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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Forum series puts focus on human rights

Local human rights leader Tony Stewart chose the day that Richard Butler’s home was in a foreclosure auction to announce several events celebrating North Idaho’s commitment to human rights.

The foreclosure auction was a footnote to Butler’s infamous legacy in North Idaho, where he held court at the Aryan Nations compound – the “campus of hate,” as Stewart calls it – in Hayden from the early ‘70s until it was lost through bankruptcy in 2000.

Now the compound is a peace park and Butler is dead. His most recent residence belonged to another notorious white supremacist, Vincent Bertollini, who authorities believe fled the country in 2000 to avoid a possible prison term for a third drunken driving arrest.

Stewart, a North Idaho College instructor and founding member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, plans to document the task force history and downfall of the Aryan Nations in a multi-part documentary to be shown in January and February on Public Forum, a weekly NIC production that he hosts on public television.

In addition to the documentary, Stewart announced Wednesday that he was donating his personal human rights collection to the NIC’s Molstead Library.

Both the donation and the documentary are in commemoration of the task force’s 25-year history. And this fall’s annual Popcorn Forum series is dedicated to human relations, too.

“We had a wonderful victory in getting rid of the campus of hate,” Stewart said. “Everywhere we (the task force members) go, we say, ‘This is our story. What we’ve done is trial and error’ … We’re so proud of our victories.”

Stewart’s collection includes dozens of videotapes and DVDs of press conferences, rallies, speeches and other events through the years; plus numerous albums of newspaper clippings and documents detailing the community’s effort to battle hate; dozens and dozens of letters from supporters; copies of resolutions from nearly 200 cities and counties around the Northwest; and a three-page, framed “Open Letter to Humanity” from Buckminster Fuller, urging passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, written when he visited NIC for a Popcorn Forum shortly before his 1983 death.

Stewart brought a few of the items to Wednesday’s press conference, including a Halvoline motor oil box tied with string packed full of letters the task force collected during its 1998 Lemons to Lemonade campaign. The campaign raised $35,000 from people who pledged money for each minute the swastika-clad Aryans marched down Coeur d’Alene’s Sherman Avenue.

“I’m a pack rat and I’ve kept everything,” Stewart admitted. “This is all very personal to me, but it’s all very important. People have been so supportive of our struggle for human dignity.”

Stewart was praised for his foresight in saving so much and then donating it to NIC.

“This institution has been a partner and leader in this essential struggle,” said Diana Gissell, president of the Task Force on Human Relations. “Students will use these documents and this honorable story to give them hope and courage as well as guide their journey for a world that embraces equality, justice and freedom.”

Stewart, who has taught political science at NIC for 35 years, also helped found the Popcorn Forum and used the looming 25th anniversary of the task force as a theme for this year’s fall series.

The series events will address issues of diversity and communities struggling with differences.

The first of the series is Sept. 8, when the Idaho Department of Correction brings experts to discuss overcrowded prisons, the growing number of parolees being released into communities, convict treatment and sex offender supervision.

“Corrections and community are so integrated and most of us don’t even know it,” said Teresa Jones, Department of Correction spokeswoman. “All offenders come from a community and all offenders return to the community, except for maybe 1 or 2 percent.”

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