An anti-Nazi movement is flowering in Idaho, despite fervent efforts to poison it by authorities and by human rights activists opposed to direct action.
On July 10, a thousand people poured into downtown Coeur d’Alene to counter a parade by Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations. The loud, effective protest showed that in the battle over how to respond to the current fascist offensive, the strategy of community mobilization is winning out over the non-strategy of locking the doors and drawing the shades.
I and other members of Coalition Against Nazis (CAN), the ad hoc group that organized the counterdemonstration, were heartened to see signs of support for direct mass action everywhere.
Butler paraded with about 20 sympathizers, far fewer than the 90 who marched last year. Afterward, CAN held a rally in an adjacent park. Local speakers ranged from a World War II veteran who declared, “I live here and I thank you for coming today” to a gay Native American who asserted, “I am an Idahoan and I stand against fascism!”
Fighting fascism means standing up to not only thugs in white sheets, but also city fathers allergic to protest.
“Stay home: do not respond to provocations. Even silence, even cowardice, are sometimes heroic.” This advice from an Italian union leader in 1921, cited in Daniel Guerin’s Fascism and Big Business, remains the policy of today’s officials, supported by many human rights organizations. This alliance is unsurprising, given that government and police agencies and business supply many of the members and funds for groups like the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment.
Coeur d’Alene authorities have made their priority obvious: to protect their multimillion-dollar tourist industry. In their eyes, Nazi infiltration is a tiny liability compared to noisy, media-attracting counterdemonstrations. Apparently, they are unconcerned that Butler’s compound in Hayden Lake is an international fascist center where psychopaths like Buford Furrow Jr. receive their anti-Semitic, racist, misogynist, homophobic indoctrination and are primed for terrorism.
Undeterred by official disapproval, two groups came together to coordinate the response to Butler’s July parade. One was Seattle’s United Front Against Fascism, an organization of mostly unionists, socialists and feminists to which I belong. The other was several regional chapters of Anti-Racist Action (ARA), made up largely of young anarchists.
During six months of organizing carried on in 10 cities in the U.S. and Canada, the two groups delicately crafted a united front, Coalition Against Nazis. CAN focused immense pressure from all over the world on Coeur d’Alene’s mayor and cops, who had arrested nearly 20 protesters during Butler’s 1998 parade. CAN’s main goal was to mount a successful event that would inspire the local community to form a lasting frontline of opposition to the Aryans.
Not everyone who came to Coeur d’Alene shared this aim, however. Some protesters turned out to be radical tourists, determined to extract the maximum amount of thrills from their one exciting day in town.
Two California ARAers, Larry Hildes and Greg Maynard, arrogantly charged in on the eve of the demonstration and accused Freedom Socialist Party organizers who helped initiate CAN with “dominating” the work (which Hildes and Maynard had done none of). Maynard threatened to remove the rally emcees if we didn’t follow his orders. Understandably, CAN members resisted this bid to hijack the democratic coalition we had all labored for months to build.
Then a group from Moscow, Idaho, announced plans to engage in some sort of civil disobedience, whether the coalition liked it or not. True, they staged a thrilling sit-down that forced the white supremacists to retreat for a moment and then reroute. In response, however, the cops waded into their midst with a flurry of batons and three arrests — a reprehensible but predictable reaction. This meant that the group’s grandstanding threatened to derail the focus of the protest from community vs. Nazis to anarchist grouplet vs. police.
And although those who led the civil disobedience treated CAN with disdain, they have CAN’s organizing — the power of the movement — to thank for the fact that a handful of demonstrators, not 20, were arrested.
In the work of shutting down the fascists, every tactic has to be measured for what it contributes to the serious, long-term fight. Who will be there next time Butler marches?
That is a question we can only answer by building a strong, democratic, diverse, and ongoing movement — one capable of drawing every supporter of civil rights into the street to force fascism into permanent retreat.
To contact United Front Against Fascism, call 206-722-2453 or write to UFAF, 5018 Rainier Ave, South, Seattle, WA 98118.