One byproduct of the Rachel Dolezal/Mother Africa uproar has been a revival of the old slur that Idaho is a “racist state,” a welcoming and nurturing environment for neo-Nazis, skinheads, and Klansmen.
Dolezal herself was raised in the area, and her parents, who exposed her imposture late last week, still reside there, which has led many commentators – among them Dr. Marcia Dawkins, in this rather overexcited interview with the BBC – to repeat the “Fourth Reich” slander.
We all know where this comes from. In the late 1970s, Richard Butler, a retired aeronautics engineer with delusions of Führerhood, set up the headquarters of the “Aryan Nations” at Hayden Lake, a posh suburb of Coeur d’Alene. Evidently, this was supposed to serve as a focal point for neo-Nazi efforts across the country.
Needless to say, once the HQ was established, the locals immediately donned their white sheets, grabbed their wooden crosses, and headed for the colored part of town.
Actually...no. What they did was shun Butler and the members of his movement. Nobody would serve them, nobody would sell them goods, nobody would provide any services. The “Aryans” had to make a several-hour drive to Montana to purchase so much as a cracker.
Idahoans also established pressure groups, including the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, to harry the Nazis. Spokesman Tony Stewart described to the LA Times how the Task Force would answer every attempt at a march or gathering by the Nazis with a fundraising effort for civil rights purposes in which money would be raised for every minute the event continued. The harder the Nazis tried, the more money would be raised to oppose them.
Not that the Aryan Nation events were anything like the Nuremberg rallies, if this photo is any indication:
The end came for Butler’s gimcrack empire in 1998, when two of his “guards” shot up a backfiring car passing his Führerbunker. A local jury awarded the victims $6.3 million, bankrupting Butler and wrecking his plans for a new Reich.
The neo-Nazis departed for Montana, where the FBI and local law enforcement badgered them to near extinction. Butler died broke and miserable in 2004.
Northern Idaho’s response to the Aryan invasion can serve as a sterling example of how responsible, legal countermeasures can defang such extremists. (Compare this to the FBI’s bungled raid at Ruby Ridge.) Although there have been sporadic efforts to revive the glory days of Butler’s empire (e.g., Hammerfest 2012, a skinhead metal concert), none has been successful. Even the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which could find traces of Nazism in the high Gobi, admits that “the number of active hate groups in the Northwest [has] dropped dramatically.”
Yet more evidence of Idaho’s essential tolerance can be found in the establishment of a Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene, which for a time was run by the well-known civil-rights activist...Rachel Dolezal.
This is to leave unremarked the fact that elder Dolezals adopted four orphaned black children, which demonstrates that their attitudes are at polar variance with those of the neo-Nazis.
Clearly, the people of Idaho are being done an injustice. Professor Dawkins and her confrères need to apologize. The reign of the Aryan Nations is long over. A reassessment of Idaho’s role is long overdue.