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Warts and All

February 12, 2014


Warts and All

I know exactly where I was on April 20, 2000: huddled under an awning on Sherman Ave. in downtown Coeur d'Alene. It was cold and drizzling rain, but that hadn't stopped hundreds of people from crowding the street to counter-protest the Aryan Nations, on the march in commemoration of Adolf Hitler's 111th birthday.

The crowds on the sidewalk dwarfed the marchers, who couldn't have numbered more than two dozen--mostly young guys with bulky black jackets and shaved heads, a few plainly dressed women trailing kids and, of course, Richard Butler, the California-born faux fuehrer who had been grabbing headlines from his Hayden-area headquarters since the late '70s.

The way I remember it, Butler was sitting up in the backseat of a big, white convertible wearing one of those billowing suits that made him look like a grandfatherly vacuum salesman.

I had dragged my then-girlfriend (now wife) up from our liberal arts college in Caldwell to take in the spectacle. Thinking back on it, it was the first time she--a native of Portland, Ore.--had visited North Idaho, and certainly the first time she'd met my family in Sandpoint. It wasn't the most romantic way to introduce her to my home, but that's what it means to be an Idahoan: warts and all.

The whole Nazi march was a farce, of course. For all their menacing symbolism, clenched jaws and the sewage coming from Butler's megaphone, the Aryan Nations were nearly finished in North Idaho. But the fact that the organization had existed at all said plenty about our little corner of heaven.

Butler died in 2004, but the story of racism in Idaho didn't begin or end with him--bigotry is in our bones as a state and it would be dangerously foolish to ignore that fact.

The latest installment of The Blue Review, inserted in this week's Boise Weekly, looks Idaho's long history of racial prejudice square in the face--from the state's resistance to civil rights legislation to anti-Hispanic bias in education and, of course, the legacy of Richard Butler.

Lest we think these are dusty cautionary tales, we need look no further than current efforts to deny basic rights to members of the LGBT community, examined through side-by-side editorials on Page 7.

This week's BW is heavy reading, for sure, but all the more important if we're going to understand--and love--this place, warts and all.