Fettuccine Forum: 'Discrimination is Discrimination'


Dr. Steve Shaw spoke to 70 people at the Fettuccine Forum Thursday night. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Dr. Steve Shaw spoke to 70 people at the Fettuccine Forum Thursday night.

While many downtown shops and restaurants featured love-themed First Thursday events February 5th, the Fettuccine Forum discussion that took place inside Boise City Hall's city council chambers couldn't have been more of a contrast.

Northwest Nazarene University political science professor Steve Shaw spoke to a group of 60 people on a theme of "Hate, Harassment and Human Rights in Idaho."

His talk explored his research of Arian Nations and correlated it with today's human rights issues.  

Shaw said he began his studies of white supremacy groups in Idaho in the early '90s. He told the room he was reluctant to write on the topic because it would further the image of Idaho as a haven for hatred. But it couldn't be ignored.

As he delved into the research, he was invited to speak at the North Idaho College in 1995, the "epicenter" of the Arian Nation. 

"I walk into a symposium room and I get behind the podium and I see ten rows out, the elder statesman of hate himself—Richard Butler," Shaw told the audience. There sat Butler, with 20 to 25 of his "cronies," including several couples with their small children, all wearing swastikas. 

After his talk, during the question and answer time, "Guess whose hand went up first. There was no place to hide."

Shaw retold his conversation with Butler, who accused him of being wrong, telling him that the United States lost World War II, claiming President Bill Clinton was a Jew, and that Butler himself wasn't a hateful person at all. The back-and-forth ended, however, with Butler agreeing that Shaw was a "race traitor" and should be "exterminated" for having two adopted bi-racial daughters.

Shaw said he drove for two-and-a-half hours to get to his bed and breakfast that night, checking obsessively in the rear-view mirror for following headlights. 

After reliving that exchange, Shaw moved on to talk about why Richard Butler ever picked Idaho in the first place. 

"Why not Texas, or Louisiana?" 
  • Jessica Murri
he said. Idaho was deemed attractive because of its mostly white demographics, its cheap land and its live-and-let-live culture. And when Butler made his move here from Colorado, folks weren't too worried about it.

"People were thinking, 'Okay, he's got a few screws loose, but he's harmless.'"

Then the skinheads showed up. Butler would talk his talk and never do anything, but his followers took him seriously and wreaked havoc for several years. 

Shaw said this created an interesting problem for Idaho. It gave the outside world the perception that everyone in the state belonged to a white supremacist hate group, when—in reality—an Arian Nation parade would feature 70 members or so, and draw 4,000 or 5,000 counter protesters. But it also drew journalists from all over the world to experience what they believed was Idaho.

Yet it also gave the people of Idaho an opportunity, according to Shaw, to turn that perception around and form human rights coalitions to fight back. 

"Bigotry is nothing new in Idaho, though," Shaw said, harkening back to the Japanese internment camps in the 1940s and the laws forbidding mormons to hold public office before that. "We haven't fully overcome the temptation to harass or to hate. That's what we're still struggling with again today, in the case of Add the Words."

Shaw told his listeners that he believes the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" should eventually be added to the Idaho Human Rights Act, protecting members of the LGBT community from discrimination in employment and housing. He said it will "help us write another chapter that will move us away from Richard Butler and white supremacy, and help others not see us as a backwards state."

His question-answer time at the Fettuccine Forum was certainly less nerve-racking than when he stood before Butler himself. He was confronted with questions about police brutality, religious extremism and world terrorism, immigration, and one particularly interesting question—"to what extent has Richard Butler's ideology not disappeared, but just gone underground?"

"Hate-filled language gets phrased differently today," Shaw said. "The Richard-Butler types, those kind of manifestations of discrimination or hate have largely disappeared. There's next to no Arian Nation organization in Idaho now. But in terms of language that's used, it's gotten more sophisticated, so our attention needs to be more diligent.

"Not to equate this with the Arian Nation, but if we're not going to recognize same-sex marriage, and give LGBT rights and recognize cultural change, but instead say 'no,' and claim religious freedom, and say we're not going to serve them—I'm not saying that's the same thing. But I heard that same language growing up in the south where people didn't want to serve blacks.

"Discrimination is discrimination, is discrimination," Shaw said. The lecture was powerful indeed.