Hate groups in Idaho: 'You never decrease the problem by ignoring it'

2 News TV, Idaho/July 23, 2009

Editor's Note: Some of the contents of this article are disturbing as it frankly deals with hate.

Coure d'Alene, Idaho - The Aryan Nations says it has returned to Northern Idaho, recruiting new members but in an interview with the Boise-based Idaho Human Rights Commission, its members say, not so fast.

Jerald O'Brien stamped his skin with symbols of the Aryan Nations.

"We alone are his children," he said.

He named his daughter "Berlin."

"Hitler was a great man," O'Brien said.

And he's leading what he calls the next great battle: a war on race.

"Now we have a slave reigning over us," he said, referring to President Barack Obama.

A Coeur d'Alene resident, O'Brien is also an Aryan Nations leader and says membership is up with President Obama's election.

"Six months ago, I had four contacts a month wanting information and membership applications," he said. "Now it's up to four or five a day."

The Southern Poverty Law Center says in the last eight years, hate groups have grown nationwide by 50 percent.

They count 962, the most ever.

"It means that white America is waking up. That's what it's saying to me, that people are starting to get involved and understand the plight of our race."

His faith is based upon the teachings of Richard Butler.

For 30 years, he was the guiding force of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, Aryan Nations.

"You can't have a nation of all kinds of things -- you can't mix orangutans in and say, 'This is part of your nation...they've been taught to talk now," Butler said during one of his sermons.

"I promised Pastor Butler and my father, who art in heaven, that I would not let this die and I won't lose my faith," O'Brien said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says Idaho currently has seven hate groups.

CBS 2 discovered Gospel Ministries in Boise.

Members claim God favors whites as true Israelites and that Jews descended from Satan. CBS 2 searched, but couldn't find a local address.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says most hide behind PO box numbers or do commerce on the Internet.

"The night of President Obama's election, the Stormfront website was hit with so much activity that it crashed," said Hilary Bernstein of the Anti-Defamation League.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says in 2008, racial hatred struck Idaho twice. Last November, Rexburg parents were outraged when students chanted racial slurs about Obama on a school bus.

And just this week, two men have been convicted of federal hate crimes after they attacked an African American man last July outside a Nampa Wal-Mart.

But Idaho is countering all forms of hatred.

In 2002, the Idaho Human Rights Education Center built a $1.8 million Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise.

It's the only Anne Frank memorial in the U.S. and one of the only places where the full Universal Declaration of Human Rights is on public display.

"When they were up there, Idaho was saying 'no' to the Aryan Nations," said Estella Zamora, president of the Idaho Human Rights Commission. "They were saying, 'we're not going to tolerate this and we're going to do what we can to eradicate this particular group.'"

She says from Butler's hatred came hope.

Several groups, including the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, were formed to stop the hate. She says O'Brien doesn't represent a majority voice.

"Once in a while, they come back and let us know they're still around," she said. "We acknowledge their presence and ask them to move on, go away, we're not going to tolerate them in our community."

Eight years ago, the Northern Idaho compound from where Butler operated was torn down when the group lost a lawsuit and its members left town.

"That was one of the great days of my life," said civil rights leader Norm Gissel.

Gissel helped bring down Butler's compound.

"You never, never decrease the problem by ignoring it," said Tony Stewart of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.

Together, Stewart and Gissel helped clear the Aryan Nations from its path.

"Every community, make it loud and clear, if you're going to move to our community and engage in hate, you will be rejected," Stewart said.

"I don't believe he deserves the headlines, because it's one individual, he's not a threat to our community, so I don't think we even need to acknowledge his existence or presence," Zamora said.

Stewart said what used to be Butler's compound is now back to more natural beauty.

"I've been here several times when deer would cross," Stewart said. "The animals returned after the hate left."

And in the Treasure Valley, Zamora says great strides have been made.

"People can actually walk down the street and feel good about what some of the human rights organizations are doing," she said.

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