Wassmuth's story offers hope and path for ending hate speech

The shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords prompted a welcome call on Meet the Press, by Congress members from both sides of the isle, including Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, for a restoration of civility in our political debates.

This will not be an easy task. The demonization of political opponents has turned into a cottage industry of hate that benefits many from both right and left.

And the emotions of regular people have been raised to a frenzy by the politics of fear from all sides of the debate. But Idaho can offer a model for taking on the worst elements.

No matter what the motivation of the shooter, who killed six and wounded Giffords and more than a dozen others, the incident has prompted a national discussion that is long overdue.

There was a time not long ago when Idaho was viewed as the center of the right-wing hate movement in the United States. But even as our politics has become more conservative, we have excised the hate-mongers and our image as a refuge for neo-Nazis.

We had become a base for these people because of our tolerance and our basic “leave-us-alone” attitude. But when we as a state realized where it had taken us, we shifted gears led by leaders like Phil Batt and Bill Wassmuth.

Richard Butler, a former aeronautics engineer who established the Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations, moved his headquarters to Hayden Lake in north Idaho in the early 80s. He declared his goal as the creation of an "Aryan homeland" in the Pacific Northwest.

Every summer he held a festival that attracted racists and religious zealots from the Ku Klux Klan to skinheads. The gathering made for ugly words and ugly headlines.

His followers killed Denver radio personality Alan Berg, robbed banks and spread fear throughout the West.

They were not politically powerful, but they reached into the national psyche so well that when TV or movies featured neo-Nazi character they always were from Idaho. Butler is dead now but his followers are still around but they are dispursed.

Butler was defeated by a lot of people but it was Bill Wassmuth, leader of a group of Coeur d'Alene, citizens who became fed up with Butler's slurs and threats of violence, who first said enough. He helped Idaho find its freedom from hate.

Wassmuth went on television to denounce Butler in 1986. The Catholic priest was sitting in his living room when a pipe bomb exploded at the kitchen door.

His attackers had planned to toss the bomb through his living room window and kill him, one later confessed. Fortunately, they changed their minds, and Wassmuth was shaken up but not injured. He was also not intimidated into silence.

Two weeks later, after three more bombs exploded at Coeur d'Alene businesses, Wassmuth responded by organizing a rally to reconfirm the community's commitment to human rights. He stood up to Butler, who called him "a closet Jew," and to threats of more violence.

Eventually, the bombers were arrested and the terror tactics ended. Though Butler was never legally linked to the attacks, his voice was weakened.

Wassmuth went on to form the six-state Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, which stretched into Colorado, carrying on the fight against racism and intolerance through the 1990s, when militia groups and so-called Christian-identity churches took the mantle of intolerance from Butler.

Wassmuth laid the groundwork that made Westerners look into their own souls. He made political and business leaders uncomfortable, forcing them to declare themselves and join the fight.

He showed how the region's wider perception of intolerance was hurting efforts at economic development. When Phil Batt was elected governor in 1994, he took up the cause to clear the taint of hate from Idaho’s image.

He put the state government behind the effort in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and drew a line for the state’s tolerance between those who would sell hate and the rest of us. Batt's courage along with his clear sense of what was right made others follow his example.

Wassmuth died in 2002 just before Boise dedicated the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. But his movement lives on.

His story and Idaho’s story should give us hope that if leaders like the Congress members on the Meet the Press step up, we can bring people to look into their hearts to respect all of our fellow human beings while speaking out on what we hold dear.

But it will take leadership and courage.

Idaho Love

Just to be clear Rocky, I don't hate you.
I hate your writing.

Labrador ? Really?

Labrador was the one who said we can't let this stifle our free speech. I really doubt that Mr Tea Party intends to tone down any of the hate speech that the teabaggers are known for.

Really?

You use the word "teabaggers" in your comment that is critical of hate speech? Should we censure your comments as well since clearly, you intended to disparage any of those who agree with the tea party.

You Must Learn the Lefts Lingo.....

