A white-separatist reading room opened in Salt Lake City Monday afternoon - even though the Legislature, governor, mayor, churches and anti-racism groups had discouraged such action for months.
Dwight McCarthy, leader of the Fellowship of Christian Israel, said he knows many in the state do not welcome his views that the white race is elect and chosen by God. But he said the constitutional freedom of speech allowed him to open his reading room at 1348 E. 33rd South, Suite 201, anyway.Meanwhile, across the street about 60 anti-racism protesters held a rally vowing to use that same freedom of speech to make McCarthy's life miserable. They vowed to use pickets, protests and all else legally possible to fight racism and groups such as McCarthy's.
But the scene was not tense. For example, protester Fred Eldredge and McCarthy had a polite talk as Eldredge asked for directions to a drinking fountain. It was pleasant even though Eldredge carried a sign accusing McCarthy of immorality. McCarthy was recently convicted of soliciting sex.
For almost a year - since the white-separatist Aryan Nations Church announced plans to possibly open a similar reading room in Utah - anti-racism coalitions have fought to prevent such groups from setting up shop in Utah.
They obtained resolutions from the Legislature, governor, mayor, churches and others saying racism is not welcome in Utah. But each resolution recognized the right of freedom of speech to spread such unpopular views.
The protesters won the first round of their war with McCarthy last year. They forced McCarthy's radio show, "The Aryan Nations Hour," off the air after only two weeks. McCarthy, who was then the Utah leader of the Aryan Nations Church, said threats made him pull the show.
Protesters may also be responsible for the Aryan Nations Church still not opening its planned missionary center, originally scheduled to open last spring. Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler, based in Hayden Lake, Idaho, insists that such a center is still planned and should come later this year.
McCarthy left the Aryan Nations this summer after a dispute with Butler and formed his own religious group, which he stops short of calling a church because he says it will not accept donations and has no formal minister.
Its reading room contains literature from several white-supremacist groups, a few sofas and a display of McCarthy's medals from Vietnam. Only one man had come in seeking information. "I expect when the protests die down, people will feel a bit easier about coming in," McCarthy said.
But demonstrators vowed not to let the protests die. Jo Roach, co-chairman of the Western Foundation for Racial Equality and Utahns Against Aryan Nations, said the groups plan a meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in the University of Utah Union to plan exact strategy.
On Monday, they settled for a short rally and a few picket signs - ranging from "No, it's not O-KKK," to "Racism has no right to exist."
Roach said he was satisfied with the 60 or so people who showed up, even though hundreds showed up at similar rallies last year against McCarthy's radio show. "That had more publicity, and we had more time to prepare."
A statement from Roach's groups attacked McCarthy's comments that his new group shouldn't be as controversial as the Aryan Nations because it is more religious in nature - concerned with "Christian Identity" views.
The protesters' statement said, "Other identity churches include: The Order, whose leaders have been convicted of three murders including the machine-gunning of Denver talk show host Alan Berg; the Covenant, Sword and the Arm of the Lord, members of which have been convicted of arson, bombing and criminal racketeering in connection with `church' activities; and the Posse Comitatus, which advocates vigilante tactics and a leader of which killed two federal marshals in North Dakota in 1983.
"By attempting to distance himself from the Aryan Nations, McCarthy has shown us the types of churches he plans to emulate - thus he leaps from the pan to the proverbial fire."
McCarthy, however, said his group believes in "being fair, kind and merciful to all people."
That didn't convince protesters. Even some local politicians joined in attacks of the new reading room.
U.S. Senate candidate Brian Moss, a Democrat, said, "We cannot battle active bigotry with quiet condemnation. If Dwight McCarthy is willing to stand for racial hatred, then we must be willing to stand for racial unity."
And Robert Stringham, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 3rd District, told protesters that it was ironic that McCarthy's reading room opened the day after a huge march marked the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. "We will have equality without racism in this state."