Here’s hoping hate group fails to find a haven in Grant County

By Jayson Jacoby February 26, 2010 11:21 am

The Aryan Nations leadership does not possess an abundance of what you might call intellectual prowess.

Their leadership skills aren’t exactly prodigious, either, come to that.

It’s a bit of a stretch, after all, to call yourself leaders when the vast majority of Americans think you’re hatemongers who rank, on the list of desirable dinner party guests, in the same sub-primate range as pond scum and various infectious bacteria.

It does not surprise me, at any rate, that a branch of the white supremacist group (although “tentacle” paints a more apt word picture in this context than does “branch” ) seems to have misjudged our neighbor to the west, Grant County.

And by misjudged I don’t mean the equivalent of pouring soda too quickly so that a wisp of foam crests the rim and slides down the side of the glass.

I’m talking about a cliff diver who can’t tell an ebb tide from a flood.

The Blue Mountain Eagle newspaper in John Day published a story last week about Paul R. Mullet, the self-proclaimed national director of the Aryan Nations, which has its headquarters in Athol, Idaho.

(Which probably means Mullet’s basement.)

Mullet told the newspaper he wants to buy property in Grant County and establish a “national compound” there for the organization.

Mullet has a keen interest in establishing compounds. He told a reporter from a Spokane, Wash., TV station in November that he wants to do the same thing in Northern Idaho. For some reason he didn’t refer to this putative Grant County development as “national compound west.”

Or basement number two.

Mullet, who visited the county last week, said he was looking at a couple of buildings in John Day.

He told the Blue Mountain Eagle that the Aryan Nations is interested in Grant County because of its remoteness, its proximity to mountains and its relatively low prices for real estate.

Mullet is right about all that.

Of course any third-grader who had access to a road map could deduce the first two of those elements.

Grant County certainly qualifies as remote — the nearest freeway, Interstate 84, never comes within 20 miles of the place.

Also the county is liberally supplied with mountains, including the prominent Strawberry and Greenhorn ranges.

So Mullet seems to understand geography.

This is hardly surprising, considering the Aryan Nations’ obsession with creating a “homeland” for the white race.

I’m rather unsure, though, about whether Mullet sees the political landscape of Grant County as clearly as he does the topographical.

I wonder if he saw the Ron Paul signs on ranch fences, and read about the county’s anti-United Nations resolution, and from that evidence assumed those ornery Grant County residents would warmly welcome a group which proudly brandishes the Nazi swastika and which describes Jews as “parasites” and blacks as “mud people.”

Mullet sure seems to think so.

He told the John Day newspaper that his group “is a good fit with the values here.”

Grant County residents apparently define “values” rather differently than Mullet does.

This is a good thing.

I’ve had a few bones to pick with the U.N. myself over the years, and it would trouble me greatly to learn that my dissatisfaction with that agency had allied me in any way with people who worship Hitler and know how to goosestep really well.

John Day Mayor Bob Quinton told the Blue Mountain Eagle that being associated with the Aryan Nations is “the last kind of thing our reputation needs. We need to be inclusive and emphasize positive things here.”

Local residents publicly protested the Aryan Nations on Saturday in downtown John Day.

And the Blue Mountain Eagle sponsored a pair of public meetings today in which the featured speakers are an attorney and a civil rights activist who were involved in the lawsuit that bankrupted another Idaho-based Aryan Nations group in 2001.

Suffice it to say that Mullet ought not expect, when he next visits Grant County, that he’ll be greeted by a contingent that doles out fresh-baked pies and invitations to join the local service clubs.

None of which clubs, I’m certain, includes praising Hitler as part of its protocol.

(Which reminds me of a matter I’ve long been curious about. Do new members of hate groups go through an awkward initiation period, when they’re never quite sure how to address fellow members? I envision a fledgling skinhead, newly shorn brow wrinkled in concentration, wondering: “Should I say ‘heil?’ How’s it goin?’ Howdy?’ ”)

The Aryan Nations’ interest in Grant County does raise the prospect of a conundrum for residents.

The group has the legal right, of course, to buy property there.

And so long as its members don’t break any laws — admittedly a task which has presented something of a challenge for these people — they’re also entitled to conduct meetings and train recruits and even to host a “national gathering” in September 2011, which Mullet confessed to the Blue Mountain Eagle is his ambition.

(And what a coveted invitation that would be.)

Grant County residents are equally within their rights, of course, to emphasize, through sidewalk protests and letters to the editor and other constitutionally protected means, that Mullet and his minions are less welcome than ticks and decade-long droughts.

But what happens if the bigot brigade settles in even after Grant County has demonstrated, with all the vehemence and volume its good people can muster, its distaste for the Aryan Nations’ “values”?

Would the person who sells property to the group be similarly vilified?

Could the county co-exist in relative peace with a group that spouts such corrosive rhetoric?

Would the county’s blue heelers develop a taste for the pasty flesh of these malignant missionaries, who sometimes creep, virus-like, across the countryside distributing “white pride” propaganda composed by dullards whose cognitive skills are the measure of a precocious toddler who still soils her diapers more often than not?

Perhaps most importantly, how do the Aryans decide who gets to sleep with the copy of “Mein Kampf” somebody stole from a public library?

There are many questions.

I’m confident, though, what with the county’s rapid reaction to Mullet’s visit, that whatever may come, Grant County’s reputation will be burnished rather than tarnished as a result of its unsolicited association with the Aryan Nations.

Perhaps Mullet, before he puts down any earnest money, will come to see that he mistook Grant County’s crusty conservatism for evidence that it’s fertile soil for his group’s racial “theories.”

I suppose he was impressed that in addition to declaring their county a “U.N.-free zone” in a 2002 measure, voters went for the McCain-Palin ticket at 71.3 percent — trailing only Lake County (71.5 percent) among Oregon’s 36 counties.

(Baker County, by the way, endorsed the Republicans in 2008 at 64.4 percent.)

But I believe that reasonable people — which includes that overwhelming majority of us who understand that the Holocaust actually happened, and that it was awful — recognize how specious the link is between a county’s preference for Republican politicians and American isolationism on the one hand, and its tolerance for groups that celebrate the Third Reich on the other.

Mullet and his ilk will always be able, sadly, to dredge a few sycophants from the flotsam of the fringes.

But it seems that hatred doesn’t echo far, even in the remote canyons of Grant County.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.