When history is recorded, it is never kind to...those who engaged in hate and prejudice and bigotry, and it's not very kind for those who sit on the sidelines.
Tony Stewart, a native of North Carolina, was a professor of political science at North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene for 40 years. He was one of the first people to join the support group that would become the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. Stewart designed much of the group's public relations strategy, which included counter-rallies to the Aryan Nations' Congresses and parades, and the "Lemons to Lemonade" campaign. He spoke with producer Marcia Franklin in 2010.
Marcia Franklin: What influenced you to care about other people?
Tony Stewart...there were two incidents happened that I've never forgotten. I was playing with some other young boys and we were about eight or nine and one of them was African-American and some white boys came along and threatened to beat us up because we were playing together. That stayed with me.
Secondly… my parents invited this beautiful woman who was a great vocalist such as Mahalia Jackson…to come to western North Carolina to perform at our church…and the Deacon said, "she's not allowed in this church" and they had to tell her she could not come. I have never forgotten that.
…since I was very young I've always been so bothered by injustices of all types. As a young boy - nine and ten - I was writing to my Congressman asking him to vote for Civil Rights Legislation which they would not do.
Franklin: When did you first become aware of Richard Butler?
Stewart: Richard Butler came to north Idaho in 1973, but we were not very aware at the beginning about him. He stayed rather quiet for a period of time, kind of surveying the field. But by the late 1970's from appearances at the courthouse with he and others and the Christian Comitatus became very aware that we had something to face that was far beyond what one would experience talking to an individual who had prejudice and bigotry, that this was going to be organized.
And of course it all broke loose in 1980 and from then until now we've been immersed in this issue.
Franklin: What were they doing?
Stewart: …. there was a group they called the Christian Comitatas and…they were having common laws that they would enforce and they did not recognize government officials. And they were even trying to put liens on properties of government officials (saying) that they had a right to their own juries and so forth. So we saw that it was very extreme.
And then with the two incidents took place at the end of 1980 we knew we had something that was very, very serious.
First was the issue at Hayden Lake with Sid Rosen's restaurant being targeted with anti-Semitic materials and very quickly after that the bi-racial family in Coeur d'Alene - The Connie Fort family - and I was immediately contacted about that by their oldest son.
I want to give credit to a special lady - Deena Tanner, who was Jewish and their community moved very quickly and she said we have to organize to go out and meet with Sid Rosen. And I didn't know about it that evening but the fifteen wonderful citizens went out there. She called me the next day and she said Tony, this is very serious and I shared with her the Connie Fort incident and so she and I together agreed that we must be organized.
So, the first week of February, 1981 we met at the First Christian Church - about eight of us and by the way, the Aryan Nations were in the back walking back and forth trying to intimidate us, eight or ten people. And that was the birth of our organization.
I hope the background I had coming from the south was somewhat helpful to understanding the seriousness of those issues because I'd seen prejudice and bigotry up close there also and hate but not in the same organized way that we would face it here.
I was of the opinion then as now that immediate action was necessary and I was so pleased to join forces with that wonderful woman who I call the mother of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations. She saw that we needed to act immediately.
It is not something that was called a long range plan. It wasn't strategic plan. It was something we did through experience and our commitment to the principles of human rights.
Franklin: You felt it was necessary to act immediately to get the word out in the community that these things had happened, not to try and hide them.
Stewart: How do you deal with hate and how do you deal with organized hate? We made two decisions at the inception of the organization that we've held for thirty years and I think those contribute to our success and support of the people.
The first one we agreed to was that we would never remain silent in the face of hate. If we learned anything about the history of Germany and Hitler when he started out with less than a dozen people, they made the fatal error of not taking him serious at first. So we would never remain silent. We never have.
The second decision we made that we would determine our own agenda and that when hate groups met or did activities we would never attend any function they put on. We would not confront them face to face - not out of lack of courage, but we felt that that was really a vital mistake.
