Open Letter to Fellow Americans

 

The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations has spent the past 40 years promoting civil and human rights as enshrined in the ideals of democracy that encompasses promoting freedom, equality, equity and justice for each individual.

 

Over the past 250 years, the United States has made progress toward the goal of fulfilling democracy’s great benefits for all people. As that work continues, we face a growing serious threat from domestic terrorists to that evolving democracy.

 

Over the past 25 years in the United States, we have witnessed an increase in domestic terrorism with deadly consequences. The purpose of this open letter is to discuss four of these anti-democratic domestic terrorists’ acts including the occupation of our National Capitol on January 6 and suggest future ways to combat such threats.

 

On April 19, 1995 anti-government white supremacist Timothy McVeigh placed a truck loaded with explosives in front of a Federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 innocent victims, including children, and wounding 680 people.

 

On August 12, 2017, an angry mob of anti-government white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, and other terrorists under the banner of “Unite the Right”, marched through Charlottesville, Virginia. They displayed Swastika flags, Confederate flags, the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil”(Jews will not replace us), and carried torches symbolizing the marches that took place during Hitler’s Third Reich. The tragic result was the death of a peaceful counter demonstrator and two Virginia state police officers in a crash of their helicopter. Thirty other individuals were injured.

 

On February 5, 2020 FBI Director Christopher Wray during testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House stated that 2019 was the deadliest year for domestic terrorism since the Oklahoma City truck bombing in 1995. The year 2019 saw 29 Americans killed in five separate terrorists’ attacks including the deadliest attack on Latinos in American history when a 21-year-old white supremacist allegedly killed 22 and injured 24 other Latinos in El Paso, Texas.

 

Americans across the Nation were horrified and shocked on January 6, 2021 when a violent mob attempted an insurrection by an assault on our democracy as they desecrated the National Capitol building, the citadel of our democracy and home of the legislative branch of our democratic Republic. There are indications that part of the plan was to kidnap Vice- President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and kill them. Also pipe bombs were placed in front of the national headquarters of the Republican and Democratic parties.

 

The attack on our National Capitol resulted in the direct deaths of five individuals.

 

Our National Capitol had not experienced an attack overrunning and occupying the Capitol by an invading force since the War of 1812 when the British army did so.

 

The aftermath of the January 6 assault has seen members of Congress harassed and verbally threatened in public.

 

This attack on our National Capitol reminds us of an excerpt from Yale University Professor Timothy Snyder’s book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” when Snyder describes the burning of the German parliament, the Reichstag, on February 27, 1933 thus destroying the last democratic institution in Germany as Hitler said: “This fire is just the beginning”.

 

We should take the good advice of former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley from a speech she gave on January 7, 2021 when she said: “But we must stop turning American people against each other.”

 

We call on our fellow citizens of good will in communities across America to unite in a bi-partisan coalition to confront and combat terrorism in all its manifestations by supporting: strict Federal, state and local anti-terrorism laws; aggressive police investigations and prosecutions of all perpetrators; assist the victims of these heinous crimes; and hold elected officials responsible for developing, adopting and enforcing public policies that protect the civil and human rights for each individual.

 

We close this letter by reminding each of you with the wisdom shared by Edmund Burke in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer when he wrote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

 

Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations Board of Directors

 

Joined By:

Gonzaga University Provost, Associate Provost and the G U Institute for Hate Studies

 

Bonner County Human Rights Task Force

Boundary County Human Rights Task Force

Spokane County Human Rights Task Force

 

 

40th Anniversaries

 

In the year 1981, two separate small groups of Kootenai County citizens founded two remarkable organizations: Hospice of North Idaho and the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (KCTFHR). As one of the co-founding board members of both organizations, I wish to share these two special stories on their 40th anniversaries as they serve untold numbers of people in their time of need.

 

Hospice of North Idaho (1981-Present)

 

Two angels, Kay McGruder and Karen Yates, with a $25,000 grant from the American Cancer Society, recruited seventeen board members including Bill Wassmuth as president founding the first non-profit Hospice in Idaho. Kay and Karen became part-time employees as we initiated unique health care services for cancer patients and their families.

 

It was not long before the dream blossomed into what has become one of the most successful hospices in the United States due to the support of generous citizens and groups. Judy Meyer, an original board member and her husband Steve, provided free office space for several years; Joe Morris, another original board member and CEO of the Kootenai Hospital, provided vital support from the hospital; and Kootenai County churches came to the rescue with funds.

 

Mary Lou Reed, an Idaho state senator at the time, ushered through state legislation to qualify Hospice of North Idaho for state Medicaid funds; our Board and staff successfully applied to become Medicare certified; health insurance companies came on board; Susan Jacklin, a board member, launched an annual successful wine tasting fundraising event; Freeman Duncan, an attorney and founding board member, drafted all legal documents; volunteers Toni and Hugh Smith opened a Hospice of North Idaho thrift shop in Post Falls; and over time major donors contributed significant sums including Gary Schneidmiller’s large gift in honor of his parents.

 

The above supporters along with other contributors grew Hospice of North Idaho from two part-time employees operating out of a small office to today’s beautiful campus with over 120 employees including medical teams annually serving hundreds of patients and families with a gift of care and kindness in the same spirit of the first hospices in Great Britain.

 

Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (1981-Present)

 

After members from the Aryan Nations targeted a Jewish owned restaurant in Hayden in December 1980, Dina Tanners and I invited eight individuals to a meeting at Pastor Rick Morris First Christian Church in Coeur d’Alene the first week of February 1981. That evening we formed the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and elected Rev. Morris president.

 

Within weeks, we recruited additional board members, had local attorney Anne Solomon draft the legal documents and commenced our work combating hate activities and crimes.

 

Our first task was to collaborate with several Idaho groups and officials including the Idaho Human Rights Commission, Kootenai County Prosecutor Glen Walker, and Kootenai County Undersheriff Larry Broadbent, to lobby the Idaho Legislature and Governor John Evans for passage of a series of anti-hate crime laws with the first bill enacted in 1983 followed by additional legislation throughout the 1980’s.

 

Our small organization, with no staff or building, did not anticipate ever becoming more than a local human rights organization when we elected Catholic priest Bill Wassmuth our second president in 1984, serving until June 1988. Under Father Bill’s dynamic leadership, we reorganized. Then everything changed on September 15,1986 when Order II, associated with the Aryan Nations, bombed Father Bill’s home and a few days later set off additional bombs in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

 

Following these bombings, the KCTFHR’s identity and consulting work took on a national importance.

 

Twelve years later, the KCTFHR would become even more recognized nationally and internationally as a human rights organization when KCTFHR attorney Norm Gissel agreed to represent victims Victoria and Jason Keenan following an attack on July 1, 1998 by Aryan Nations security guards. Gissel recruited the Southern Poverty Law Center and local attorney Ken Howard for a successful civil trial that bankrupted the neo-Nazi group in September 2000.

 

The success of the KCTFHR has been chronicled in three books, national and international journal articles, a master’s thesis, a Ph.D. dissertation and a one-hour Idaho PBS TV documentary.

 

The most amazing comparison regarding these two organizations is how a small number of citizens with few financial resources had the faith to act.

 

These successful efforts remind me of prominent educator Marian Wright Edelman when she wrote: “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

 

Tony Stewart

Coeur d’Alene