The leader of a white supremacist group opened his compound to reporters to show "we're not butchering people out here," while an ally expressed sympathy for Jesse Jackson.
Richard Butler, leader of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian (Aryan Nations), said Thursday the rest of the three-day World Aryan Congress would be closed to reporters."We thought we'd try to make friends with the press so all could see we're not out here butchering people, we're not hanging anyone, we're not running M-4 tanks over anyone, or nothing else," Butler said at a news conference.
In the past the compound north of Coeur d'Alene has reportedly been used for paramilitary training by white supremacist groups.
After passing through a guarded gate, reporters were led to a wooden deck in front of Butler's church, where leaders of U.S. and Canadian groups called for establishment of a whites-only homeland in northern Idaho.
Joining Butler was Robert Miles, leader of a white separatist congregation in Cohoctah, Mich., and a co-defendant in a seditious conspiracy trial that ended in their acquittal last March in Fort Smith, Ark.
The three-day congress traditionally has drawn members of the Ku Klux Klan, Christian Identity and other white separatist and neo-Nazi groups. Among those attending this year are about a dozen neo-Nazi "skinheads."
Those appearing at the press session included Stanley McCollum, grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama; Col. Gordon "Jack" Mohr of Mississippi, who said he was affiliated with the White Patriot Party, and Harold Von Braunhut, a Maryland inventor and frequent contributor to right-wing causes.
Also there were Houston attorney Kirk Lyons, who defended Klan leader Louis Beam at the sedition trial, and Canadian Klan representatives Terry Long and John Ross Taylor, who criticized their country's new anti-hate laws.
Miles expressed sympathy for Jackson, whose bid for the Democratic presidential nomination is all but dead.
"We'd probably like to extend our condolences to Jesse Jackson for the treatment that he was rendered by the professional politicians," Miles said. "As Klansmen, we'd offer a letter of sympathy to him.
"We've always known the two-party system has really been a single body with two faces, so it really doesn't matter to the workers or the farmers which party is which at the conventions."
Butler said the congress was called to "accomplish a political movement" by bringing together various white supremacist groups. He said publicity on the trial had helped recruiting efforts, but Kootenai County Undersheriff Larry Broadbent was dubious.
"I think that nationally, the statistics (of white supremacist involvement) seem to be declining," said Broadbent, who has monitored white supremacist activity for years. "That doesn't mean it's entirely dead.
"I'm sure they're trying to figure out ways to resurrect that. I don't know if that will be accomplished or not."
Butler said he expects about 300 people to attend the gathering.