But we would react at the same time and we would have functions that would overwhelm their function at a different location and we based that upon the strategies of that brilliant man Martin Luther King, Junior and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
And I said in a number of speeches when we were challenged by some other civil rights groups criticizing us for not confronting them at a march or up at the compound; I said if you can show us one time that Dr. King and his followers ever went to a Klan rally we'll change strategy. He was too intelligent to do that.
He never attended anything they did, but when he marched to the State Capitol for voting rights or even sit-in at counters, whatever he did, he set the date, the time and the agenda and hate groups such as the Klan might be on the sideline but they were reacting to him. So those are two strategies we've followed for thirty years.
Marcia Franklin: How long was it after you started getting involved in this issue that you actually met Richard Butler?
Stewart: We saw him at a distance of course during this time. After these incidents took place he started operating on two different levels. One was the Aryan Nations which is his political arm, and then he created what he called the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. What fascinated a lot of his followers and the media was that this was very unusual to have a political organization and a religious organization. Certainly Adolf Hitler didn't do the religious part.
He started speaking out from the compound; he started going to meetings, and I think that I first observed him at a public gathering somewhere in the mid-1980's.
Franklin: What was your sense of him?
Stewart: ….when they would speak out at any of these rallies, (there was) tremendous anger fueled by the prejudice and hatred, and I also observed that there was always such a non-gleeful or happy look. I never saw smiling.
They were very confrontational oriented. In fact in one of the incidents I had brought to North Idaho College a performing artist from Los Angeles and she did characters from different minority groups and we'd just started the performance….and about five minutes in we got a call that there was a bomb in the building. We had to exit the building and while we were outside Richard Butler and some of his followers came up the sidewalk and said "what is the problem?" and we were able to trace that the call had been made at a phone on campus in a phone booth.
And once we had cleared everything we went back in and we started the performance again. And I told this young woman "You'll give your greatest performance of your life." And I said to the audience, and he was there - and I said "We will not be intimidated." That was the first time that I received a death threat that night about three in the morning on my phone.
M - Did you ever talk with him personally just the two of you?
Stewart: No, I did not.
Franklin: Was that a conscious choice not to sit down with him?
Stewart: Yes. Some of us made a decision. Bill Wassmuth and I in particular, that we would never appear in a joint appearance or debate with him. But I was really challenged on the First Amendment in relation to that so two of his young cohorts called me once and said "You will never allow Richard Butler to speak at what was called the Popcorn Forum ," which I coordinated, "because you don't believe in free speech. "
I had a real difficult decision, so what I did, I called my great friend Glen Walker the prosecutor and said "Will you debate him?" And Glen said, "I rather would not, but we cannot let the First Amendment suffer can we?"
I set up the debate between them and Glen prepared with religious leaders and legal and all and it was very, very fair. Each one got twenty minutes to speak. At the end of that there would be questions and we'd rotate.
If Richard Butler spoke first on the first question then Glen would the second question. And Glen destroyed him in the debate.
In fact that debate is an hour and a half long and it's catalogued in the North Idaho College Library. It's still there. When the debate was over Richard Butler had been so defeated he went to the Spokesman Review and said I've been sandbagged; I want a second debate and it was as fair as you could do in any debate and I said, "He just admitted his defeat."
You have to find a way to support the First Amendment and the 14th. The First Amendment is free speech, free press, right to assemble and even hate speech but the 14th Amendment, the equal protection clause says we also must protect people from harassment, discrimination. These are protections of the laws and we have found a way to not allow either of those two to be harmed and I think it was one of our great moments when we did that.
Franklin: So you never sat down with Richard Butler just mano-a-mano.
Stewart: What do we debate or discuss? That he can be bigoted and direct his harassment at African- Americans but not Native Americans? There's nothing to debate unless he is willing to denounce his whole doctrine and promote human rights; then we'll talk.
I learned a long time ago there is no use to spend time in that kind of environment or a futile effort. There are too many people to work with that can be convinced about the rights of equality, not spending your time in that. Also I think that gives a hate group some legitimacy.
