February 26, 2010 in City, Idaho, Region

Ore. community comes together against supremacists

Associated Press
 
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PORTLAND, Ore. — A community hall in Eastern Oregon couldn’t hold all of the local residents who showed up Friday to voice concern that a swastika-wearing white supremacist might move himself and his followers to the town of John Day.

In a session streamed live on the local newspaper’s Web site, one resident after the other was emphatic: The Aryan Nations was not welcome in their community.

Not present was the white supremacist who started it all: Paul R. Mullet, who strolled into town last week claiming he was the leader of the Aryan Nations and he was going to move the group’s headquarters there.

It’s been clear for a week Mullet is unwanted. He can’t even find a real estate agent to help him find property.

On Friday, a civil rights leader who helped bankrupt the Aryan Nations in Idaho a decade ago said he had never seen such swift and complete community opposition.

“What you’ve all done is spoken with one voice, and there’s no way hate can penetrate that kind of unity,” Tony Stewart told the 300 residents who filled the community center Friday morning in Canyon City, near John Day. Another 150 were turned away and told to come back for a second gathering Friday evening.

Like Hayden Lake, Idaho, where Richard Butler once built an Aryan Nations enclave, Grant County is a sparsely populated area far from cities — 198 miles from Portland and 147 miles from Boise. Its largest town is John Day, with about 2,000 residents, and just 7,000 residents are scattered over more than 4,500 square miles, much of it forested federal land.

The ranchers and woodsmen of Grant County have reputations as strong-willed and independent. Those traits have been tested by an unemployment rate of almost 16 percent — the highest in Oregon — and the death of the timber industry. Young people have been forced to leave to simply find a job.

Grant County also is one of the West’s most stunning regions, home to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the shimmering reds and ochre of the Painted Hills, and the John Day River.

“This is paradise,” real estate agent Kathie Stoddard said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “We live here with less. It’s a trade-off for the quality of life.”

That’s why Stoddard, a resident for almost 20 years, was at her office after business hours earlier this week, running off copies of a flyer made by her 12-year-old son, Kody. The sheet read: “No hate. No Aryan Nations. No neo-Nazis. God made everyone.”

Kody had taken a stack of the leaflets to hand out on John Day’s main street. He’d run out.

When Mullet visited John Day with a couple of followers Feb. 17, he was happy to hand out his business card and even dropped by the Blue Mountain Eagle, a weekly newspaper with 3,500 circulation, to talk about his plans to buy a downtown property.

Mullet, from Athol, Idaho, told the newspaper he wanted to create a homeland for white people in the Pacific Northwest. The group’s Web site seethes with hatred toward nonwhites and promotes an all-white “state,” with its own government and military.

Eagle editor Scotta Callister is a lifelong newspaperwoman who moved to Grant County three years ago from a Portland suburb. She knew how important a small newspaper was, not just providing the news but also as a watchdog for its community.

“This is not like a gubernatorial race,” Callister said. “I would have a very hard time being neutral to a hate movement.”

Callister’s story was on the newspaper’s Web site that evening.

The news swept the Internet. In less than a week, three Grant County Facebook groups opposing the Aryan Nations sprang up, with a total of almost 5,500 members.

Mullet, who declined an interview request from The Associated Press, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that he was not put off by the opposition and still plans to move to Grant County.

Grant County thinks otherwise.

Dozens of people, from fifth-generation ranchers to town-dwelling newcomers, have rallied against the racist group. At lunchtime Friday, about 100 people waved signs at the town’s only stop light, and drivers passing by honked their horns.

John Day Mayor Bob Quinton was not surprised by his community’s response to the Aryan Nations.

“That group keeps saying their values line up with ours and we’re scratching our heads, trying to understand which values those are,” he said.

“It’s a tough life out here, but we all chose to live here for a reason,” Quinton said. “It’s the pure beauty and knowing that if I see kids walking down the street, I know their names and they know mine.”

Added the mayor: “People here are strong-willed. If something is threatening them, they come together.”

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