They fought volumes of hate with volumes of defiance.
The broadest band of area politicians ever assembled against racism Tuesday denounced what may be the largest distribution of hate literature in Kootenai County history.
More than a dozen elected officials condemned a recent flurry of racial harassment by neo-Nazi skinheads, and the plastering of hundreds of cars with Aryan Nations fliers.
“In times like this we must be vigilant, we must speak out,” said Doug Cresswell, president of Kootenai County’s Task Force on Human Relations. “We must say ‘Not in our town.”’
The rally at North Idaho College - the second in as many days - brought together legislators, county officials and mayors of the county’s four largest cities.
Politicians conspicuously absent from previous anti-discrimination rallies - including North Idaho’s entire congressional delegation - joined political foes., For a region whose recent civil rights efforts have been described as lackluster, the united front echoed the 1980s when North Idaho won national accolades for fighting hate.
“I think this was the most broad-based and complete representation, countywide, that we’ve ever had,” said task force co-founder Tony Stewart. “Today was a really important historical moment in Kootenai County’s human rights crusade. Our community is once again showing its true heart.”
But participants were divided Tuesday about whether the rally was the beginning of a movement, or a one-time publicity effort to combat a renewed image problem.
“My opinion is now it’s a political issue,” said Josh Buehner, an NIC student and civil rights activist who helped organize the rally and a similar one Monday. “They (politicians) most want to speak out when things get to be really bad. And it’s too bad it takes that long.”
The 19-year-old Buehner was among the first victims in the accelerated hate campaign when he was disparaged by a white adult last month for his human rights efforts.
Since then, area churches helped pay for a Post Falls Filipino family to move when they were repeatedly threatened and harassed by skinhead neighbors. A high school student in that same city was yanked from school after being targeted by racists.
Earlier this month, anti-black, anti-Semitic and anti-Mormon literature - some of it attacking task force members by name - was distributed in Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake, Rathdrum and Post Falls.
In response, area leaders held Tuesday’s rally.
Coeur d’Alene City Councilwoman Nancy Sue Wallace said she asked her 16-year-old son Tuesday morning what she could say to Aryan Nations followers.
“He said ‘Mom it’s so simple,”’ Wallace said. “‘Tell them to crawl back into their caves and leave Kootenai County alone.”’ County Commissioner Dick Compton said that until recently he ignored most hate literature.
“It’s nonsensical and it’s really not very creative,” he said, before a crowd of two dozen onlookers. “But it’s scary to some people.”
In fact, Rathdrum Mayor Tawnda Bromley displayed a petition bearing 500 signatures from city residents who were angered by the propaganda. But she was saddened to hear the residents didn’t want their names made public because some of them already had been threatened.
“That broke my heart,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”
Linda Mullin, an area representative for Republican Rep. Helen Chenoweth, read a prepared statement from the congresswoman.
“Let us remember that diversity is strength,” she said. “Diversity helps to stimulate new ideas and to challenge the status quo.”
Chenoweth has been accused of encouraging racism, once suggesting that Hispanics stay away because there isn’t much agricultural crop harvesting.
But press secretary Chad Hyslop said Chenoweth’s comments and her joining with the task force for the first time to fight racism weren’t inconsistent.
“Helen’s position has always been that this is a nation of individual liberties,” he said.
The Rev. Bob Hasseries, of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, said after the gathering that he hoped residents from other parts of the county joined Rathdrum’s petition campaign.
“One thing we’ve learned is that some people must be receptive to it (hate literature) or there would be total outrage,” he said.
Cresswell said Idaho residents needed to tell the world “this is not what our state is about.”
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