You see, the Left can say anything hateful they want and they say Freedom of Speech.....If we say Obama's policies are hurting this country, then we will be listed under hate crimes......We are suppose to shutup when they talk and spew false accusations and hate against conservatives.....so lets be quiet....

Enough of the...

straw-man arguments. It is an absolute myth that criticism of a policy is the same as criticizing the individual.

Statesman staff...why is this language still permitted?

"Teaba&&er" Why is such a vulgar and offensive term still allowed on this site?

Danny Popkey?

Danny Popkey?

The Left Hates....

The Bush era brought alot of hatred from the left....Reagan was almost assassinated and the left joked about it....I no longer watch CNN or MSNBC because of its hatred towards conservative.....the left immediately made this tradgedy a political issue....You cannot watch anything without the Left blaming the Right.....Trust me, as of now this wacko kid is being taught what to say in court.....

Trust you ?

Just where did you get this information ? I wouldn't buy a used car on that old "trust me" nonsense so perhaps you could , just this once , tell us where you are getting this information . You can't of course and your post is just another reason "we" find it so hard to find common ground ----------- one lie stacked on top of many others , till thats all it is lies and rhetoric .

The thing I find interesting

The thing I find interesting in this whole discussion is that media members like Barker seem to be promoting improved political discourse but at the same time aren't able to see their role in creating our current environment of hostility. Now while I realize that I have been less than civil at times on this forum I believe that it has become common practice among news providers to mix their opinion with hard news. I believe this has fueled the charged political climate. With that in mind, I've seen more than one article written by Barker than could easily be construed as charged. What I would like to see is a genuine mea culpa from media members like Barker. I think that we won't see real change in discourse until that occurs.

Tea Party Nation Response

"Showing no sign of tamping down on divisive political rhetoric in the wake of the shooting of 20 people that left six dead in Tuscon Saturday, the Tea Party Nation group e-mailed its members Sunday warning them they would be called upon to fight leftists in the days ahead and defend their movement.

TPN founder Judson Phillips, in an article linked off the e-mail "The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and the left's attack on the Tea Party movement," described the shooter as "a leftist lunatic" and Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik as a "leftist sheriff" who "was one of the first to start in on the liberal attack." Phillips urged tea party supporters to blame liberals for the attack on centrist Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was shot through the head and is now fighting for her life, as a means of defending the tea party movement's recent electoral gains.

"The hard left is going to try and silence the Tea Party movement by blaming us for this," he wrote. Clinton used the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to "blame conservative talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh" and "The tactic worked then, backing conservatives off and possibly helping to ensure a second Clinton term."

"The left is coming and will hit us hard on this. We need to push back harder with the simple truth. The shooter was a liberal lunatic. Emphasis on both words," he wrote."

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/01/tea-party-group-blames-leftist-for-giffords-shooting/69153/

Not Optimistic

I gather from some of the posts preceding yours that there are those that cannot distinguish between content and tone. Judson Phillips doesn't get it, nor does "ugly". Perhaps the problem is a lack of critical thinking skills or a limited vocabulary. Who knows. But I suggest that those who interpret an appeal to civility as an attack on the First Amendment are not likely to be persuaded by your argument.

I Agree with The Tea Party

The first thing out of the Sheriffs mouth was a political statement...Where was the Sheriff and the Left when the Muslim murdered 27 soldiers at Fort Hood?....this strategy will backfire on the Left.....Why not just mourn the tradgedy together.....

I knew this priest personally.

As one who personally knew Fr. Bill, I feel confident in stating he would never make the assumption of hate this author did, implying public voices on the right are to blame with what he (Barker) calls "hate speech". I believe he would state this violence was not about "civility in political debates", but instead was about a deeply troubled individual. He would not participate in using this tragedy to accuse those who are not to blame. He would seek compassion at all fronts, and never try to use this for political gain.

Shame on you Rocky Barker.

Both sides participate in hate speech

I do not purport to know what Bill Wass muth would say about this incident. All I am saying is that he offered a model in how to provide leadership in standing up to hate. If you re-read my piece you will note I said both sides contribute to the current dialogue.

