Anti-racism demonstrators Saturday morning began their 7-mile "Walk for Racial Equality" to protest a nearby white supremacist conference of neo-Nazi youth.
Carrying banners that proclaimed "Celebrate Diversity" and "No Aryan Homeland in Our Home," the estimated 500, mostly young, demonstrators listened to speeches by representatives of numerous groups targeted by white supremacists.Meanwhile, police worked to head off any potential confrontations between the two groups.
The potential for violence caused some human rights groups to boycott the march, which was to end about two miles from the Aryan Nations compound where white supremacists are hosting a three-day conference of neo-Nazi youths.
As many as 2,000 demonstrators were expected for the march from Coeur D'Alene to a field seven miles north, but organizers say opposition by some mainstream human rights groups and cloudy skies and 47-degree weather may have kept the numbers down.
The marchers came from throughout the Pacific Northwest and represented such groups as gay and lesbian activists, the Washington state Rainbow Coalition, and People Opposed to South African Apartheid. White supremacists canceled a march of their own, saying the neo-Nazi skinheads did not want to be exposed to those groups.
Law enforcement agencies throughout northern Idaho were on alert in the event of trouble, but a spokesman said officers hoped for a quiet event.
"The Kootenai County sheriff's office is prepared for any unusual occurrence," Capt. Tom Dickson said Friday. "We don't anticipate any protesters' (confrontations). We do not anticipate any arrests."
To prevent potential conflicts, sheriff's deputies and officers from the Idaho State Police and Coeur d'Alene Police planned a show of force around the anti-racism marchers.
The neo-Nazi youths, estimated at fewer than 100, were staying at the 30-acre ranch of Richard Butler, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, Aryan Nations, a white supremacist organization that wants to turn the Northwest into a "whites only" homeland.
Lisa Anderson, organizer of Citizens for Nonviolent Action Against Racism, the Coeur d'Alene-based group sponsoring the march, said she expected few problems.
Although the march has been endorsed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, The New Jewish Agenda and Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, groups such as the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith and northern Idaho human relations task forces stayed away.
Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus refused to endorse the march, echoing fears of human rights groups that it could promote violence and gives the neo-Nazis more publicity.