Riverton, Wyo. Confronts Church of the Creator — and Own Past
NPR, Feb. 10, 2003
Feb. 10, 2003 — The quiet Wyoming town of Riverton — population 10,000 — got a shock recently: their town was about to become the headquarters of the World Church of the Creator, a group associated with white supremacy and racial violence.
There was swift condemnation of the Church and its beliefs. But as NPR’s Howard Berkes reports, the citizens of Riverton continue to struggle over the best way to respond. City boosters point with pride to the area’s rich Native American heritiage. But Matt Hale wrote to his followers to pursue legal, non-violent means to reach church goals — and stay out of jail. But now Hale is behind bars himself, accused of conspiring to kill a federal judge.
Berkes, in informal chats with Riverton residents, found many people have mixed feelings about Kroenke and the church. They support the church’s First Amendment rights to exist and for church members to hold any opinions they choose — but a history of violent acts by some church members gives them pause.
“We do not have a right to go and lynch them — we just don’t,” says Fred Bayher, a painting contractor from the nearby town of Lander. “But we do have a right to perhaps make them a little less comfortable. And frankly, when it comes to Nazis, I’m a little less concerned with their rights than I am with the rights of, shall I just say, decent people.”
The Riverton Daily Ranger, the region’s local newspaper, has published numerous articles detailing the history of the Church of the Creator, and has come out against the church in its editorial pages. The paper also published a tolerance pledge signed by 300 citizens. The local Chamber of Commerce also took up the cause, sponsoring workshops on diversity.
Tim Thorson of the Chamber of Commerce says the city has to confront its own legacy of intolerance. “There was a time when businesses had signs in their stores saying ‘no Indians.’ That happened here… Our focus is on trying to let the people that live here know that this is a safe place to be. And give them good reason to feel safe.”