Thank you

Thank you for pointing out you do not know what Bill would have said and that, in fact, you did not know him. However, your general point was clear. Your point was the same one being heard on MSNBC and from liberal bloggers; "the root of this attack is the conservative movement and particularly the Tea Party". I suppose that is how the Left side participated the last couple of days in hate speech.

You are only reading what you want

I interviewed Wass muth several times. This is how I came to admire him. I also admire Phil Batt's political courage that continues.

However you keep missing my point. Perhaps you didn't read these lines:

"The demonization of political opponents has turned into a cottage industry of hate that benefits many from both right and left.

And the emotions of regular people have been raised to a frenzy by the politics of fear from all sides of the debate. But Idaho can offer a model for taking on the worst elements.

No matter what the motivation of the shooter, who killed six and wounded Giffords and more than a dozen others, the incident has prompted a national discussion that is long overdue."

If your view is we don't need this discussion then fine, we disagree. But don't try to lump me on one side in the debate. I refuse to take sides, except against hate and ignorance.

Seems to me you are pretty sensitive to this subject.

Is it that the 'truth hurts'?

Tell you what, you bring me 10 statements from the last year of the Democrats or their supporters that you think were inciting violence or hate. I'll bring you 10 from Republicans, Tea Party, or supporters.

I'll give you one. Alan Grayson called his opponent 'Taliban Dan'. I personally think that was over the top. Now you only have 9 to go.

"Ignorance and prejudice, and fear go hand in hand." Neil Peart

Boisepoet.....

there are many.....Calling Bush a racist cause he didn't agree with the Housing Loans by Dems in 2006 wasn't good....Palin has recieved many long before this....go to sleep....you need a nap.....To Be or Not To Be....

If they bring a knife we will bring a gun

Didn't Obama say that?

Truth is hard to come by

Churchill maybe, it's hardly an original though.

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

When speaking of Richard

When speaking of Richard Butler, you claim:

"His followers killed Denver radio personality Alan Berg, robbed banks and spread fear throughout the West."

It isn't accurate to characterize The Order as "followers" of Butler. Some individuals in that group were associated with Butler, but the leader of The Order, Robert Mathews, was a follower of Dr. William Pierce, founder of the National Alliance.

William Pierce predicted things like 9/11 (he warned his followers to stay out of tall buildings in New York), the rising alienation of the US populace, the collapse of the economic system, and... "hate speech" laws.

See, these "evil neo-Nazis" like Pierce claimed, and claim, that the news/entertainment media in the United States is controlled by Jews, and according to a Jewish writer for the LA Times they're right:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-stein19-2008dec19,0,4676183.column

The Jews already have made it illegal to question the details of their "Holocaust" story in Canada and much of Europe. Now they are making their final push - to outlaw free speech in the United States of America. It will be illegal to criticize Jews soon.

I welcome this development as it just shows how desperate the System is.

Where was the left (Statesman) when.....

1. a movie and books were released entitled "The Assination of President George W. Bush" -- those were considered "art" and "free speech".
2. Army Major Nidal Malik Hassan, a Muslim, killed 13 and wounded 30 at Fort Hood -- we were told to be sensitive to Muslims and not to jump to any conclusions.
I don't remember the President and First Lady leading a moment of national silence from the White House for those killed at Fort Hood. I guess its easier if the killer is a white guy - no one is offended by speculating on motive and what our "leaders" must do to lead us out of this national tragedy when these murderers are Nazis, psychos and anarchists and look like McVey, Butler and now Loughner. It's really tough for the left when "they" are not white guys - but their victims are just as dead. The double standard imposed by the left (media) is truly a remarkable thing to witness.

"...Assassination...."

not assination.

And neither of you were CENSORED for the letter combinations!

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

Do you even read what you write?

Besides not making sense, you throw in half truths and innuendo, as well as trying to make comparisons to things that are not equal. I suppose that you "forgot" that President Obama spoke at a memorial service for the victims of the Ft. Hood shooting. Your comment is exactly what this story is referring to.

