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
Vandals destroy tree memorializing Anne Frank in Coeur d’Alene park
A park maintenance crew discovered the tree in two pieces Wednesday morning, snapped near the base of the trunk. They believe it was vandalized the previous night and have filed …
Former Aryan Nations property sold; funds will support North Idaho College human rights education
The North Idaho College Foundation announced it sold the 20-acre site of the former Aryan Nations headquarters last week after putting it on the market less than a year ago.
Military academies probe possible ‘white power’ sign at game
Officials at the Army and Navy academies are investigating whether hand signs flashed by students standing behind a reporter during a TV interview were intended to convey a message of …
Church in north Spokane littered with flyers promoting neo-Nazi group, race war
“I’m really concerned about the safety of the people at my church,” the church’s pastor said.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich warns of homegrown extremism, announces he won’t seek re-election
After speaking for more than an hour about the dangers of homegrown extremism Tuesday evening, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich announced he will not seek re-election when his term ends …
Spokane police investigating rumors of neo-Nazi ‘hate camp’
“Our intel suggests it is being held outside Spokane County,” said a spokesman for the Spokane Police Department.
Family of white supremacist murder victims, including Spokane Valley City Council candidate, call for racial equity talk in the city
Lance Gurel, who is one of the candidates running against Spokane Valley City Councilman Arne Woodard, said this weekend the impending execution of Danny Lewis Lee shows why the city …
Leonard Pitts Jr.: ‘Dying of whiteness’
It’s called “Dying of Whiteness” and it is a deep dive into a provocative thesis: that white conservative voters, driven by fear of, and antipathy toward “others,” support policies against …
Rep. Matt Shea links to white nationalist website, defends running background checks on political opponents
Fuming after a new round of headlines about his interactions with far-right activists, state Rep. Matt Shea directed his 4,600 Facebook followers to an obscure Australian website that traffics in …
North Idaho College Foundation plans to sell former site of Aryan Nations compound
The former site of the Aryan Nations compound near Hayden Lake will soon be put up for sale. The North Idaho College Foundation plans to sell the undeveloped 20-acre property …
Racist propaganda targets diversity event at North Idaho College
Postcards and flyers espousing racist conspiracy theories were distributed at North Idaho College and at least one nearby neighborhood in Coeur d’Alene, with some materials targeting the college’s fourth annual …
How to respond to racist robocalls from North Idaho: Accordion-playing clowns, says Virginia man
Justin Beights has sought a permit to stage a whimsical, extremely annoying demonstration outside the Sandpoint-area home rented by Scott D. Rhodes – a man who appears to be responsible …
In robocalls featuring ‘Friends’ theme song, California neo-Nazi Patrick Little says he’s coming to Sandpoint
A California man who has called the Holocaust “a lie” and claims Jews conspired to stop him from winning a U.S. Senate race says he plans to establish a “regional …
Controversy, conflict no strangers to sheriff candidate Scott Maclay
The man seeking to unseat Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich claims that he helped bring down the Aryan Nations, was a member of the sheriff’s dive team and was the leading real …
Paul Lindholdt: Free speech has no room for espousing hatred
Does diversity in its broadest sense include white supremacists? On the campus of Eastern Washington University in February this year, racist flyers appeared. A white supremacist group took credit. The …
Black Lives Matter protest unfolds after white supremacist pleads not guilty to hate crime
A Black Lives Matter protest began in the Spokane County Courthouse on Tuesday morning after two white men accused of hates crimes pleaded not guilty.
Assault victim recounts alleged attack by white supremacist in Spokane: ‘He’s gonna kill me’
Since leaving North Carolina in 1968, Norris Cooley never thought his life would be in danger because of the color of his skin – until a man with a “white …
Community leaders denounce racism and violence following Sunday hate crime
In response to a violent hate crime Sunday in north Spokane, prominent community leaders gathered Wednesday morning to denounce racism and hate.
Police make hate crime arrest after ‘skinhead’ suspected of punching black man and shooting his house
A 66-year-old black man was the victim of a seemingly random hate crime Sunday evening
Veterans of Spokane region’s civil rights confrontations wary of resurgent racism
Longtime activists who have spent decades fighting hate and discrimination in the Spokane region believe President Donald Trump’s response to Charlottesville has empowered white supremacists.
Idaho think tank defends conservative speaker, GOP distances
A libertarian think tank with ties to Idaho’s top Republicans is defending its decision to invite a conservative author criticized for what some have called racist views linking intelligence to …
Goodman: Tear down white supremacy symbols
Two of Stonewall Jackson’s great-great-grandsons sent a letter to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and that city’s Monument Avenue Commission, encouraging the removal of their famous forebear’s statue.
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 …