Whether dealing with an abhorrent event precipitated by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville or just an everyday spouting-off of hatred by white supremacists, responsible public officials should stand up for decency.
Congressman Raul Labrador says it is “not his style” to comment on events such as that which occurred in Charlottesville over the weekend. Standing mute against hateful speech and actions does not work. Idaho history demonstrates that the way to stop white supremacy is for people in positions of power to strongly and publicly denounce it.
Back in the early 1980s, the Aryan Nations organization in northern Idaho was on the rise. It attracted other white supremacists to Idaho, many of whom had cut their teeth in prison. Many good people in the area stepped forward to speak against them, but it was a formidable task. I had just taken over as Attorney General and was asked by Marilyn Shuler to help with malicious harassment legislation that was designed to combat the supremacist threat. The legislation had hit a roadblock in the Legislature, which we were able to overcome. Marilyn, who was a powerful Idaho voice for human rights, brought me into the effort to deflate the supremacist cause.
I participated in a number of rallies to speak out against the supremacist group and its hateful creed, but noticed something interesting about the meetings. Kootenai County undersheriff Larry Broadbent and I observed that we were the only identifiable Republican officials at the rallies. It appeared that many were holding back to see where the tree might fall.
As time went by, the public became aroused by the Aryans’ message of hate, but also about the black eye they were giving to the State of Idaho. Responsible Republican officials started stepping forward to denounce the hate mongers and that was the key to the group’s eventual demise—it took an all-hands-on-deck approach. People take note of what their leaders say and it is incumbent upon those leaders to help provide a moral compass.
Idaho leaders were generally quick this time in calling out the neo-Nazis, KKK, and other white nationalists. Governor Butch Otter, Congressman Mike Simpson, and Senator Mike Crapo spoke out strongly and were soon joined by Senator Jim Risch. Congressman Labrador held back until goaded by the governor because, as he explained, his style was not to speak out on these “issues” since he regarded the Charlottesville events as “politics.” White supremacy is not an issue or politics. It is indecency and it requires denunciation by society in order to deprive it of any hint of legitimacy.
The Congressman is correct that “trite media statements” will not solve our country’s problems. But, powerful, heart-felt condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and racism by people in leadership positions in our fine state can make a difference, as history shows.
This is especially so for anyone who aspires to be governor, the most important position in state government. And, the condemnation should specify the hate groups being called out, such as the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists and nationalists. We should expect or accept no less from those who would lead the State. If a candidate does not already have such a “style,” he or she should certainly adopt a public anti-supremacy posture.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.