Originally created 09/26/00

Setback for racists



It was a victory for the good guys recently when the Southern Poverty Law Center's Morris Dees won a verdict against Richard Butler, the founder of the Aryan Nations, who will now release his 20-acre northern Idaho ranch as part of the $6.3 million verdict against the white supremacy group.

The ranch contains Butler's home, some barracks and bungalow, along with a Swastika-draped chapel where Butler started the Hitler-worshiping activities that he intended to use in launching a "white homeland" at Hayden Lake.

The verdict will probably bankrupt the group, whose guards brutally beat a Native American woman and her son who had the misfortune to be driving along a public road near the compound in 1998.

In a criminal trial, the guards were sentenced to prison; in the civil trial, the group was found by an Idaho jury to be responsible for not having trained its uniformed and armed guards, but instead allowing them to become lawless hoodlums stalking public roads and scaring off anyone they didn't like.

The group's leader appointed guards and armed them, but never conducted any kind of training or even background checks to see if they had criminal records. The verdict is the largest punitive damage award in Idaho history; we can only hope that such a verdict will get the attention of other hate groups who organize with the express purpose of terrorizing or hurting others.

It's one thing to hold beliefs - and this country's Constitution allows people to believe what they wish. But it's an entirely different matter when beliefs are violently acted out.

Since Richard Butler has elevated himself as a political and spiritual leader and created such a violence-prone organization, we see no reason why he shouldn't be punished for the violence his group has perpetuated.

The silver lining for Idaho is that the verdict gave that beautiful state its reputation back, sending the message that the people of Idaho will stand up for the rights of those least able to defend themselves - in this case, a mother and son who weren't asking for trouble, but simply trying to live their lives.