"Army Major Nidal Malik

"Army Major Nidal Malik Hassan, a Muslim, killed 13 and wounded 30 at Fort Hood -- we were told to be sensitive to Muslims and not to jump to any conclusions."

The Major wasn't White, so he cannot be demonized.

Speaking of the Major: isn't "diversity our strength?"

One could accuse

One could accuse the Idaho Statesman of being an amateur Left Wing propaganda rag. That would not be correct. The "journalists" get paid.

Are FU**KING KINDDIN me

Are FU**KING KINDDIN me Barker.....!!!!

....This state is a serious hot bed of intolerance and bigotry....

..... at neighborhood levels across Idaho......rural Idaho towns are over flowing with bigotry......its found in local schools.......local government...political party rallies...... and state government...... conservative GOP leaders consistently fail to speak about tolerance in public for fear of alienating the right wing lunatic social conservatives who cloak there hate in extremist beliefs..........

....just look back at the last legislative session.........republican leaders.......used wild outright lies of bigotry......claims that the brown people threatened our states existence and elections......yet there is no record voter fraud in Idaho over 100 years......

...GOP leaders meet and worked with known racist Kris Kobach who wrote the "paper please" legislation and attempted to pass it before Arizona did.......but it failed by only a few votes.........the bigots of the GOP.....are preparing to bring that legislation up again in this session........and have the votes to pass it....

Idaho's GOP operates as entity of intolerance and bigotry.....they regularly look to use government power and legislation to ensure white dominance over a secular multicultural free society.....

.....however the one's to fear are the one's who willfully cloak themselves as social conservatives and justify there blatant hate and intolerance with the fake moral high ground found in there religious values ....they hide in the shadows.........of everyday life demonizing neighbors and seeking government rules to enforce there hateful beliefs...

Idaho is loaded with people who think they have the the right to be intolerant........that its OK to be a bigot....... and hate anyone different......

.....Idaho is far from being absolved of hate or its white power past......all over Idaho there are bigot laden radio broadcasts promoting white intolerance.......remember when we had a so-called nice white faith based eastern Idaho community and its small children chanted death to our new multi-cultural president.......

Hardworking everyday Idahoans must stand against the this prevalent attitude found across Idaho that intolerance, bigotry and hate is acceptable......it is not!.........your faith doesn't excuse you from the law of the land or justify your racism....

Expose these intolerant bigots of your communities remove them from the shadows to light of day.......make them defend hate in the public square......

Barker you are oh so wrong...and it appear severely out of touch with reality...

What a....

pinhead.....go to oregon...

Hmmm...

truth hurts does it?

Hayseed....

What truth? We live in democracy where people vote..Idaho is mostly republican because that is how people voted...Minnesota and Massachusets is mostly democrat because that is how the people voted....maybe you can help Reid by eliminating democracy and get rid of Tea Party by 2012....

No refutation of assertions with facts or even well backed

opinions. Just 'that's how we vote'...
If you need help finding a program to finish your GED, let me know.

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

GED...try alittle higher dude

sorry dude....I have a MS degree.....

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,
I say that to you my lovely MacBeth.
Fore Score and Seven years ago is my
reasons of To Be or Not To Be,
my sweet Juliet.

Get a nap poet....wake up tomorrow and shake hands....

finally

Bravo on the poem!

That's a great example for you to try to follow Poet.

If you are truly educated, then show it!

Enough with the Jethro act.

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

I'm not cheap and neither is he but I won't give it away lk that

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

Shut up and fly a kite.

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

I hope we don't see this

I hope we don't see this rant on National TV in a year or so while the commentators are trying to figure out at what point you snapped. Man... calm down and breathe.

Any point you may have had is gone

Any point you may have had is quickly negated by your headline and subsequently your tone.

have a bar fight and get over it.

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year

I HATE SPEECHES!

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Happy Jesus Thing and a Chinese New Year