The organizer of a gathering of neo-Nazi "skinheads" says it will proceed in April as planned, despite a request from area officials to drop the idea.
The Rev. Richard Butler, who is leader of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations, said Wednesday he plans to hold the session as scheduled despite objections from six area mayors and the Kootenai County Commission chairman.Coeur d'Alene Mayor Ray Stone said he and other area mayors wrote Butler to urge him to drop his invitation for what would be the first national skinhead conference at his Aryan Nations compound, Hayden Lake.
The conference is expected to attract 100-250 skinheads, mostly young men who shave their heads and share often-violent white supremacist beliefs, said Norm Gissell, chairman of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.
Skinheads have been linked to a number of violent acts, including the 1987 beating death of an Ethiopian man in Portland, Ore.
"Why he wants to hold a conference with them is difficult to fathom," Gissell said. "I just don't think he understands the element of violence that the skinheads have entered into in the last several years."
But in an interview, Butler said the city fathers are forgetting the constitutionally guaranteed freedom to assemble.
"This is very confusing. It brings questions to my mind why they are welcoming the black youth gangs like the Bloods and Crips into Coeur d'Alene, but won't welcome the white youth," said Butler. "The only racial incident I know of in the last three years in northern Idaho was when some blacks came over from Spokane and attacked three white youths in Coeur d'Alene."
Butler said he will tell the city leaders he has no plans to cancel the gathering. He noted that members of the "Aryan Youth" have participated in Aryan World Congress gatherings at Hayden Lake the last five or six years "and now all the sudden the city fathers are upset about white youth coming here. Why they would single out the white youth and give the non-whites the green light I don't know."
Butler attended a skinhead gathering last month on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Robert Mathews. Mathews was a former Aryan Nations follower who founded a group known as "The Order" to pursue his dream of violently overthrowing the government and establishing an all-white homeland in the Northwest.
Mathews died in a fiery shootout with FBI agents. The Order was smashed with the subsequent arrest and imprisonment of virtually all its known members, many after being convicted in Seattle of racketeering. Members of an offshoot, known as The Order II, also have been convicted of related federal charges.