THE GHOST OF RICHARD BUTLER IN THE AGE OF TRUMP
By Christian Rose
Recently, some Sandpoint residents woke up on a Sunday morning to find racist fliers had been dropped in their driveways. I’m skeptical they were left by actual racists. It doesn’t feel particularly cathartic to admit that, but I think I have good reason to wonder.
Over the past few weeks two high-profile “hate crimes” have been proven to be manufactured by left-wing activists intent on manufacturing a false narrative that racists are becoming emboldened due to Donald Trump’s election win. It’s a sick thing to construct a hate crime hoax for any reason. But these types of tactics are proving a potent weapon for activists desperate to prove the president and his supporters are racist, and by extension delegitimize him as he attempts to implement his agenda.
Since November there have been 42 documented cases of false hate crimes. There were 51 total false reports in all of 2016; 21 in November, right after the election. In 2015, the monthly average was just slightly over 1.5.
One of the most high-profile false hate crimes was reported by a church organist in Bean Blossom, Ind. George Stang claimed that when he arrived at work early last November he found someone had spray painted swastikas, the words “Heil Trump” and a gay slur on the side of St. David’s Episcopal Church. The national media swarmed and reported breathlessly. They were quick to link the act a result of the racist right’s new found “proponent” in the White House.
It was all too perfect, being right after the election when emotions were still high. But it was a fraud. Stang admitted recently to the police in Brown County that he’d made the whole thing up. He had actually spray painted the racist effigies on the church. The national media has been silent.
If only this were a one-off. Sadly no. Last week the Star Tribune in Minnesota reported that St. Olaf College President, David Anderson admitted that a student had left a racist note on the windshield of black student’s car as an apparent “strategy to draw attention to concerns about the campus climate.” The student body felt threatened. But it too was 100-percent false. Again the national media failed to follow-up.
I find no pleasure in this, but I could on and on. It’s nauseating, especially in the context of North Idaho’s past. Those of us old enough to remember Ruby Ridge, Richard Butler and the parade of shaved heads every year in Coeur d’Alene can attest we’ve come a long way. There’s no place in our community for this type of duplicity.
It would be a fair point to insist that a rise of hate crime hoaxes in other parts of the country isn’t necessarily proof that Sandpoint’s recent issues are false. But it’s apparent to me that there isn’t a real desire to find out who actually dropped the fliers. In fact, shortly after the incident occurred, I offered $1,000 to anyone who provided authorities information that led the arrest and conviction of those responsible. I forwarded that reward offer to the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force via Facebook and asked that they share it with their followers. To this day, they haven’t responded to my offer, or even bothered to share the post. Since then, I’ve raised the reward to $5,000. Still nothing.
It would be disappointing to find that the fliers left around Sandpoint were planted by left-wing activists, not by actual racists. But it would be even more discouraging to find out we still have an actual organized racist group living in Bonner County. Either way, sadly, someone has tarnished our community, and it’s high time we got to the truth.
CIVIL DISCOURSE THE BEST WAY TO COMBAT DIFFERING VIEWS
By Brenda Hammond
Many people have approached the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force (BCHRTF), wondering about the meaning and ramifications of the racist/antisemitic flyers that have been thrown on Sandpoint lawns and porches, as well as the hateful and slanderous flyers about our mayor that have been received through the mail. The flyers claim to have their origin with the most currently popular national neo-Nazi website.
If one puts these actions in perspective, it is evident that they are certainly in line with the kinds of words and actions that have become common around the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 1372 “bias incidents” between the day after the election and February 7. These incidents included both physical and verbal harassment as well as vandalism and graffiti using derogatory and extremist symbols.
Unfortunately, 244 of the above incidents occurred in K-12 schools. A survey of 10,000 school-teachers revealed that 80 percent of them had indeed witnessed incidents as described above as well as heightened anxiety and fear, especially among students in marginalized groups.
On May 5, the Salish School of Spokane was broken into by vandals who wrote anti-Indian graffiti throughout the building. Graffiti was found previously at the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center and individuals have had threatening messages painted on their homes.
The BCHRTF has not been contacted regarding any such incidents in our area, with the exception of several that occurred in the schools. However, the Task Force has been made acutely aware of the concern and fear being experienced by marginalized groups in Bonner County. It is also evident that the national trend toward just plain “mean” speech exists here as well.
This has sparked, in our community, a yearning for “civil discourse,” a way to speak respectfully with those who hold views different than your own. There has been a good deal of discussion regarding this, not just at meetings sponsored by the TF, but in other local groups as well. It seems that we are becoming aware that using labels and stereotypes to define others robs us of the opportunity to get to know them as individuals. There’s a good chance most of us actually share a good deal of common ground.
A number of people have contacted the BCHRTF to talk about ways to make public statements about support for human rights. They have expressed that divisive, intimidating and derogatory speech is not welcome in our community. Many people deplored the ugly messages on the flyers that were distributed, stating– “This is not what Sandpoint is about. We are better than this!” As a result, the TF has printed window signs and bumper-stickers that state, “7B Supports Human Rights.” They are available through the TF, and soon will be available at select local businesses.
Membership in the TF has increased, and the impetus for ACTION has grown much stronger. Our citizens are not willing to sit back and let this beautiful and generous community be stained by hateful words and ideas that are counter to the City’s stand on human rights. Don’t forget that Sandpoint was the first city in Idaho to prohibit using gender identity or sexual orientation as the basis of discrimination in housing, employment and the use of public accommodations. This was done in 2012, and 12 other cities have followed suit.
The BCHRTF concludes that attempts—like racist flyers—to make us turn against each other will only strengthen our determination to stand together—and to stand strong!