The arrival of white supremacist Richard Butler in the 1970s opened a dark chapter of North Idaho history. Amid the intimidation and overt racism his Aryan Nations exercised, Coeur d’Alene human rights leaders founded a task force that became a model for community response to racism. It’s a model that remains relevant as signs of hate creep back into the region today.
Four years after moving to rural Kootenai County from California in 1973, Butler, a former aeronautical engineer, started a compound on Rimrock Road. The 20-acre site north of Hayden Lake would become a racist encampment perhaps like no other in the nation.
Butler used savings to build the Church of Jesus Christ Christian at the compound. An adjoining shop printed racist and anti-Semitic pamphlets, books and fliers. The group held parades in downtown Coeur d’Alene and annual summits at the compound. By the 1990s, the Aryan Nations had one of the first hate Web sites.
Butler faced rivalry from other racists, and his compound was bombed in 1981. That same year, anti-Semitic grafitti targeting a Jewish restaurant owner attracted the attention of human rights activists, and the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations was born. Founders Tony Stewart, Norm Gissel and Marshall Mend became community voices against hate.
The Aryan Nations compound and its contents were burned and bulldozed into a peace park after a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center bankrupted the group in 2000. Butler died four years later.
On Sept. 7, 2010, community leaders marked the 10-year anniversary of the verdict that bankrupted the Aryan Nations. Nonetheless, hate crimes, racist vandalism, racist fliers and a power struggle between men claiming to lead a rejuvenated Aryan Nations recently have cropped in the region, affirming that the fight against hate is not finished.
On Jan. 22, 2011, a leader of the Aryan Nations issued a statement denying involvement with a bomb left at Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March. Morris Gullett, a longtime racist identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the leader of the Aryan Nations, said, “We absolutely do not condone this type of activity, but emphatically do condemn the use of force and terror such as the sort that is being implied was committed by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Aryan Nations, in Spokane.”
Summary written by Andrew Zahler.
Richard Butler founded the Aryan Nations north of Hayden Lake in the 1970s. He moved to Kootenai County from California, where he’d worked as an aeronautical engineer.
Morris Dees is the co-founder and chief trial counsel with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama. He led the civil lawsuit trial that delivered a $6.3 million verdict against the Aryan Nations, Richard Butler and three of his followers in 2000.
Norm Gissel is a Coeur d’Alene lawyer who spearheaded the landmark civil lawsuit that bankrupted the Aryan Nations and its late leader, Richard Butler, in 2000. He worked closely during the trial with Morris Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama.
Marshall Mend is a founding member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. In 2009, he struck a deal with the New York City-based Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States to market and sell its character education program. Part of the proceeds benefit human rights organizations, including the Coeur d’Alene-based Human Rights Education Institute.
Tony Stewart is a retired political science professor and founding member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. He taught at North Idaho College, hosted the public television show “The NIC Public Forum” and organized an annual lecture series featuring top-tier speakers. Stewart remains an influential voice on human rights, recently meeting with concerned residents in John Day, Ore., where the Aryan Nations appears interested in moving.
Latest updates in this topic
James W. Loewen: Civil War revisionism rooted in racism
Donald Trump’s conclusion about Jackson places him in a camp of 1930s historians who called it a “needless war.” That view is a product of its time, and that time …
Huckleberries: Good people must stand up when hatred is on the march
The canceled neo-Nazi parade in Whitefish, Mont., this month reminds this columnist of a 1999 parade in downtown Coeur d’Alene, led by Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler. The racist from …
Investigation of Kevin Harpham’s 2011 planned MLK March bombing in Spokane turned terrorism into an FBI case study
Hundreds of marchers gathered in downtown Spokane on the morning of Jan. 17, 2011, for speeches and a show of solidarity as part of the the Martin Luther King Jr. …
Doug Clark: Marshall Mend first taught himself how to succeed, then taught Coeur d’Alene how to do it, too
Marshall Mend, a self-made millionaire, says helping drive Richard Butler and his Aryan Nations from the region never gave him a sleepless night.
Coeur d’Alene exhibit shows downfall of local white supremacists
Human rights activists in North Idaho have opened an exhibit detailing the downfall of the white supremacists movement that tainted the region’s image nationally for decades.
