Idaho drafts Anne Frank to fight neo-Nazi image

Reuters/April 11, 2000

Boise, Idaho -- Idaho residents like to think of their state as one corner of paradise.

Boasting stunning mountain scenery, an increasingly vibrant economy and a down-home Western lifestyle, Idaho's reputation as one of America's rugged outdoor playgrounds encompasses everything from winter skiing to summer river rafting.

But the state also has a darker image to fight: ground zero of America's tiny neo-Nazi movement and safe haven for white supremacists and racist religious extremists of every stripe.

Many Idahoans feel this image is unfair but it has proved tough to battle as pictures of jackboots and Hitler salutes periodically splash across newspapers and television.

Now mainstream Idaho is drafting a heroine of anti-Nazi literature to help put things right, funding a $1.5 million monument to Anne Frank and other victims of Nazi persecution.

The Anne Frank memorial will join a Black History Museum founded in 1998 in highlighting Idaho's ``other'' history, such as the fact that in 1914 it was the first state in the nation to elect a Jewish governor and in 1972 it was the first to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment for women.

Fund-raising for the memorial in state capital Boise has gone so well organizers say they will have enough cash left over to fund an educational endowment.

Totally Disproves White Supremacist Image

``This is not a new thing and it just totally disproves the image the white supremacists and racist individuals ... have given this state,'' said Mary Peterman, executive director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, which is building the memorial. ``We have had such an overwhelming support from Idahoans and I get calls from people all over the United States asking for information.''

Peterman traces the idea for the memorial to a 1995 exhibit on Anne Frank's life that broke records for Boise museum attendance when a total of 46,000 people -- 15,000 of them children -- visited in one month.

Construction is to start this month. Plans call for a 175-foot-long granite wall with quotes and images from human rights heroes. It will include a a life-size statue of Anne Frank, who died in Nazi concentration camp in 1945.

The German Dutch teenager's diary of three years her family spent hiding from the Nazis in a sealed-off warehouse room is one of the most widely read books by schoolchildren around the world. Anne and her mother eventually died in Nazi camps.

The memorial, expected to open in late summer or early fall, will be next to a bicycle and pedestrian pathway in a wooded park beside the Boise River, which is popular among residents for fishing and inner-tubing.

It will be near an existing literary center, library, art museum, amphitheater and the state university.

Many Idaho residents hope the Anne Frank memorial will help demonstrate a commitment to cultural diversity in a state that historically has been among the whitest in the country.

The U.S. Census Bureau says Idaho was second in the nation in the growth rate of its minority population during the 1990s, trailing only Nevada. But minorities still account for just 10 percent of the state's population, up from 7.8 percent at the start of the last decade. And Idaho's racial diversity remains the second lowest of the Western states, slightly higher than Montana's.

Few Contribute To Neo-Nazi Image

Idahoans say there are only a few dozen organized white supremacists in the state but they draw international attention when they stage a march, damaging Idaho's reputation.

The most visible group is Aryan Nations based in Hayden Lake in the north, the political arm of the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian, which holds that God has ordained the formation of a whites-only homeland in the Pacific Northwest, which includes Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Although widely dismissed as a fringe group, Aryan Nations has managed to keep itself in the spotlight. In July 1998, about 90 Aryan Nations marchers clashed with some 1,400 counterdemonstrators in the Northern Idaho resort town of Coeur d'Alene -- a fracas that saw 22 arrests.

In June 1999, 18 Aryan Nations members paraded in downtown streets in Hayden Lake under the protection of a federal court order. Several thousand counterdemonstrators again lined the route, outshouting the Aryan Nations group by chanting ``No Nazis! No KKK! No fascists! USA!''

An Aryan Nations march planned for August 1999 was canceled after a former security guard at their compound, Buford Furrow, was jailed on charges of shooting and killing a Filippino-American mail carrier and wounding five people at a Los Angeles Jewish community center on Aug. 10.

Idaho's efforts to raise money for the Anne Frank memorial have drawn notice in the New York Times and newspapers in Germany and England. Donors range from large international corporations to school children contributing change.

Hewlett-Packard Co. and Albertson's Inc. each contributed $50,000. The biggest contributor is Greg Carr, an Idaho native and high-tech entrepreneur who gave $500,000, half to finance construction and the other half to the educational endowment.

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