This is the story of a first-hand encounter, of participation in an event that had all the markings of mayhem that was strategically kept under control only by police presence and citizen restraint. In retrospect, I was amazed at how quickly one can go from passive observer to angry activist. Sometimes you just gotta confront the evil.
Sweat trickled down my back as the morning began its barrage of warmth. The camera strap rubbed against my neck, irritating the skin. Everything about this day was irritating, humid, and uncomfortable.
The street was empty as we stepped onto the gray sidewalk. Businesses were closed in protest and poster symbols of solidarity - hands clasped in unison - stood triumphantly in window fronts. Police in riot gear manned every corner, moved through every bush, strategically positioned themselves on rooftops, barricaded cross-streets, checked anything big or small enough to conceal a weapon. It was interestingly Hollywood-like and forever real.
"I don’t like the looks of it." Bill, my husband, stood next to me. His sunglasses peered into the brilliant blue sky. Delicious cool-whip clouds suspended above as he eyed the rooftop officers.
"Damn it, we shoulda' stayed home." A slight breeze pushed through his salted hair. "Barber told me to be careful in the sun with this crew cut." He pulled his hand through the new 'do' but his gaze remained intent on the riot-clad officers. Sunburn was the furthest thing from his mind.
"Yeah, well," sarcasm dripped from my voice as I swung the Minolta around to check the lens, "I doubt if there's anything to worry about getting fried up there at your age."
"It's dangerous," he said, whipping the sunglasses off and revealing jet black eyes that spoke of fear . . . and concern. I don’t know what it is, but with Bill around, I always feel safe. He looks and acts the part of a bodyguard when I drag him and myself into these odd situations.
"We're fine, for God's sake," I mumbled while absorbed in checking the camera angle.
"Besides, sometimes you just gotta meet the evil head on." The words rambled out of my mouth like auto-rewind.
When I read that the Aryan Nations 100 Man March would take place July 18, 1998, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, those words immediately sprang from my mouth. It sounded good, but I had said it so often these past months that the words had lost meaning.
In reality, I was there for personal gain. After a year of research on the white separatist and militia factions throughout the United States, I had only broken off a faint tip of the iceberg. The ideologies, philosophies and belief systems that run rampant within each group are numerous and difficult to pin down. It is an intricately woven mesh of offbeat interpretations of Biblical scripture sprinkled with a fine dusting of rage, hatred, anger and fear, mostly preached by one person and surrounded by those who will do his bidding. The threads that bind these diverse groups is their distrust of the United States government, their belief the government must be stopped, and their hated for Jews and blacks. I'd read their literature, listened to talk shows, peeked at the web sites, lived with them in my backyard, now I wanted to see them face to face.
We moved back down Sherman Avenue scouting for a location. The street was becoming entrenched with people. Signs appeared in hands and banners stretched across bodies "No Nazis", "Flush the Nazi Turd", "Too Great to Hate" blended with the activity. Chants began with a roar "No way. No way. No Nazi USA!" and ended in a whimper. We found some shade. A guy in dreadlocks stood next to me. Unity has a silent way of lifting the differences. We talked and watched the police drag away a man who refused access to his backpack.
The rhythm of the chants grew louder and more unified. An elderly couple sat on a window ledge, umbrella perched above to block the sun. Their bright pastel colors appeared almost angelic and out of place with all the earthy clothes of tan, black, green, and blue. The street moved with determination, excitement, nervous energy, purpose. Fists held high, shouts and signs denounced an evil that had once existed and now lurked in the shadows once again. The rank and file grew tense yet no one crossed the flimsy yellow tape used as a barricade. The old couple smiled.
The agitation of the crowd began to swell like a wave ready to break. Effulgent red, black, white, and blue flags swirled as Aryan bodies hurriedly lined up in formation. The fabrics hung like limp soldiers in the still air, their colors ablaze and contrasted with the immaculate azure sky and white foam of clouds.
Bill hung above me like a character from Men in Black. His deep mahogany arms folded across his chest, dark sunglasses hid all emotion, mouth drawn in a tight line. He scanned the crowd and the rooftops, then nodded as if giving me permission to continue.
I positioned my camera as the first flag bearers of the twelve lost tribes of Israel began their march towards us, their flags cascading through the summer sun.
As the group began moving, so too did the people along the sidelines. Signs flew high and a surge of bodies pulsated with the Aryans. A strange dichotomy when witnessing such an expanse of views so close to ignite pandemonium yet restrained as if to say it will be not overtake us. It was impossible not to feel exhilarated, disgusted, angry, intensely a part of what was circulating around you - so connected and yet so removed.
I was calm when those first bright splashes of color began to stoically move up Sherman Avenue. I was calm as the Jeep approached, surrounded by Aryan men in light blue shirts scanning the crowds for weapons. Butler, in brilliant white shirt, mumbled something inaudible and with each mumble, the crowd grew more intense in their verbal assault. Click, click, my shutter responded. My lens hooked onto a marcher carrying a crimson red and deep blue flag, his shiny black helmet glinted in the scorching sun and a tiny swastika came sharply into focus, much like the life defining moment that clutched at my heart.
Something clicked and it wasn't my shutter. It's strange how things can happen in a split second.
The camera moved slowly, methodically down my body. I could not stop the reaction that uttered from my lips, nor the well of anger that balled up in my stomach.
"You son of a bitch!" I shouted, my voice only a minuscule drop in the sea of verbiage that swirled around me. My finger pointed like a dagger at Butler, standing serenely in the Jeep, his guards surrounding him like a prized golden calf. For a brief interlude, Butler met my gaze only to release it to the clear day above. The marchers grouped tightly and moved past. I stopped, my mouth agape, my finger frozen in the hot July sun. I looked at Bill, still towering above me, surveying the crowd in bodyguard fashion. My reflection beamed back at me from his sunglasses.
"Did I say that?" I asked, totally stunned.
His eyebrow curved above the rim of his glasses, lips pursed, as if he were giving me permission to listen to his answer.
"Yeah," he replied, never missing a beat in his surveillance.
I looked up at this man of Spanish origin, a "Mongrel" in the Aryan world, standing guard over me and realized the tragedy.
I saw my adult kids, also of Spanish origin, not to mention Catholic.
I saw Ryan, my nephew, who is part black and stumbling through racial inequality.
I saw Melinda Seigel, my good buddy from my New York childhood, who is Jewish.
I saw Annette DeBron, my good buddy from my California childhood, who is Catholic.
The guy in dreadlocks of unknown origin, the young "Crow" guy across the street and his girlfriend with red streaked hair, the black man to my right, the Asian woman a few feet away, the Native American that passed me moments ago, the snowy white elderly couple behind me and me, a Catholic white woman.
I saw the Holocaust of all that was most precious in my life and of those I wave to along the path if this obscure train of thought takes hold and flourishes. The escalation of Hitler's dogma was no different and the end results just as devastating.
As I stood among the united American diversity, the phrase I uttered these past months took on sharp new meaning. For too long, this community ignored, pretended, forgot, placated - it was time the Aryan Nations found out just what exactly they are up against.
Finally, and in one voice, this Northwest community had confronted the evil head on.
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