clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


This quiet resort town may have been slow to recognize the racist threat of Richard Butler's neo-Nazi sect, but civil rights leaders say their vigilance is now wide-eyed and alert.

Butler targeted the Northwest for an all-white Aryan Nations homeland partly because of the region's conservative politics and tradition of tolerance."The Aryan Nations miscalculated," said Tony Stewart, president of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment.

"They did not find acceptance in the Northwest."

This week, as Butler prepares for a neo-Nazi skinhead conference at his compound a few miles from Coeur d'Alene, civic leaders in northern Idaho are planning a march, a picnic and an inter-faith church service to celebrate cultural diversity.

Butler's activities did not always provoke such responses. His Aryan Nations church, established in 1973, was all but ignored for years.

"You have a lot of kooks and nuts anywhere you go," said Norman Gissel, president of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. "In north Idaho, especially, the sentiment is that you leave your neighbor alone if he wants to be left alone."

That started to change in 1981, when swastikas appeared on a Jewish-owned restaurant in Hayden Lake.

The task force was formed, but community participation remained low until 1985, when court trials revealed ties between Butler's Aryan Nations and The Order, a violent group that masterminded murder, bombings and armed bank robberies.

Coeur d'Alene's live-and-let-live demeanor changed forever the morning of Sept. 29, 1986, when three bombs exploded in town, planted by white supremacists as a diversion during a foiled bank robbery.

The next summer, when Butler held his annual Aryan World Congress for about 200 white supremacist leaders, a civil rights rally in Coeur d'Alene drew 1,000 people.