I encountered my first Nazi in the summer of 1992 at the age of 12. I was wandering around a flea market on U.S. 95 near my childhood home in Sagle, Idaho. Never heard of Sagle? I'm not surprised. It's an unincorporated community a few miles south of Sandpoint in the Idaho panhandle. That summer was (literally) in the middle of one of the tensest times in the history of U.S. anti-government radicalism. In the space of a few weeks, the Ruby Ridge standoff took place about 40 miles north of my house and, about 40 miles to the south, near Hayden, late-Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler hosted a neo-Nazi "world congress."
Back in Sagle, I was trawling the flea market looking for Dean Koontz books. I ended up in a stall turning over copies of The Turner Diaries and weird Jud Suss-style comic books. As I was flipping the pages of some apocalyptic tract on "the coming race war," I heard my mom shout "Zachary Jon Clayton Hagadone!" She used my full name, so I knew it was serious. I looked up to see her waving her arms and yelling for me to get away from the table of books I was browsing. Confused, I glanced around and noticed whose turf I was on. Parked a few feet away was a robin's egg blue school bus, and lounging around the bus, crushing cigarettes and leering at passersby, were a couple of 20-something skinheads wearing similarly blue military-style shirts with black cross straps and belts, black pants and big, black boots. I booked it.
In the years following, the Aryan Nations and Ruby Ridge gradually fell out of the daily consciousness in northern Idaho, but not without a lot of work by human rights advocates. Now, 25 years later and in the midst of the Donald Trump presidency, militant bumpkinism is back in vogue. Unpopular speech is still free speech, but based on our past, how we address rising far-right, nationalist and racist rhetoric is vital to defusing it. Finding a balance between pushing back and protecting rights on the Boise State University campus is the subject of a report on Page 6 by Boise Weekly staff writer Harrison Berry.
While it's important to remember we've come a long way since summer '92, it's equally important to realize progress is sustained in large part by continuing the conversation.