Fresh air of optimism chases ghosts of hatred

Seatlle Times, July 31, 2002 (Editorial) Link

HAYDEN, Idaho — The farm house was over there, my guide explained. The barn was there, the office nearby, the watchtower beyond, near the edge of the field.

On a recent, summer-perfect day, it was hard to imagine that this lovely place, a meadow ringed by tall trees in the rolling hills of the Idaho Panhandle, was for nearly three decades the headquarters of hate in the Northwest.

Today, all that’s left is a rickety wooden platform where Richard Butler, leader of the now-defunct Aryan NationsOff-site Link, once stood to spew his vile message to a small band of misfit followers.

Butler lost the property after a $6.3-million court judgment against him and the Aryan Nations two years ago. Since then, the notorious site has been thoroughly cleansed. Last summer, local firefighters used it for training, burning the 10 buildings. Two large, healthy evergreens were removed because someone had carved swastikas in the their trunks.

Today, the remote 20-acre parcel is genuinely deserving of its new name, Peace Park. No longer a harbor for hate, it now serves as silent testimony to a community of people who fought hate, and won.

But this story is far from over. Just as Peace Park is about the future, not the past, human-rights advocates around here are looking ahead, not back.

The most significant work, however, is being done where it all began. One unanswered question about the Aryan Nations episode in North Idaho is: Could it happen again?

Ongoing human-rights efforts are preventive medicine, inoculation against this region ever again becoming a haven for hate.

At the outset, new efforts are being funded by Idaho native Greg Carr, now of Boston. He is sending some of the fortune he made at Prodigy, Inc. back home to seed human-rights efforts and institutions across the state.

He purchased the former Aryan Nations compound, spent $25,000 on its cleanup and gave it to the North Idaho College Foundation. The college, based in Coeur d’Alene, will use it as an outdoor classroom and laboratory, possibly for political-science lectures as well as environmental study.

Carr is funding the startup of a new organization established to create a Human Rights Center in Coeur d’Alene. The center’s mission is “to promote human rights as an essential element of a just and successful democracy.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday August 1, 2002.
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