One of the ministerial association members came to me once and asked for advice. Richard Butler had asked to meet with him on a monthly basis to discuss religious ideas and he said what do you think? I said it would be a terrible mistake because if you as wonderful religious leaders committed to all these great principles, if you meet with him it gives him legitimacy….. And they refused to meet with him.
By the way, he would not allow certain reporters at the compound - minority reporters. You had to be white to be there as a reporter. But no, the task force then and now has no intention of talking to or negotiating with hate. We know what their beliefs are. There is nothing else to learn.
Franklin: But you did speak out. And some people didn't agree with that.
Stewart: Some of our dear friends said it first in particular in the midst of it-"if you people will just be low key and quiet they'll just kind of disappear." Well that doesn't happen. It didn't happen in Germany; it doesn't happen anywhere.
But I have to say that some of those individuals who thought that at the beginning became some of our greatest supporters and not only speaking out in support of what we're doing but even financially.
Two or three of them have said to me in more recent years "Tony we were wrong. You did the right thing as an organization. You had to confront the hate."
Franklin: Just because they're small in numbers doesn't lessen their potential impact.
Stewart: You are so correct. But their numbers were greater than what was at first anticipated. In the mid-1980's when he was at his height he would have at the so-called Church - and I always emphasize so-called religion - he would have on Sunday around a hundred people. That is very serious.
And Sunday after Sunday he'd preach to them. Then when he had his congresses in the mid-1980's he would have three hundred people coming in from Canada and the United States. It was a very great possibility that this was going to grow and grow.
They were looking for a place to go where either people would be sympathetic or apathetic.
Franklin: So it really wasn't a small group.
Stewart: It was not that small. I would think that if you found a hundred communists meeting every day during the time when that was such a great threat or a hundred Nazis, whatever group it was, you cannot ignore that.
And another reason why you cannot ignore it because they are already in the process of creating victims and you can't ignore the fact that crimes are being committed. We know of over eight murders committed by people who left the compound after hearing the hate. And we know of bank robberies and counterfeiting money and the Order 1 declaring war on the United States.
Franklin: How scared were you personally?
Stewart: It was something of great concern to all of us. After Father Bill Wassmuth's home was bombed we really realized the extent of the seriousness.
We had a number of people threatened. And after the bombings I always recall what Father Bill said at our big Unity rally. He said I am very afraid. I'm very frightened but I refuse to live a life of being intimidated. I want to live a long life but whether I do or not I cannot remain silent and we all followed that particular pledge.
We did take a lot of precautions during those difficult times - things that we were given, as advice from experts and law enforcement. We have to praise law enforcement. They were very diligent in watching after us that because when the second bombs went off in Coeur d'Alene about 10 days after Bill's home was bombed, at four different sites in Coeur d'Alene, I was in the classroom teaching at North Idaho College and I had a nine o'clock class.
When I left the room at 10 to go to my office there were two police officers waiting for me. They took me to my office and said "All of you are in danger and we're going to spend the day with you. We're trying to find who did this." And one of them who had been a former student of mine went to my home and spent the night. I never forgot that. So we had a lot of support.
The community was so angry when the Catholic priest's home was bombed and it rallied people in a way that had not happened before. I think from that day on we didn't have to spend much time trying to defend why we were so vocal.
Franklin: So were you scared?
Stewart: On a number of occasions, but here's one thing I never did. We all didn't agree. I didn't have as many threats as some people. I had two phone calls that were very serious and I took it to the police - the recording - but I never went public. …some others would call the media. My belief was that if I didn't make it public the perpetrators wouldn't know how I was thinking or doing with it.
Franklin: Idaho has some strong laws on the books as a result of having to deal with this, right?
Stewart: In 1981 when we organized on these threats I think our wisdom was as a collective group we decided that we were going to have one goal at the beginning and that is to get legislation to deal with these kinds of crimes.
We felt there should be laws describing clearly hate crimes. And so starting in 1981 we started immediately working with the Sheriff's Association in the state and prosecutors trying to get legislation passed.
