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Shawn Vestal: There’s a California connection to Northwest white supremacy

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 4, 2018, 9:47 p.m.

We’re entering a new era in the Northwest’s long, depressing tango with racist extremists, and there’s a lot about this era that’s new – from the methods to the mediums these morons are using to spread their poison.

This fresh class of robo-calling, YouTubing white supremacists is different from the last generation, with their compounds and annual rallies and parades. But there’s one piece of it that’s very familiar: A California connection.

The Northwest has taken hit after hit as a haven for white supremacists. It frequently goes unmentioned that many of the individuals associated with the region’s dark history on this count, especially the leaders and loudest voices, are not natives at all, but refugees from urban California and other places, come to tell horror stories about minorities and recruit the friends and neighbors they left behind.

This is not to say that our region is faultless. The chorus of bigotry, enlivened in the past couple of years, is certainly sung here regularly, and it’s supported by a pattern of ignoring and minimizing and pretending not to see by those who don’t want the boat rocked.

Nor is it to suggest that racists don’t come from here, there and everywhere. They do. But the history of Northwest racist extremism is as much a story of invasive species as one of native flowers. The bigots arrive from all over the country – Michigan, Arizona, the South, and, yes, California.

That’s where the latest wannabe big-shot racist hails from, and it’s from where he’s trying to recruit friends to join him. This slug, Scott D. Rhodes, and his podcast, The Road to Power, are apparently behind a series of robocalls made in California and aimed at Sen. Dianne Feinstein earlier this year – full of vile, anti-Semitic invective and an invitation to “relocate to North Idaho, where very white is very right.”

Rhodes has lived in Sandpoint for a few years, but the slug trail behind him traces back to California, among other places. He and his podcast appear to be behind robocalls in Florida last week that used incredibly offensive language in referring to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, and similar calls that capitalized on the slaying of Mollie Tibbetts to spout offensive, racist nonsense in Iowa.

And so North Idaho enters the national dialogue on race once again.

Another Californian neo-Nazi, Patrick Little, who ran for office against Feinstein, has produced robocalls to Sandpoint that tell people he’s on his way to make the town one of his “regional capitals.”

“America has a Jewish problem,” Little said in the May call. “To the people of Sandpoint, Bonner County, North Idaho: My name is Patrick Little, and I’ll be arriving shortly to make Sandpoint one of my new regional capitals throughout the country. This area has a reputation as a home to people with the moral courage to recognize the consequences of diversity.”

These guys use YouTube as a platform for their ranting, not unlike James Allsup. They are explicit where Allsup is implicit; they are loud and proud about their beliefs, crude and blunt and lacking in the intellectual pretensions that Allsup adopts to deceive fools and receive invitations from GOP groups in the Valley. Their use of robocalls – cheap and effective – takes the worst garbage from the corners of the internet and spreads it through communities.

What they’re doing is a far cry from the bad old days of Richard Butler and his convocations of dropouts and losers in the woods outside Coeur d’Alene. That was import; this is export.

But as with much of the white supremacist extremism that predated and postdated the Aryan Nations, there was a strong California connection. Just as many urban Californians, and white people from other cities, have fled to Idaho for the wholesome benefits of small-town living, some have done so pointedly for one primary “benefit” – the whiteness.

Butler himself was a California refugee. He was born in Colorado, but raised in Los Angeles and lived in California for many years before coming to North Idaho in the 1970s to start the Aryan Nations.

His “church” was based upon some of the ideas and beliefs of Wesley Swift, a Holocaust denier and former Methodist minister who ran a church in California that taught a bizarre and complicated series of tenets known as British Israelism, an intensely anti-Semitic and conspiracy-based belief system. When Butler named his North Idaho church, he used the same name as Swift: Church of Jesus Christ–Christian.

He was far from the first or last, as Rhodes proves.

Idaho was ranked the “most hateful” state in the nation by the web site 24/7 Wall Street, which analyzed data gathered by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual roundup of active hate groups around the country. The SPLC has tracked an increase in extremist groups nationwide over the past couple of years, including the rise of certain alt-right groups that are clearly a response to the election of a president who they feel represents them.

On a per capita basis, Idaho had the most hate groups in the nation in 2017. (Some people argue whether this group or that one belongs on the SPLC list, but I find the efforts to undermine the group often come from people who, once they have “explained” themselves, truly belong on that list. They just don’t like having it pointed out.)

But Idaho’s place atop that list is more a function of small population than the huge number of hate groups. I don’t say this to minimize or excuse, nor to try and absolve us here in this part of the country as innocent in our share of the problem. But hate is now an interstate affair, bounded less by geography than ever before, and Idaho’s prominence on that list owes a lot to methodology.

The SPLC listed 12 Idaho hate groups; it listed 75 for California.

And those are exactly the kind of folks Rhodes and Little are inviting to Sandpoint.

North Idaho and the Inland Northwest need to make it clear: We’re full up on California racists right now.

We don’t need even one more.