Human rights leaders honored - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Human rights leaders honored

Annual Idaho Blue Book dedicated to Wassmuth, Stewart, Gissel

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013 12:00 am

COEUR d'ALENE - The latest edition of Idaho's Blue Book, a go-to resource for anything Idaho, has been dedicated to local leaders of the human rights movement.

In a spot reserved for Idaho moguls, such as former Governor Cecil Andrus and Joe Albertson, who built one of the world's largest supermarket chains, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa dedicated the 22nd edition of the Blue Book to Bill Wassmuth, Tony Stewart and Norm Gissel.

"Both of us were on the same page with this," said Pat Herman, who compiles the Blue Book for Ysursa. "We had both seen Marcia Franklin's documentary 'The Color of Conscience.'"

So when Herman approached Ysursa with the suggestion that they honor the human rights leaders this year, it was a fairly easy sell.

"He is the boss though, so he gets all the credit," she joked.

Herman said she was seeking photographs of the individuals and called the Human Rights Education Institute, which offered to put her in touch with Gissel and Stewart, but she wanted it to be a surprise.

"I called Marcia Franklin and she put me in touch with Norm's wife Diana," she said. "And she kept it secret."

Gissel said he was completely surprised when heard about it on Tuesday. The book was just released on Monday.

"I was telling my daughter about it, and my wife said she's known about it along," Gissel said. "I accused her of being a master secret keeper."

Gissel called the dedication a huge honor.

"These are collecting enterprises," he said. "They go on for years and years."

He said he has never even met the Secretary of State. The book is published every two years, and chronicles information about the governments in Idaho, as well as facts on everything from Idaho's state bird to Idaho's state parks.

They can be found in any library in the state, and they date back 44 years. They can also be ordered from the Secretary of State's office in Boise.

Gissel was honored for being one of the original founders of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, which spoke out against the Aryan Nations. Gissel also provided legal assistance for victims of harassment.

He was instrumental in convincing the Keenan family to pursue a harassment case against the Aryans, and enlisted the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which eventually led to the collapse of the Aryan Nations and their Hayden compound.

"Culturally there was a lot riding on this case," Gissel said, adding that he was glad they were able to topple the Aryans before friend and fellow honoree Bill Wassmuth passed away in 2002.

"He called me about every six months to say you gotta win this case," he said. "Then he would call back six months later and say it again."

Once they did prevail, Wassmuth joined Gissel and a handful of other human rights leaders to tour the Aryan compound.

"That was a big moment," he said, adding Wassmuth was in poor health by that time. "We all told him not to, but he climbed the tower out there."

It was really an emotional moment for all who attended, Gissel said.

Wassmuth's house was bombed by the Aryans in the 1980s. He was not hurt, but that launched him into the human rights movement.

He was recruited to lead the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, and mobilized a community rally the same week as the Aryan Nations' World Congress was held in Coeur d'Alene.

"The rally outdrew the supremacists by 20-to-1, making Mr. Wassmuth one of our state's heroes," the Blue Book states.

Stewart, who was a professor of political science at North Idaho College for 40 years, was also honored in the book.

"I found out Monday and it was very surprising and humbling" Stewart said. "I used to teach from that book in my classes."

Stewart was honored for his role in starting a support group that eventually became the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. He was instrumental in developing the group's public relations strategy.

He ran counter rallies to the Aryan rallies year after year, and is well known for his "Lemons to Lemonade" campaign, the Blue Book states.

Stewart was one of the strongest voices speaking out against Richard Butler and the Aryans during a time when they were drawing national media attention.

He also helped work on the case that eventually bankrupted the Aryans. Stewart also had a talk show on PBS and organized NIC's Popcorn Forums for more than 37 years.

Many of those forums and talk shows were focused on human rights.

In true fashion, Stewart wants to pay tribute to everyone who was, and still is, involved in the human rights movement in Idaho.

"This dedication really belongs to every person that worked on human rights in North Idaho," he said. "There is no one individual that by themselves could have done this."

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  • The Simple Truth posted at 8:04 pm on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    The Simple Truth Posts: 563

    ah, the loser racists are back...their self-hatred poisons all they know

  • voxpop posted at 5:09 pm on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    voxpop Posts: 738

    The self-flagellates are out on the town.

  • greyhound2 posted at 4:35 pm on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    greyhound2 Posts: 715

    "It was a pretty easy sell", she said. If you want to be an ordained minister, you can mail $25 into the Universal Church and they will mail you back your preacher papers. A $25 fee is required to get a customer satifaction award complete with a small statue for car dealers. Awards and Certificates are a lot cheaper than any real cash. If a program were natural then laws, courts and national guard troops would not be necessary. Social engineering is really hard because you have to force people to do what they don't naturally want to.

  • Ziggy posted at 3:51 pm on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    Ziggy Posts: 1077

    Looks like from the ugly posts below that the Human Rights Commission's work is far from over. Too bad Butler still lives on and is still attracting the haters.

  • LMYCDA posted at 11:05 am on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    LMYCDA Posts: 1696

    So, what is your point little man?

  • LMYCDA posted at 11:05 am on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    LMYCDA Posts: 1696

    Can you explain your horrible comment?

  • JesusIsTheLight posted at 9:44 am on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    JesusIsTheLight Posts: 569

    The CDA Press has become less than a legitimate paper. It's too bad there isn't another paper to compete with it. It wouldn't take much.

  • will-- posted at 8:09 am on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    will-- Posts: 825

    And 0bama won a Nobel Peace Prize too.

  • max power posted at 7:38 am on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    max power Posts: 559


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