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Tony Stewart and Kathy Canfield-Davis

Face to Face with Hate

Written by Cheryl Dudley

What does leadership for democracy and social justice look like in a community besieged by a racist hate group?

This is a question that College of Education leadership faculty Kathy Canfield-Davis, Mary E. Gardiner and Russell A. Joki posed when researching the case of Tony Stewart—a community activist leader in Coeur d’Alene who helped end the Aryan Nations hate group that threatened the community from 1972 to 2000.

Canfield-Davis, Gardiner and Joki wrote an article on their research titled “Social Justice Leadership in Action: The Case of Tony Stewart,” which was the lead article in The 2009, Volume 3 issue of Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research. The article was also published in Gonzaga University’s Journal of Hate Studies.

The first part of the team’s article presents the social and historical context for the formation and work of the Kootenai County Task Force in Coeur d’Alene, which was established by Stewart to combat the Aryan Nations. The second part of the article defines five themes that represent how Stewart engaged the community in its fight against hate.

According to the article, the Aryan Nations can be traced back to post Civil War times when powerful groups opposed the amendments that granted civil rights to all. These groups adopted a system of beliefs founded on twisted Biblical interpretations, believing that white people were the only true children of Israel. Other racist organizations sprung up as well, including the Ku Klux Klan, the Minutemen, and the Brotherhood.

The north Idaho Aryan Nations group was formed after Richard Butler, a militant hate monger, visited the area in the early 1970s. He purchased 20 acres of land near Hayden with the goal of establishing an all-white Aryan homeland. Butler began preaching his intolerant views in his church, recruiting like-minded individuals to join his cause.

The group committed a number of serious hate crimes throughout the 1980s and 1990s—eventually taking hostage the idyllic lakeside communities of both Hayden and Coeur d’Alene.

Shortly after the Aryan Nations spray-painted graffiti on a Jewish-owned restaurant, several local citizens, including Tony Stewart, formed the Kootenai County Task Force with the motto, “Saying yes to justice is the best way to say no to racism.” The task force was formed using a well-known leadership model called the “Tuckman” model (forming, storming, norming and performing), with the initial goal of supporting the victims of hate crimes. They also aimed to act as agents to prevent abuse in the community, educate the community on the effects of racism, and provide a forum for those who desired to verbalize their concerns regarding racism and its effects on the community.

Tuckman’s model provided a powerful agenda for the group, which helped them develop a social justice response to the hate group. After its formation, the task force brain-stormed for ideas, searching for clarity about how to proceed. There were many diverse opinions. Some members wanted visibility, some didn’t. Some wanted to organize rallies while some continued to hold the belief that if a phenomenon is ignored, it will eventually go away.

“Despite the conflicting ideas, the task force stayed focused on its ultimate mission, finally agreeing to go public with a strong, social justice message,” said one task force member. The group quickly moved into the performing stage of Tuckman’s leadership model.

The article states that the community image was being destroyed; racists were being encouraged to move into the area; the quality of life for citizens was adversely affected; and economic and social problems were evident. To attack these problems, the task force created six action committees with focused tasks, and was successful in shepherding Idaho’s first Anti-Malicious Harassment Act in 1983, resulting in the conviction of one Aryan Nations member for verbal assault against a biracial family. The legislative committee successfully shepherded five additional pieces of legislation in Idaho designed to promote human rights. Soon the community began to see a reduction in the graffiti, hate materials, and incidents of racism. The media also began to play a powerful role in the social justice agenda, covering the work of the task force.

In 1998, the task force organized an event that reached deeply into the psyche of the community—a psyche that eventually helped eradicate the hate group. Here is how Canfield-Davis, Gardiner, and Joki’s article reports the incident:

In the summer of 1998, the Aryan Nations staged a 100-man flag parade down the main street of Coeur d’Alene. In response, the task force, under Stewart’s leadership, sponsored an event called Lemons to Lemonade. Community members pledged a certain number of dollars for every minute the Aryans marched. Therefore, the slower and longer they walked, the more money was raised. The Aryan march lasted 27 minutes and netted nearly $35,000 for the anti-racism work of the task force. The proceeds were used to purchase a variety of educational programs and materials for local schools.

The Aryan Nations came to an end in 2000, having committed more than 100 crimes. After the group was named as a defendant in a District Court case, it was hit with a $6.2 million judgment. Butler declared bankruptcy and his property confiscated by the federal court. Today the 20-acre parcel is a public peace park. Butler ran for mayor of Hayden in 2003, marking one of the largest voter turnouts in the city’s history. Butler lost the election, and died in 2004.

Tony Stewart was—and still is—considered the emotional and intellectual impetus that has kept the Kootenai County Task Force viable and active. He recognizes the importance of including all members of the community, as well as the dangers of complacency, silence and inaction. His leadership revealed his vision, as well as his skills for risk taking, tenacity, compassion and inclusiveness.

“Part of the secret of Stewart’s success,” says the article, “may have been his ability to see the world through the lenses of those whom he opposed. By seeking to first understand others, he was better prepared to lead needed social change.”

The article concluded with roles that educators can take to emphasize activism and social justice work in the classroom. “The current threat to social justice in Idaho and elsewhere may be apathy and a belief that the work has been accomplished,” the article states. While the FBI continues to monitor the Aryan Nations, eight other hate groups have been identified in Idaho. Professors in educational leadership need to recognize an ongoing need for a social justice agenda in teaching and outreach.

Tony Stewart, a retired professor from North Idaho College, has received many honors for championing human rights in the Coeur d’Alene area because he refused to remain silent in the wake of racism, bigotry and hate. This year he was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the University of Idaho

“Societies should not be lulled into complacency,” states the article. “Because hate is extraordinarily difficult and dangerous to overcome.” As educators, we must assert leadership.”