COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (Apr. 24)
Over 1,000 demonstrators marched in protest here against a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Hitler’s birth, dwarfing less than a hundred Skinheads and white supremacists who were gathered for the commemoration.
There were no disturbances and no major arrests, as the marchers conducted a seven-mile Walk for Racial Equality on Saturday, watched over by Idaho state police on foot, in squad cars, on horseback and from helicopters.
The Skinheads present were responding to the invitation of Richard Butler, head of the Aryan Nations church, to come to observe the April 20th anniversary of Hitler’s birth.
About 15 Skinheads made the trip to the church’s Hayden Lake, Idaho, compound for a three-day national conference that included a cross-burning on Saturday night.
Of the more than 1,000 people who participated in the protest march, only about 50 were Jewish. Many of them attended the event with other groups, such as the Rainbow Coalition, the United Front Against Fascism and gay rights organizations.
Some spent part of the day walking behind a Jewish banner, but no Jewish groups were in evidence despite the New Jewish Agenda’s last-minute decision to co-sponsor the event.
Some of the Jewish demonstrators who participated in Saturday’s rally decried the lack of Jewish involvement in the protest as part of a disturbing trend.
“There is a definite lack of mainstream Jewish participation in progressive movements,” said demonstrator Ilene Samowitz, who participated as a member of a Seattle-based lesbian rights group.
Pointing out what she sees as a decreasing Jewish involvement in even basic civil rights organizations, Samowitz said many American Jews have turned their attention to the Palestinian uprising in Israel, denouncing or supporting each new development and neglecting domestic issues.
ADL STAYS AWAY
One of the groups who refused to participate in the demonstration was the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Spokesman Brad Rind explained it was “to deny a lot of free publicity to Butler and his gang.
“The question wasn’t whether somebody’s going to participate in progressive movements, it’s how to respond to racist movements,” said Rind, assistant regional director for the ADL’s Pacific Northwest Regional Office.
His comments reflect the ongoing debate over the best strategy to deal with the presence of hate groups such as the Skinheads and the white supremacist Aryan Nations Church of Jesus Christ-Christian.
Samowitz and most of the demonstrators said they believed the best way to counter the event was with visible and vocal protest.
“Every time we have the opportunity to say ‘no’ (to hate groups), we should say no,” she said.
Rind disagreed, saying it is better to track the groups and make available information on such groups to anyone who requests it.
“We have attempted to approach this thing in a responsible way without (unintentionally) recruiting for these groups,” he said.
Luma Nichol, one of the organizers of the anti-Skinhead protest on Whidbey Island late last year and a member of the Freedom Socialist Party in Seattle, said the only way to push neo-Nazi groups out of the Northwest is to let them know they are not wanted.
Holding counterdemonstrations any time members of such organizations gather is one of the best ways to do it. “There’s no peaceful coexistence with Nazis. It’s not acceptable,” she said, because it only took a handful of Nazis to bring Hitler to power. “We are committed to not repeat the mistakes of the 1930s.”
Not all civil rights leaders in the area agreed with her approach, though. Many activists in Coeur d’Alene, nearby Spokane and neighboring communities did not participate in the walk, choosing instead to tie orange ribbons around telephone poles, car antennas and other objects as symbols to relay the same message.
An interfaith service in Coeur d’Alene was also held, featuring Rabbi Robert Tabak, of Temple Beth Shalom in nearby Spokane, Wash.