And our first success came in 1983 with the anti-malicious harassment law, a criminal law and a felony. And later we were able to add a new section, civil remedies, to be able to sue. We were able to get passed - a year before the federal law later in the 1980's a uniform or vice crime reporting law where the police would have to report if it was a hate crime.
And we got something that was really, really interesting to me because it came years before that awful crime of 9/11. We got a Domestic Terrorist Control Act in Idaho - or Anti-Paramilitary Training. It is very carefully written. It has nothing to do with denying people the right of guns for hunting or sports, but if people come into our state and they train militarily to try to take over our government it is a very serious felony.
So from 1983 all the way through the end of the mid-1990's one of our success stories and we spread out to other things is the tremendous number of laws that the legislature passed and our Governors did sign.
And one of our great allies who was in a very critical position at the time was Marilyn Shuler. I worked closely with her. She was an incredible director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission. We worked on strategy for legislation.
One of the great mistakes made is that Richard Butler went into testify with his uniform on - against the law - which was a great break for us because how could the legislature side with Richard Butler?
Franklin: Talk about Bill Wassmuth:
Stewart: We had a very, very common set of principles. We always encouraged one another and when one of us had a difficult time the other one was there. We had a lot of time together, traveled a lot together and even had the opportunity to use humor too as part of our, really I guess - was good for us mentally and emotionally.
He was a remarkable friend and a brilliant speaker and very committed with great courage. Someone can't leave your life like that without you missing them but I go back and think about being grateful for the time we had together.
Franklin: Talk about Lemons to Lemonade.
Stewart: One of our great success stories. Some years ago Norm Gissel, Marshal Mend and I did a seven day tour of Pennsylvania and starting out at the University of Pittsburgh. We were asked to come and we had an entourage there to speak across the state. While we were there we discovered in one small community when the Klan came to town that they used what they called lemons to lemonade. They had very little time to put it together and they raised a couple of thousand dollars.
When we heard in January of 1998 that Richard Butler had applied for a permit and was going to march our position was to the city of Coeur d'Alene you can't stop the march. It's protected by the First Amendment if there is no violence but there is a way of dealing with it without trying to stop the march.
So we had such good lead time I was appointed by the task force to be the coordinator for it.
And it caught on across the nation. I did interviews from all parts of the United States television, radio and newspapers and I entered this concept of a political campaign. It really was, and at the press conference I said Richard Butler and their nation have three choices and it was like a check mate for the march.
I said, "He can cancel the march and we shall make no money for human rights. That's one choice. Number two: he is quite elderly but as he walks down the street if he will run as fast as he can and get it over with quickly we'll make a little money for human rights or number three: he can walk very slowly and the longer he walks the more money we make for human rights and we suggest he walk very slowly."
We took in $34,000 on those pledges. Even a professor at Harvard Law School sent us money. Students at Arizona State University, the utility company gave us $25.00 per minute.
It only lasted twenty-seven minutes but he was so upset about this he said to a reporter who called me, this is illegal what they are doing. There is a law in Idaho for every dollar they raise we get fifty cents. And she said to me - a television reporter - I called the Attorney General before talking to you and he laughed and said they can make all the money they want.
And so we had checkmated him. Our point is, back to Dr. King, we had found a very good strategy we had learned from someone else but instead of standing on the sidelines yelling at him we had all these months to do this and we wound up with $24,000 ourselves. The rest of the money went to like the NAACP or the Northwest Coalition and others that we sent to them.
Three times he had to hear throughout all the media that all this money was going to teach children about diversity and we gave him credit for it. That's a victory rather than spending thirty minutes on the street yelling at him. It was one of our greatest projects we've ever done.
…everybody could participate in a very safe way. Everybody could participate. You know ,you just give a pledge. And we didn't release the names of who gave what.
And my favorite contribution was from a woman in Spokane who had no money, or hardly. She sent me a letter with four dimes in the letter and then on the outside when she sealed it she had a little yellow sticker, she said this is my cat and it's a lemon-aid cat. And so it really caught on you know? It was a terrible defeat for him.
