Religious and civil rights leaders and law enforcement officials in several Rocky Mountain states have formed a coalition to combat the influence of white supremacist groups.
The organization, called the Mountain States Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, is patterned after a similar group in the Northwest that plans a protest this weekend against a planned convention of neo-Nazi skinheads in northern Idaho."We decided to organize rather than agonize," said the Rev. Gilbert J. Horn of Denver, the chairman of the Rocky Mountain coalition.
Other officers include human rights agency representatives from Colorado, New Mexico and South Dakota; the Wyoming secretary of state; the Rev. France Davis, a Baptist pastor from Salt Lake City; and Joyce Fox Bignell, a regional officer of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Horn, executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, said the need for a coalition to combat hate groups became evident after a cross was burned in 1987 at a home in suburban Denver. There also have been recent anti-Semitic incidents at Jewish synagogues, and Jewish talk show host Alan Berg was gunned down by neo-Nazis in front of his home earlier in this decade.
Horn said the coalition was a natural outgrowth of the shared concern of religious, law enforcement and human rights leaders.
He said the coalition wants to make certain that the public realizes that isolated acts by hate groups, if not responded to, can breed increased activity.
"When you've got a problem, you don't say, `If I ignore it, it'll go away,' " Horn said. "You name it like we name the devil and try to drive the devil out."
He said if there is not enough evidence of illegal acts by hate groups, the coalition can "say publicly there certainly was a clear intention to terrorize or intimidate." He cited a recent incident in the small eastern Colorado town of Cheyenne Wells in which a black teacher quit his job because he feared racial attacks.
Last year, Horn pointed out, the Colorado Legislature adopted a law banning intimidation or harassment because of race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin.
The coalition wants to see police officers trained to recognize racial motivations in cases of harassment, said another Mountain States Coalition leader, Wilbur Reed of the Justice Department regional office in Denver.
The Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, the model for the mountain states group, was formed to combat the neo-Nazi activities of the Ayran Nations in northern Idaho. Members of an Aryan Nations splinter group were tied to the Alan Berg killing.
The Northwest coalition is opposing this weekend's skinhead conference at the Aryan Nations headquarters in Hayden Lake, Idaho, by asking Gov. Cecil Andrus to declare Human Rights week during a Coeur d'Alene visit. The group also plans to tie 6,500 orange ribbons on trees to signify support of human rights and to hold an interfaith church service.