Jewish World Review August 4, 1998 / 29 12 Menachem-Av, 5758

Coeur D'Alene Diarist

Some of my best friends aren't Nazis

A 16-YEAR OLD girl with a ring in her nose is sitting on the curb next to me, with a hand-lettered sign that says, "HITLER SUCKS."

"Did they search you?" I ask her, by way of conversation.

"Yeah," she says. "They searched anybody that came within miles of this place."

Coeur D'Alene, Idaho (the name means "heart of the awl" in French), is an utterly Norman Rockwellish town of about 24,500 people, situated on the edge of a shimmering lake in the Idaho panhandle. It is usually thronging with tourists on a summer Saturday morning. Only today, the streets are deserted, and there are trained snipers on all the rooftops. Police officers in full riot gear patrol the streets. The stores are all closed -- except for one -- the bookstore.

"What's that you've got in your hands?" a police officer asks me politely.

"It's a sign," I say, and the officer asks to read it. In black magic marker, I have written, "YOU PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS." "OK," he says. "That's fine."

Things are a little tense in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho today, because the Aryan Nations, headed by Richard Butler, are going to march down Sherman Avenue, the main street of town. A parade permit was issued to this infamous neo-Nazi group simply because the city could not think of a constitutional reason not to allow this.

The three major news networks are here; outnumbering the number of projected marchers by about 2-to-1. TV camera crews lounge against the buildings, talking about sports scores and wondering how hot it'll get by noon. The lake sparkles inanely away.

The parade starts precisely at 10 a.m. A dense little clot of people, carrying a profusion of flags and surrounded by a universe of blue sky and dead air, begin to proceed eastward along Sherman. There is no music.

Out of nowhere, it seems, an audience has assembled for this event.

Interestingly, I do not recognize many of the faces in this crowd, though I've lived here seven years. (A lot of my friends volunteered: "I plan to be waterskiing that morning. And I really hope the whole thing with the Nazi parade does NOT block the boat launch." Luckily, I can clearly see the boat launch from where I am standing, and all the boats are being launched quite successfully, without any noticeable neo-Nazi interference.)

"Where are you from?" I ask a young man with pink spiked hair, carrying a sign that says, "PROMOTE DIVERSITY IN EVERYTHING." "I'm from here," he says. He nods to his friend, who is slightly more tubby and carries a sign that says, "SUPPORT NAZI SAME-SEX MARRIAGE." "We came together," he explains.

"I like your sign," I say to his friend.

"You like it?" the friend says shyly. I ask the tubby fellow what he thinks about the Nazis, and he says, "These people are total losers." Then, he and his friend yell out in semi-loud voices, "You people are total losers!!!"

Once the yelling begins in earnest, it seems to break the ice, sort of like people getting up to dance on a dance floor. "Nice uniforms!" one guy yells at a marcher, who's in a blue semi-military-looking number, and the marcher looks off to the side involuntarily. "I can't believe this is happening in America," a woman says under her breath to no one in particular. "Well, where would it happen?" her husband asks.

The swirl of news helicopters continues overhead -- and still the most noticeable thing about the marchers themselves is their absolute silence. They look like perfectly ordinary people, really; some short-haired, some long. There are women as well as men. They look as if they might be on their way to the Silver Lake Mall after the rally to buy plastic silverware or athletic shoes on sale. Richard Butler, who looks to be about 160 years old, is riding in the back of a Jeep. He seems to be yelling something into a bullhorn, but nobody can hear very well. The kid next to me yells, "Go home, Nazi scum!" and Richard Butler yells back, "Go back to Los Angeles!" ("Are you from Los Angeles?" I ask the kid. "I don't think so," he says.)

I begin to look at my watch, because a local coalition of business people has offered to donate $1,000 to a human rights group -- for every minute marched. The problem is, Sherman Avenue isn't very long. The Nazis are forced to make a left turn at the Wells Fargo Bank and come back exactly the way they came. At this point, the protesters become a bit more vociferous. One young kid -- a roving skinhead apparently -- has found a pod of TV cameras, and is yelling mightily into the lenses, "White Power! White Power!"

"Shut up, you idiot!" someone else yells at him.

"No!" he says, obviously inspired. "YOU'RE an idiot!" ("Do you think there's going to be one of those Jerry Springer-like things breaking out?" a hopeful woman behind me asks her friend.)

"I was hopin' there'd be more of them, like, low-rider motorcycles," a kid next to me says to no one in particular.

"Let's move to the more shadier side of the street," one girl says to her boyfriend, but her boyfriend explains that this is "illegal." "GO HOME, YOU DOOFUSES!" the girlfriend yells, in a high-pitched voice.

"FREEDOM OF SPEECH!" someone in the crowd yells. And everyone lustily picks up the chant.

At last, the Nazis reach the Independence Point parking lot where they left their cars, and, under heavy police escort, they all car pool out of town, looking a bit sheepish, with their flags neatly furled. The crowd stands around for a while, sort of wondering what to do. Then, they mostly decide to go to the beach, while some opt to rollerblade. By 11 a.m., the streets are again immaculate, and the stores all reopen.

That night, I watch the national news. "Violence erupts in Coeur D'Alene," the reporter says. "Nazi hatred tears a town apart!"

I wonder where all this took place? But what do I know?

I was only an eyewitness.

  — Stephanie Bush

Under normal circumstances, when neo-Nazis don't marching through her hometown, Stephanie Bush is a nationally syndicated humorist.


©1998, Creators Syndicate