February 25, 2010 in City

Aryans seek new city

Oregon town rallies against white supremacists
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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An Aryan Nations member from Athol visited John Day, Ore., last week, making clear his plan to set up a headquarters compound in that rural town.

“They just came by the office and said, ‘We’re here in town and we just want to let you know what’s going on,’ ” said Scotta Callister, editor of the Blue Mountain Eagle, a weekly newspaper in John Day.

Paul Mullet of Athol was joined by two Grant County, Ore., residents – Jacob Green and Christopher Cowan – and Leif Berlin, supposedly the Aryan Nations’ Washington state leader, a story on the Eagle Web site said. Mullet did not respond to numerous calls requesting comment.

In response to the news, dozens of Grant County residents demonstrated Saturday and now are seeking assistance from the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. Two of the task force’s founders, Tony Stewart and Norman Gissel, plan to speak at community meetings in John Day on Friday.

“The community is urged to attend and learn more about the white supremacy movement, its tactics, goals and strategies,” said a notice posted on the newspaper Web site. “We’ll also talk about ways to meet this threat to our values – proactively, legally and safely.”

On Saturday, 70 or 80 residents demonstrated, carrying signs that said: “God can love everyone. Why can’t you?” “No room 4 hate” and “Not 1 inch of our town,” according to a video posted on the Eagle Web site.

“They’re destructive, they’re deceitful. They claim to be Christians; they’re not Christians. And we’ve got to take a stand,” said resident Jim Spell, in the newspaper’s video. “We can’t just sit and hope they go away. We’ve got to be visible. That’s why we’re here.”

Callister said the men visited the newspaper offices on Feb. 17, the same day her weekly newspaper publishes, so the first few stories on the topic appeared online.

“The outpouring we’ve seen from just online coverage has been intense,” Callister said, explaining that two groups immediately formed on the social networking site Facebook opposing the Aryan Nations in Grant County. The first group had 1,000 fans within the first couple of days and the other had 600, she said.

John Day’s population is 1,850, according to the city’s Web site.

Callister said Mullet and the other men walked around town for two days, looking at property. They indicated their plan to establish a compound in Grant County and make it the organization’s headquarters. One of the newspaper’s stories said other guests at the hotel the men were staying at left early due to their presence.

The Aryan Nations, once based near Hayden Lake, was put out of business after followers of founder Richard Butler chased and shot at two people whose vehicle had stopped in front of the group’s compound in 1998. A Coeur d’Alene jury in 2000 awarded $6.3 million in damages. Butler subsequently declared bankruptcy. His assets were liquidated and the compound leveled.

Since Butler died in 2004, a number of people have tried to revive the Aryan Nations, but the efforts typically fall apart because of internal bickering.

Jerald O’Brien, an Idaho man who calls himself a spokesman for Aryan Nations, sent an e-mail to the Associated Press saying Mullet “is not with Aryan Nations,” he has “no right to use the name,” and that he is “a usurper.”

Stewart said he and Gissel have two goals for the community meetings on Friday – to promote human rights and to compare notes. Over the past decade, task force members have traveled from Florida to San Diego to educate communities dealing with racial hatred. Stewart also emphasized that although the task force would love to see the Aryan Nations leave North Idaho, it would never deny another community’s request for help.

“We’ve been at this so long. Our first priority is here,” Stewart said of the task force’s 29-year history. Kootenai County has a 100 percent conviction rate for hate crimes, dating back to 1983, he said. “We want to send a message – if you stay here you won’t have any comfort. If you’re involved in hate, this is not a community you want to live in.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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