It becomes so tiring.
A friend calls from someplace out there — Colorado, the Carolinas, Illinois, Kansas, wherever.
I can hear the chuckling over the phone.
Finally, the question: “So how are you doing, way up there with all those Nazis?”
I guess it may take decades for the Coeur d’Alene-Hayden Lake area to be rid of that awful scar.
For now, anyway, the memory of Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations sticks with people who don’t really know North Idaho.
That stigma has survived quite a while, too.
The local Human Rights Task Force helped the Southern Poverty Law Center bankrupt Butler in 2000, and the hatemonger died four years later.
So it’s been almost two decades since Butler and his ragtag gang of racist idiots were run out of Kootenai County on the heels of a $6.3 million court judgment, and yet ...
Plenty of supposedly intelligent people actually think I’m living in a place where shoppers are routinely surrounded by skinheads in the grocery store.
Lee White gets it, though.
The Coeur d’Alene police chief recalls telling his dad about testing for this job, and then being hired.
His father, also named Lee, immediately jumped to the Aryan Nations connection.
“He worked intelligence for the police department in Mesa, Ariz., and he actually made a trip up here during the Butler years,” the junior White said. “You just mention this place, and that bad memory seems to be right there.”
Chief White, though, is proud to say that the area — despite necessary and constant vigilance — is on the road to conquering hate.
“The last year for which we have full records is 2016,” White said, “and there were just five arrests for hate crimes in Coeur d’Alene.
“That doesn’t mean we aren’t watching to see if some of these characters show up again. There are a few around, but we won’t let anything illegal get started.”
THIS CHAT with White occurred because there were a couple of ugly incidents in July.
According to police reports, some racist moron verbally abused a Spokane youth group at a local McDonald’s, calling the kids “half-breeds” and telling them to “get out of Idaho.”
And then a high school prank went way too far, as a swastika appeared on the Lake City High football field — along with some other disgusting artwork.
“Because of the swastika, we’re investigating that incident as a hate crime,” White said.
Likewise, the cretin who terrorized the kids and their director at McDonald’s has been charged under Idaho’s “hate laws” — even though none of the victims suffered physical damage.
“It’s ironic that Butler and those neo-Nazis did leave a legacy here,” White said. “With the work put in by the community and the legislature, we have a set of statutes that allow us to stop hate-related events — and arrest whoever is involved.”
You know, it doesn’t really matter that a few of my friends — who’ve never even been here — connect the area with the Aryan Nations.
They’d probably be surprised to learn that Idaho has some of the toughest hate crime laws in the nation.
I’m sure they’d be shocked to see that idiot at McDonald’s use a bit of racist language, then quickly find himself cuffed and headed straight to jail.
If they saw that, I would say. ..
“Hey, THIS is where I live!”
• • •
Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.
A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.
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