November 2, 2003

Hayden candidate faces hate crime charge

Erica Curless and Ben Shors The Spokesman-Review
 
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Background and the latest updates

An Aryan Nations follower and Hayden City Council candidate will make his first appearance in court Monday for allegedly attacking a Hispanic man in a grocery store parking lot.

Zachary Loren Beck, 24, was arrested Friday night for allegedly punching John A. Albright, 20, of Hayden in the face after asking Albright if he was “Mexican.”

Beck, who lives with Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and is on Tuesday’s ballot for Hayden City Council, was charged with felony malicious harassment because the attack is considered a hate crime.

“It falls under a hate crime if you ask a guy, `Hey, are you Mexican?”’ Kootenai County Sheriff’s Sgt. Stuart Miller said Saturday.

Local human rights and Hispanic representatives think Albright could initiate a civil lawsuit against Beck and the Aryan Nations.

A lawsuit resulting in a $6 million verdict in 2000 is what bankrupted the Aryan Nations and caused Butler to lose his 20-acre compound near Hayden Lake.

The lawsuit, waged by locals and the Southern Poverty Law Center, stemmed from when Aryan Nations members shot at and assaulted a mother and her son who were driving past the compound.

Butler is running for Hayden mayor while another follower, Karl Gharst, is also vying for City Council. Butler, 85, the self-proclaimed pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, said the campaign is probably his final attempt to spread the Aryan Nations message of white supremacy.

In a jailhouse interview Saturday, Beck said the Halloween night arrest was a ploy by his election opponent, Councilman Chris Beck, who is not related to Zach Beck and doesn’t share his views.

“They were just waiting for me to do the smallest, minute thing so they could try to blow it out of proportion,” Zach Beck said.

“I didn’t think I was going to win in the first place, but obviously they are really worried about it.”

Beck, who doesn’t yet have an attorney, said he can prove his innocence and is willing to take a polygraph test.

Chris Beck, a Hayden geotechnical engineer, said he doesn’t know Albright and that he had nothing to do with his opponent’s arrest.

“It does show his nature and character and his violent behavior,” Chris Beck said. “It’s nice to see him be arrested, but it’s unfortunate one of our community members had to suffer.”

Albright, who couldn’t be reached for comment, reported to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department that he was parked at Albertsons about 4:15 p.m. Friday when a silver Ford extended cab pickup pulled next to him in the parking lot.

Two men wearing black jackets with Aryan Nations insignias on them got out of the truck and pointed to a sticker of a Mexican flag on Albright’s window, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Zach Beck allegedly asked Albright if he was Mexican, and when Albright said yes, Beck reportedly swung at Albright’s face, grazing his chin with a closed fist.

The other man, who hasn’t been identified, told Albright, “You better watch yourself, we know your car and you better get out of town,” a press release issued by the sheriff department said.

Beck and the other man then fled in the pickup.

Miller said deputies recognized the description of Zach Beck’s silver pickup because the department is currently investigating him for allegedly defacing Chris Beck’s and Hayden Mayor Ron McIntire’s campaign signs. Zach Beck is also suspected of driving the same truck repeatedly in front of Chris Beck’s home.

Orange and yellow bumper stickers with the Aryan Nations symbol were found last week on yard signs in Hayden and on the bumpers of two ambulances.

After the attack at Albertsons, deputies contacted Zach Beck at Butler’s Sunview Drive home and Beck refused to come out.

After negotiating with Butler, Beck surrendered without incident and was booked into the Kootenai County Jail, Miller said.

The department is still unable to identify Beck’s passenger.

Zach Beck said he went to Albertsons to buy groceries. He admits he had a conversation with Albright but declined to talk about the details.

“I can’t talk about that right now,” said Beck, a blond, blue-eyed man with numerous tattoos on his upper arms.

He said he thinks it’s possible Chris Beck had the deputies follow him, waiting for an excuse to lock him in jail before the election. Zach Beck also said he knew nothing about the Aryan Nations bumper stickers found on the campaign signs or who drove his truck by Chris Beck’s home.

Chris Beck said he has had no involvement with the Sheriff’s Department other than to report the repeated defacing of his campaign signs, and that someone in a silver Ford truck with no license plates threw a package of Aryan Nations literature in his driveway and then proceeded to drive slowly past his home for a half-hour Thursday night.

Zach Beck said he moved to Hayden from California about a year ago to live with Butler.

Arizona Daily Star newspaper reports show that Beck, who also went by the aliases Zachary Lion Benson and Zachary Lin Benson, was sentenced in Pima County Superior Court in 1998 and 1999 for marijuana and drug paraphernalia charges.

Both sentences included three years’ probation and the 1999 sentence included 90 days of electronic monitoring.

He said he got involved with the Aryan Nations while serving jail time and that he had an uncle who was a member in the 1980s.

“It shows everybody the kind of people we are dealing with,” said Marshall Mend, a founding member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Rights. “Richard Butler has either been bringing hardened criminals to this area or taking good people and, through his rhetoric, turning them into criminals.”

Mend said the task force worked to get the felony malicious harassment law passed by the Idaho Legislature in the 1980s, and it is one of the toughest hate crime laws in the country.

Gladys Esquibel, Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs chairwoman, said the Aryan Nations is using the city election as a way to attract attention.

“It’s a hate crime,” she said. “It’s not something the state of Idaho can put up with.”

Miller said the Sheriff’s Department has had little problem with Zach Beck or Butler’s other followers in the past year.

“It’s been really quiet until he decided to go out and campaign,” Miller said.


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