Franklin: Do you think he walked faster or slower?
Stewart: Oh I think that he didn't know what to do. It was only like seven blocks or so. He walked pretty slowly and we had one of our people down at the park with this sign, like a thermometer. It was going up and up and how many thousands. And what else we did that was such a great strategy.
About every three or four weeks we would notify the media how much money had been pledged and so all through the spring and summer it kept adding up. We got a year's attention out of his twenty-seven minute march. I'm just saying to you that you need to be more intelligent than the hate groups in strategy.
We made a week out of it in addition to the months of lemons to lemonade. We decided to meet at Post Falls and we've always used orange ribbons as our color because they show up at night and we had many cars and we decorated every car with ribbon.
And then we had the media following us and we had this huge long caravan, car caravan to Gonzaga University with all these ribbons, all our lights on. People passed us on the interstate waving and blowing their horn and the media followed us all the way.
When we arrived there - and we had planned it for months - we had a thousand people and we had these great speakers and we had great music and what we were doing was combining this effort between Washington and Idaho and announced that ahead of time.
We had a lot of press conferences. We had a press conference at the state line where Idahoans on the one side and the Washingtonians on the other and we met on the bridge and shook hands that we were announcing hands across the border for human rights and announced the big rally we would have.
Then later on Sunday we had an interfaith service at St. Pius Catholic Church of the Jewish and Christian and other communities interfaith service. We had a cowboy/cowgirl picnic out at Rathdrum. In that week we distributed six thousand ribbons. People had them on their cars and on their homes and the trees. So instead of taking just twenty-seven minutes we chose to do a whole campaign.
Franklin: But Butler didn't go away.
Stewart: It's an excellent question….most members of hate groups they come into your community and if they find out they're not being received well they'll leave. Richard Butler was unique. He would not do so.
That was his personality. He was determined. He enjoyed I think the confrontation or the idea that you couldn't discourage him to leave.
… although we had many successes and we had many laws passed and many people went to prison, it took that lawsuit to really bring an end to his ability to recruit, now when he lost all of his property and he had no resources, nowhere for them to stay.
Of all the victories we've ever had and there have been many in partnership with others it was the trial and his loss of his property.
Franklin: Could you ever have imagined that it would end that way?
Stewart: I had some inclinations it might, and it goes back some years. I always would say, particularly to Norm Gissel they are so crime-oriented…at some point they were going to make a mistake and when Father Bill's home was bombed….there was some connection between obviously Order 2 and him, but we couldn't make the distinction clear enough…
…and when I received the telephone call from Victoria Keenan and I called Norm, I said "This is the smoking gun in my opinion" and Norm said "I think so."
Franklin: But it was a long process getting to that point.
Stewart: People got so frustrated and they would say to us sometimes "wouldn't violence be better?" And we say no. It never is the path, and no matter how difficult it got we would always be able to find ways to deal with it nonviolently….
And it was a long process….you've heard as a child (about) the race between the tortoise and the hare. Well the hare should have won that easily, but they got distracted in the briar patch. And as a kid I never forgot that. The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations was the tortoise. This is the long run.
You've got to work 365 days a year. This kind of work is a lifetime commitment. It's not for coming out occasionally in relation to a rally.
Franklin: When the compound was destroyed how did you feel?
Stewart: As one of the buildings was coming down, a reporter rushed up to me and said let's talk and I said I can't talk right now. I have to be very quiet and I have to watch this building come down. When that is over I will talk with you.
But my emotions were on behalf of the victims. My whole thought that day is we're bringing something to an end; there will be fewer victims- at least in our region. This is a great victory for the Constitution, particularly the 14th Amendment, it's a victory for freedom and equality and justice.
We were closing a campus that had preached hate for many, many years.
That was a symbolic day of tearing those particular pieces down and there was tremendous media coverage, so people all over this country and even other countries also got the opportunity to say there's been a victory in Idaho. We really needed that for other reasons too, I think.
