When I decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016, I met with friends in New York City.
“What are you going to do about those Idaho Neo-Nazis?” my friend Jon asked.
He was thinking of the Aryan Nation that once held a hateful compound near Coeur d’Alene.
“They were driven from Idaho long ago,” I stammered, surprised by the stain on our state that lingers after almost two decades.
Unfortunately, deserved or not, Idaho’s reputation for hate was reinforced on Tuesday last week with news of a 24/7 Wall Street report ranking Idaho second in the country, after Montana, for hate.
The Idaho “Hate Index” is based on our low population (1.7 million), the number of “hate groups” active here (12), and the percentage of the Idaho population that self-identifies as “white” (91.7%).
Based on these statistics, there are 7.1 hate groups per million people in Idaho. Number one, Montana, has 9.6 hate groups per million. Just behind (or ahead?) at number 3, Mississippi has 6.0 per million. Virginia is on the list at number 8 with 4.6.
This is damnable and damning calculus. Damnable because, whether or not accurate, it has been advertised to the nation (and world) that Idaho is a frightening, hateful state. This unjustified ranking has ramifications: among other things, it brings more haters and hate groups to Idaho and turns companies, investors and tourists away.
Want jobs? Stop hate.
Damning because even one hate group is too many and 7.1 per million suggests by comparison to Virginia that a Charlottesville is more likely to happen here.
The horrifying Charlottesville weekend should be a reminder of the urgency of constant and on-going vigilance. We must stave off hate learning, communication, empathy and increased advocacy for human rights.
Happily, among the many individuals and organizations engaged in such efforts in Idaho, two were especially active last week in the aftermath of Charlottesville.
On Tuesday last, as images of Charlottesville and stumbling political leaders filled the news, Idahoans gathered at the Anne Frank Memorial to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary and to break ground for the Marilyn Shuler Classroom for Human Rights to continue Marilyn’s inspiring legacy of teaching respect for others.
The Anne Frank Memorial is a peaceful and profound human-rights teaching park maintained by the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, appropriately named after Bill Wassmuth who, even after his home was bombed, did not shrink from the effort to peacefully drive the Aryans from our state.
“Idaho is too great for hate!” Dan Prinzing, the Executive Director of the Wassmuth Center, declared from the podium during the ceremony at the Memorial.
On Thursday, the Black History Museum, led by its director Phillip Thompson, hosted a cathartic post-Charlottesville community forum to discuss issues of race and strategies to overcome prejudice and bias.
The museum hall was packed, with a standing room only crowd. The image of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. hung prominently over our heads. The crowded room warmed quickly and the air was heavy with post-Charlottesville anguish. The discussion was highly-inclusive and animated. When it was over and as we filed out of the building into the cool of the night, we felt comforted and inspired.
Organizations and events like these speak well of Idaho and the vast majority of Idahoans who love and respect others, regardless of color, race, gender, sexual orientation or economic status. The majority who are willing to focus what makes us the same—our shared humanity, values and purpose–rather than on what makes us different.
Sadly, since November 2016 election, both the Black History Museum and the Anne Frank Memorial have been targets of racist and anti-Semitic vandalism. Closer to home evidence of the need for vigilance.
We will fight these forces of darkness and exercise the muscles of our better nature by participating with and supporting the Wassmuth Center, the Black History Museum and the many other organizations and groups in Idaho, sectarian and non-sectarian, promoting love, respect and compassion for others.
Thank you, Dan. Thank you, Phil. With your help, for human rights, Idaho will win her way to fame.