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Let Freedom Ring Up Some Ironic Change

Not only should Richard Butler and his so-called 100 Man Flag Parade be allowed to march down Sherman Avenue April 18, but the neo-Nazis should be encouraged to take it slow. Each minute the tired old racist and his gang spend walking the parade route will raise hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars for human rights.

In a brilliant countermove, the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment and the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations announced plans Thursday to use the parade to raise money. As part of a Making Lemonade (Out of Lemons) project, human rights activists are asking supporters to pledge so much per parade minute.

More importantly, the two organizations have resisted the urge to ask Coeur d’Alene officials to try to muzzle the supremacists. Mayor Steve Judy is being pressured to deny the Aryan Nations’ request for a permit to parade April 18 in observance of Adolph Hitler’s birthday. That, of course, would trigger a court battle, which the city would lose.

Our Constitution guarantees rights of free speech and assembly, without regard for the popularity of ideas expressed and individuals involved. If freedom can be denied for unpopularity, any minority group is in danger. Local human rights leaders know that. So did the late James Chase, Spokane’s only black mayor.

In May 1983, under heavy pressure from ethnic groups to reject a request from Butler for a rally at Riverfront Park, Chase modeled the proper response. He said freedom of speech “is a cornerstone of democracy” that applies to everybody - even racists. And he reminded his detractors that at one time, black citizens were barred from meeting freely. Finally, he denounced racism and said: “I’m not as fearful of this group as you are.”

The Aryan Nations and other area hate groups aren’t harmless, of course. A cast of rogues that reads like a Who’s Who of U.S. white supremacism has passed through Butler’s Hayden Lake compound - from Terry Mathews, founder of The Order, to the infamous Randy Weaver. Alumni have been involved in, among other things, assassinations, robberies, counterfeiting and bombings. One of the two men charged Thursday with possessing anthrax for use as a weapon had Aryan Nations ties.

Unfortunately, Butler hasn’t been linked directly to any of the violence or crimes his rhetoric has inspired. So, he has remained free to spout his racist creed, invite hateful riffraff to move to the Inland Northwest and parade down Sherman Avenue, as he has threatened to do for years.

If Butler finally follows through on his threat this year, at least he and his minions will be goosestepping for a worthy cause, thanks to clever human rights leaders. It’s about time Butler did something good for his community.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board