On Sept. 7, 2000, a Kootenai County jury rendered a $6.3 million verdict against the Aryan Nations and its leader, Richard Butler.
That action bankrupted the racist organization, severely diminishing its influence in North Idaho.
On Tuesday, 10 years later, civil rights leaders joined with leaders from Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai County, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and law enforcement to celebrate the victory at the Kootenai County veterans’ plaza. The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations unveiled a monument made of black marble to commemorate the day.
“Silence never did win any rights,” Bloem said. “Silence never did pick up and make us a better place. And silence certainly wouldn’t have done it 10 years ago.”
On July 1, 1998, Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason, were driving past the Aryan Nations compound near Hayden when they were attacked by the organization’s security guards after their car backfired. Bullets hit their car; they were driven off the road. The guards threatened to kill them if they reported the incident. When the Keenans contacted the task force, its attorney, Norm Gissel of Coeur d’Alene, recruited renowned human rights lawyer Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center to represent the Keenans in the civil trial.
Coeur d’Alene attorney Ken Howard also joined the legal team. On Tuesday, Howard said that for years, Butler and the Aryan Nations used their notoriety to
Butler survived in this community, Howard said, because people here believed in the constitutional protections of freedom of speech and religion, despite being “deeply troubled” by the reputation of hatred and intolerance brought upon the area.
“On Sept. 7, 2000, this community’s tolerance of Butler came to an end,” Howard said. “This verdict was, in part, directed to compensate the Keenans, but largely to punish Butler and his followers and to serve to deter similar conduct in the future.”
Following the jury’s civil verdict, Butler and the Aryan Nations declared bankruptcy in federal court. The Keenans were awarded the compound, which they sold to philanthropist and human rights activist Greg Carr. He destroyed the compound and turned it into a peace park, which he donated to the North Idaho College Foundation.
The stone for the monument unveiled Tuesday was donated by Da Vinci Stone Design of Post Falls. Artist Julie Wood contributed her services designing and engraving the stone. The monument will be displayed permanently either at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library or at the North Idaho College library, following a decision by the task force’s board of directors.
Paul Mullet, the self-described national director of the Aryan Nations, contacted the media two weeks ago when he heard about the ceremony. He said that although he has moved to Ohio due to a family death, the Aryan Nations will never leave North Idaho.