Franklin: Why do you think so many people though still think of Idaho as a haven for racists?
Stewart: Here's an analogy. If a plane is coming in to the airport in Spokane and crashes, that's so tragic and it will be covered. But the reporters do not come every day and say "I've come to report another safe landing."
The same analogy applies here - that when he would burn a cross or there would be a crime and when they were interviewed that so saturates the mind of a person. Even though we might be interviewed that day about nonviolence it is the crime and the burning of the cross that sticks so deeply, rather than our message, although reporters always shared that with us.
It's like having a class and I talk for so long. If I have 40 students and 39 of them are being wonderful in the classroom but one is causing you lots of trouble, if you're not careful you will direct your exhaustion to that one student, forgetting the 39 others. So it's the sensationalism of it that so penetrated the psyche of this country that it's been very difficult to overcome, although the trial did help in many ways because it was sensational too.
Franklin: I've heard you call it a stain before. Do you think that is appropriate?
Stewart: It was a very deep stain upon our whole state which was not justified but it's a reality we had to face.
And that's another role we play in our own small way. When I speak all over the United States I tell this story. People are fascinated with it and there is tremendous media coverage. I spent four days in Gainesville, Florida speaking on this issue; we spent seven days in Pennsylvania. Obviously from what happened in John Day we got tremendous coverage. I even did interviews with media out of Asia.
So I guess I have to say Marcia, both our organization and everyone else needs to be good ambassadors for our state and our region and do what we can do. We only can do so much, but little by little the tortoise can send the message.
Franklin: We're seeing some more incidents though. Does that worry you?
Stewart: It always does. The good news is there is no compound, they have no resources. There is a very bad split between them and each group has got three to four members.
The great news is they are split among themselves. They don't have a compound, they don't have all those buildings, they don't have people coming in to stay there and they don't have a person. Even though I thought that Richard Butler was a very poor speaker and rambled he was good at his strategy of having a place and drawing attention. That is all gone.
Also our communities, plural, in this whole region have learned a lot over the thirty years and they respond quickly.
Franklin: When you look out across the landscape, what are the current human rights issues?
Stewart: ….number one is in education. You have to bring into the educational system the great lessons and great curriculum dealing with human rights with children. And we've been doing that for 25 with our MLK program. We saw its success. We got over 30,000. And to this day those who are 32 or 33 will tell you about when they went into the program years ago.
We created another organization to really help with that. The Human Rights Education Institute.
….the next big phase will be in large corporations, incorporating diversity in the work place, not only in the recruiting process but how you set up the workplace.
For example, they are in many of these corporations making it clear in their policy they will not discriminate based on all these protected classes - race, color, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation. And business has great power and I think as they create that kind of workplace it will find its way into other parts of society. So I look at both the formal educational system and corporations as our greatest allies in the future.
Franklin: Some people are very averse to having their children hear about human rights issues.
Stewart: The good news is there are very few of them. At least in our schools here, and I've talked to the faculty and the administrators. We have a few isolated examples where they're not allowed to go to it but it's very small.
Social fabric and social pressure is very powerful, and when the great majority is doing this even some of those children later when they get a little older will say "my father or mother was wrong."
And a good example of that -a lady came into my office about 18 old about four years ago and she said "I need to tell you Tony, my mother is racist but we're having a meeting every month and I'm helping her. She cries every time but I'm going to get her out of this."
Each generation tends to become more supportive and tolerant and here is a daughter helping her mother and so I have a lot of optimism with that.
Franklin: Does it seem like ten years since the verdict?
Stewart: No. First of all the older I get, the more I have trouble about how long something was. Time passes faster. I'm always saying something was three years ago and it was eight years ago. It seems like the trial was probably two years ago. I'm just amazed how much time has passed and the more one stays busy the more looks at it from that viewpoint. My, where did time go? But that's why we decided to pause and have anniversary recognition of the 10th year.
