You don’t tolerate racism.
Rather, you loudly and persistently denounce racism and those who spread the message of hate. Racism flourishes in a vacuum of silence and accommodation.
In the recent past, local human-rights leaders did a good job of combatting bigotry. The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations prevented racism from flourishing here by bird-dogging every move by Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations.
In the process, the task force developed a model community response to racism, spawned the five-state Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, and enabled Coeur d’Alene to win the first Raoul Wallenberg Community Award for Human Rights.
But that was then.
Now, North Idaho and the Inland Northwest face the greatest threat ever from racists who claim this region as their own. The continuing presence of the Aryan Nations compound near Hayden Lake, racist Louis Beam’s move to the Sandpoint area, and the growth of the militia movement show much work remains.
The work must begin with state and local officials, congressional representatives, community leaders, law enforcement and churches taking strong stands against prejudice. The few minority members who live in the Inland Northwest need reassurance their communities are behind them.
Commendably, Idaho Gov. Phil Batt has taken an uncompromising position against supremacism and militias. Said Batt: “I have no problem with peaceful assembly, but I condemn any group that meets to plan violence or promotes racial hatred and bigotry.”
Some Idaho political leaders have flirted with the militia, which national human-rights leaders believe are infiltrated by supremacists. Such elected officials, and others attracted by the progun, anti-government rhetoric of the militias, should look hard at the movement’s overall agenda.
Others in need of a reality check are those who foolishly advocate a tolerant approach to area racists, hoping they’ll behave themselves and possibly reform. These Neville Chamberlain wannabes forget past violence committed by individuals the Aryan Nations brought together.
Remember Robert Mathews and The Order? The Order II? The 1986 Coeur d’Alene bombings? Now, evidence indicates that the Oklahoma City bombing was conceived 12 years ago by white supremacists with close ties to the Aryan Nations.
The leopard doesn’t change its spots.
North Idaho can’t let its guard down.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board