SANDPOINT – Of the caches of racist fliers that have littered Sandpoint neighborhoods since April, the city’s mayor, Shelby Rognstad, has been the primary target.
A Photoshopped depiction of Rognstad in a gas chamber – a Nazi-clad cartoon frog, Pepe, manning the switch – was the most recent on-paper assault by what he believes is a tiny faction of white supremacists.
Other fliers had broader hate-filled messages, including “Keep Idaho safe…Keep Idaho clean …Keep Idaho white,” words draped over racist caricatures of three men, Hispanic, African-American and Jewish.
But since the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, Rognstad said, there has been an uptick in distribution.
“It’s almost been on a daily basis the last couple of weeks,” said Rognstad, a white man who believes he struck the ire of the hate group because of his support for low-income housing projects and a false rumor he is Jewish.
“My hunch is that it’s just one or two people trying to get as much attention as possible,” he said. “Intially, the attitude was to ignore them. But now, since Charlottesville and these fliers now being distributed every day, it‘s time to speak up.”
On Wednesday morning the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force – a group founded in 1992 to help combat the area’s former Aryan Nations movement – held a news conference to discuss the issue.
Area residents, church pastors, elected officials and Human Rights Task Force members sounded off, sharing the same, clear anti-hate sentiments.
“Say no to racism, bigotry, white supremacy and exclusion. Say yes to peace, diversity, civility, equality and hospitality,” said Colin Moody of Cedar Hill Church.
Tony Stewart, a Coeur d’Alene human rights activist who helped disband the Aryan Nations enclave that once existed in Hayden, read a statement from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.
“We have dealt with white supremacists and other groups filled by hatred before,” Stewart read. “We told them then, as we continue to tell them now, and in no uncertain or ambiguous terms, they are not wanted here and will never be welcome here.
“Idaho joins the nation and the world in condemning white supremacists, violence and bigotry of any kind.”
On Aug. 16, the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force gave a presentation at Sandpoint’s Community Hall to educate residents on refugee settlement in Idaho and the United States. The event became so contentious, Rognstad said, that it ended early.
Since then, the hate fliers have also been directed toward Bonner County Human Rights Task Force members, Sandpoint media and others, some messages suggesting violence.
“Our goal is not to create division in our community,” said Lynn Bridges of the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force. “We recognize that we have differences, but our goal is to bring the community together through understanding. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree. Anytime you have two people in a room, there’s going to be disagreements. But we are looking to a stop to the targeted hate fliers and the targeted actions toward some in the community.”
The Sandpoint Police Department has fielded reports from residents and businesses who have received the fliers and emails. Anyone who receives a message deemed hateful or threatening is encouraged to report the incident.
“While these incidents are hurtful and offensive, in and of themselves, they often do not violate criminal or civil law and are protected free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” the police department said in a news release.
“However, should the behavior escalate and a crime be committed, the report could be important evidence in prosecuting a crime. There is a fine line between protected free speech and criminal harassment and stalking. Multiple reports involving the same perpetrator and victim can demonstrate that the line has been crossed.”
Rognstad believes it’s been the same perpetrators, who he said in no way represent the views of the scenic North Idaho town.
“You’re going to have a hard time finding anyone who agrees with what’s on those fliers,” Rognstad said.