And we're doing it for two reasons. A lot of people have moved to our region in the last 10 years and they don't know anything about this. By doing this it's an educational tool to say "Look what this jury did, look what our community did."
And secondly it sends a message to anyone who might be considering moving here and engage in hate, this is what a jury does. And then we honor the jury by doing this.
Franklin: How do you feel about people still moving here because it's white? They choose to move here for that reason.
Stewart: An individual or a family in this free country can move wherever they wish but it certainly is important for us to continue our work. It says to us that we must continue. There are always challenges. And you don't want to start slipping backwards.
The fact that so many people have witnessed hate up so close, it has converted them to supporting human rights.
Polls are indicating that people are much more tolerant about some groups of people that they weren't even five or ten years ago. There's a new poll out that says that I saw yesterday that 50% of Americans now are saying that same-sex marriages are okay. And that's a very controversial topic.
…. look at the progress about disability, and not only the passage of laws but how people are much more receptive to trying to create facilities that are very helpful to people with the challenge of a disability.
But it's an ongoing process and not in our lifetime will we ever see a society where there will be no prejudice. But even when you take two steps forward if you take a half step back and you take two more steps forward you're still moving forward.
Franklin: And when you go onto the compound as you did today are the emotions pretty well erased by now?
Stewart: The first time I went and I waited some days before I went and then I went up with Norm Gissel and it was a very difficult experience and seeing all the hate that was still there. I just felt that around me it was just such a place where so much evil had been. This may sound minor but I wanted to go home and take a shower. That's how I felt.
What was therapy for me is…I spent about two months up there with a construction company getting rid of everything. It was very good therapy to watch it all go away, and we said to the contractor move anything that nature didn't put here.
And one thing helped me too. When we finally got rid of everything I was approached by ministers and religious leaders from Spokane and here and they wanted to go up there privately one Sunday with no advertising and they wanted to use a ceremony to purify the land. So I have no qualms now.
Franklin: So when you are there it's just another piece of land now?
Stewart: It's not just another piece of land to me. I think symbolically it is changed from very dark and evil to I think now a special place. And I think these religious leaders helped make it that by dedicating it to healing and peace.
Animals returned that hadn't been there. I find it now, and only speaking for myself, I find it a special place now. How you turn hate and evil into something very good.
Franklin: And why not make it a conference center for people to come study human rights?
Stewart: That could be a possibility. We decided to give it to North Idaho College Foundation. I asked (Greg Carr) to put in the deed for twenty years they can't touch it.
I wanted those wonderful neighbors to have peace. They've been through so much. I was thinking of them. In a way they were victims by having to live next to that all the time and the congress and the flags flying. And then secondly wanted the land to heal and I think it has healed and will continue to heal.
Franklin: Don't you worry though that it could be sold and a housing development put on it?
Stewart: It could be, but it won't be for a long time. That is why Greg was so wonderful. I said "Can I put in the deed this restriction?" And he said you get it only under this condition. And as long as he and I are around we'll make sure.
Franklin: Why did you want it to go to the NIC Foundation instead of being turned into a park or conference center?
Stewart: One problem with it up there is there's no water. It would be very expensive to drill some wells. It's very, very dry, but secondly the reason I suggested the North Idaho College Foundation is we have a lot of partners and one of our great partners through all of these years has been North Idaho College.
I couldn't think of any entity at the time we needed to thank more than we could thank them. They've always been with us.
Franklin: Is there anything that I have neglected to ask you about?
Stewart: I would encourage all wonderful human beings and particularly the youth to commit yourself to being supporters of freedom, equality and justice and always come forward and be an ally for someone who needs you, someone who has been a victim.
When history is recorded it is never kind to either those who engaged in hate and prejudice and bigotry, and it's not very kind for those who sit on the sidelines. History, if you read it carefully is honoring those who did the right thing.
There's a lot of work to do yet. And one cannot rest on the laurels of what has happened and success.
Some people said as soon as we won that victory and the compound was gone the task force would cease operation. Well, that was in 2000, and I would say we're as active as we've ever been ten years later.