The headline in the latest Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report looks like cause for alarm:
“Neo-Nazi Builds North Idaho Compound to Replace Defunct Aryan Nations”
The story – about taco-truck protester Shaun Winkler – appropriately casts a close eye on the doings of one of our region’s main cockroaches. Fortunately, a closer look at the actual story – a piece written by my former colleague Bill Morlin – suggests a better headline: “Doofus Falls Short in Dubious Plan to Replace Defunct Aryan Nations.”
In any case, there’s plenty of evidence in Morlin’s story to suggest that the headline ought to be taken with a boulder of salt. Morlin knows as much about the history and operations of these mouth-breathers as anyone, and his piece provides all the information you need to understand why the current events surrounding Winkler, though important and newsworthy, do not yet signal a return of the bad old days.
“Winkler’s plans for a new Aryan compound, the first mentions of which came last spring during his unsuccessful run for sheriff of Bonner County, may already have run into a debilitating buzz saw,” the story says. “The 33-year-old native of York, Pa., is expected to soon receive legal documents kicking him off the property. Besides logging the land without required permission and being late with his $750 monthly payments, Winkler also may have some sewage disposal issues on the property, which is being investigated by environmental health authorities.”
In other words, Winkler seems about to be kicked off land on which there is no evidence that even a single building has been completed. It’s not that he’s all talk. He has tried to start a new Homeland HQ up there, and had some fellow scumbags over for drinks, Heil Hitlers and Bible misunderstanding. But he remains some distance away from having a compound or replacing anything just yet.
I’m wary of taking a line like this, with regard to the Aryan Nations. For a long time, the standard response to the group was quick dismissal: It’s no big deal. That denial didn’t serve us well; as the local racists made more and more noise, it made us seem less than fully devoted to giving a damn about the violent ugliness in our midst, and it helped them plant roots and grow. It took confrontation and opposition to help put out the moronic inferno in Hayden Lake.
So no one ought to ignore Winkler. But we need to understand him for what he is and what he is not. What he is is someone who organizes protests of taco trucks and gets in fights with women outside Mexican restaurants. A garden-variety racist and denier of the “Holo-Hoax.” A defender of Klan snowmen. Someone who struggles to string together coherent lines of thought – who might say in one breath that he doesn’t hate anybody and in the next describe just why he hates Jews.
He is a cockroach, and he’s surely not the only one around here. One hundred and eighty-two people, after all, voted for him when he ran for Bonner County sheriff.
But what he is not, at least so far as the available evidence suggests, is someone who has built a compound and shown the perverse charisma necessary to attract a movement – at least not yet. Morlin’s piece details that Winkler bought some land, moved some travel trailers onto it, hosted a cross-burning and bigot rants, started work on a couple of buildings, and proceeded to make some wholly unlikely claims that he was going to turn the property into a place where he and his fellows could live together. There’s little reason to feel that he might even remotely ascend to the lofty perch once occupied by the man he calls “Pastor Butler.”
Richard Butler, for whatever reason, managed to exert a lizardy, paternal hold over plenty of dim young men, drawing them to North Idaho for years and years to parade and march and goose-step for the media. Winkler was one of the disciples, and he seems to miss the attention. Maybe someday he will build a compound, where he and his ilk can swap dumb ideas. Maybe he will lead a resurgence of the Aryan Nations. He clearly wants to, and he told a local TV reporter that if he’s kicked off this plot of land he intends to try again on a nearby parcel.
But for now, that compound is a fool’s fantasy. And Winkler is merely a pretender to a tarnished, hideous crown.