7, in the Havre High School Auditorium.
Tickets can also be reserved by calling 265-8183.