Huckleberries: Birthday got no lift from elevator
Violinist Cathyanne Nonini of Coeur d’Alene sang the blues on her 61st birthday at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., when she and her sister got stuck in a …
Former wrestler helped take down Aryan Nations
MEDFORD, Ore. – Sitting in the living room of his home in Coeur d’Alene, Rico Valentino listened as two white supremacists hatched a scheme. What was needed, they said, was …
Wrestling promoter led double life as informant
MEDFORD, Ore. — Sitting in the living room of his home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Rico Valentino listened as two white supremacists hatched a scheme. What was needed, they said, …
Lawyer who defended Aryan Nations dies in prison
Edgar Steele, the North Idaho attorney who first gained notoriety for defending Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler and later was imprisoned for plotting to kill his wife, is dead. He …
North Idaho attorney Edgar Steele, convicted for plotting to kill wife, dead at 69
Edgar Steele, the North Idaho attorney who first gained notoriety for defending Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler and was later imprisoned for plotting to kill his wife, is dead. He …
Amy Goodman: White supremacy, America’s real threat, being ignored
Another U.S. shooting spree has left bullet-riddled bodies in its wake and refocused attention on violent, right-wing extremists. Frazier Glenn Miller, a former leader of a wing of the Ku …
Edgar Steele’s murder-for-hire conviction appeal fails
A federal appeals court has rejected an appeal from Edgar Steele, the self-proclaimed “attorney for the damned” from North Idaho, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the …
New Aryan compound dimly run
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”
Boise police on alert over neo-Nazi event
BOISE — Police say the Boise mayor’s office is fielding numerous complaints about a neo-Nazi music festival planned for early October.
N. Idaho sheriff candidate defends cross burning
A white power activist campaigning to be the next Bonner County sheriff hosted a cross burning last week with fellow Ku Klux Klan members and is defending the ceremony as …
N. Idaho sheriff candidate hosts cross burning
SANDPOINT — A white power activist campaigning to be the next sheriff of Bonner County hosted a cross burning last week with fellow members of the Idaho Ku Klux Klan.
N. Idaho white supremacist runs for county sheriff
SANDPOINT, Idaho — A white supremacist in North Idaho wants to be the next Bonner County sheriff, saying federal overreach motivated him to run for the office.
Girl leaves Aryan past behind
Kelty Walker grew up in an isolated trailer house in the woods outside Blanchard, Idaho. “We took five dirt roads to get to the trailer,” she said. “It was out …
Tried and convicted, Steele now has plenty to say
Edgar Steele is taking off the muzzle. He’s writing. Talking to the press. Setting the record straight.
Huckleberries: As fortune would have it, they’re basking in presence of children
Most of us enjoy reading fortune cookie messages. They’re fun and generic like horoscope predictions. But Coeur d’Alene water superintendent Jim Markley and his wife, Debbie, don’t take the fortunes …
Near-victim takes devotion to a whole new reality
Edgar Steele, former Aryan Nations shyster, was found guilty late last week of hiring some thug to blow his wife, Cyndi, (and her mother) to smithereens. Can’t say I didn’t …
Man says brother victim of setup
The man who boasted online about taking part in racist protests of taco trucks in Coeur d’Alene and now faces an illegal weapons charge was the victim of government entrapment, …
Arrested felon posted to racist website
A Whitman County man who bragged online about being involved with racist taco-truck protests in Kootenai County was arrested on a federal gun charge Wednesday. Jeremiah Daniel “J.D.” Hop, who …
Felon arrested on gun charge linked to taco stand protests
The FBI has arrested a Whitman County man on a federal gun charge. Jeremiah Daniel “J.D.” Hop, who describes himself as an anti-race mixing activist on the racist website Vanguard …
Huckleberries: Teacher calls it quits over reforms
The education “reform” package sprung unexpectedly on Idaho by schools super Tom Luna has claimed its first victim. Meghan Ridley, a special-ed teacher and teacher of the year recipient in …
Coeur d’Alene taco stand vandalized
A Coeur d’Alene taco stand that employees said has been picketed recently by white supremacists was vandalized last week.
Shawn Vestal: Taco can be the way to answer region’s racists
Matt Anderson grew up not far from the old Aryan Nations compound. He’s seen all the haters have to offer, but he didn’t necessarily expect them to come out against …
Aryan Nations denies role in downtown bomb placement
A leader of the Aryan Nations on Saturday issued a statement denying involvement with a bomb left at Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March on Monday. Morris Gullett, a …
Verner: ‘This is not who we are’
The Spokane-area community joined this morning to discuss the attempted bombing along the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March on Monday.
Aryan Nations condemns use of terror
A leader of the Aryan Nations on Saturday issued a statement denying involvement with a bomb left at Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March last week.
Downtown bomb linked to hate crimes
The hunt for the person who left the bomb targeting marchers in Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. parade will focus on two aspects: forensics and the region’s violent history with …
Longtime activist joins human rights panel
Marshall Mend has seen North Idaho make great strides with human rights, he says. But there’s always more to do.