Human rights is for human beings. It's for everybody.
Marshall Mend is a successful realtor in the Coeur d'Alene area. He was one of the original members of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and came up with many promotional ideas, including billboards and posters promoting human rights. He also spoke out against the Aryan Nations, despite being Jewish and having received threats. He spoke with Marcia Franklin in September, 2010, during the 10th anniversary of the verdict that bankrupted the Aryan Nations.
Marcia Franklin: Were you ever threatened while working on this issue?
Marshall Mend: Had the FBI come to my house a couple of times, told me I was on a hit list, told me to check my car, look behind, look in front, look on the sides, look underneath.
Franklin: And that didn't deter you?
Mend: I guess I wasn't that bright. Deterred my wife, deterred my daughter. They were real concerned. I didn't give it much thought. I remember we were having some trouble with a house that we had purchased one time. I lost sleep over that house. I never lost sleep over the Aryan Nations - ever. I just didn't.
Franklin: You were a big believer in the importance of promotion, of having billboards, of having bumper stickers that had a motto on it. Why?
Mend: Well, you know when you get an image the only way to erase an image is to build a bigger image that takes care of the other image.
When you think about Kent State what do you remember? You can ask that to people who weren't even born when that happened and they will tell you about the students that were killed by the National Guard and they never did anything to get rid of that image.
Our number of racists is very small in the state of Idaho but what Richard Butler did - he did a real good job of promoting the Aryan Nations-- and the press picked up on it and Nazis sell newspapers.
Franklin: One of your thoughts during that time was to create a motto that would have been on license plates: "Idaho: The Human Rights State." Many people would say that doesn't describe Idaho. Do you still think it does?
Mend: Absolutely. Do I think everybody in Idaho supports human rights? No, I don't, but I believe that most of the people in Idaho support human rights.
Brochure designed by Marshall Mend to combat the image of Idaho as intolerant.
Franklin: What do you think the image is now of Idaho?
Mend: I think it is much better than it was before. I think the trial made a big difference in our image. But there are some people who still remember the Nazis and they still think that they're here. I think ethnic people feel it more than white people but even white people - white Anglo-Saxon protestants, some of them remember the Nazis and still think that they are still here. The trial though was major. The trial made a great big difference.
My idea for Coeur d'Alene is I think that Coeur d'Alene should be the human rights capital of the world. And I think we're doing some things to help make Coeur d'Alene the human rights capital of the world and I think one day we will be - maybe not the capital -- but let's just say one of the human rights capitals of the world.
Franklin: I have talked to people moving here who say it's because it's white.
Mend: Their thought is when you have minorities you have crime, and crime doesn't come from minorities. Crime comes from poverty. That's where it comes from.
Franklin: So when you say you never lost sleep over Richard Butler, is that because you didn't think he was bright enough to do anything?
Mend: Yeah, originally I didn't think he was bright at all. I thought he was - I did not have much respect for him. I think I really underestimated the guy. He seemed like a nut case as far as I was concerned, preaching the things that he did, talking about the things that he did the way he talked, but he was pretty smart about a whole lot of things that he did.
I used to think that anybody that was a racist was stupid but they're not - but they have one thing in common - all the people that are racist - and that's self-image. They do not have a real good self-image because if they've got a good self-image they don't need to put somebody else down.
But they need somebody to hate. Whenever there's a problem and things go bad, that's when racism comes up and they have to have somebody to blame - the Jews, the Blacks, the Mexicans.
Today…we're looking at hating the Mexicans like all of a sudden now every Hispanic is now a drug dealer. That's not the way it is. Every Hispanic isn't.
We need to change our immigration laws and we need to make it easier for immigrants to come into this country. White, black, brown, yellow, whatever but making it easier for them. Immigrants make the best Americans.
Franklin: So is that where you see some of our challenges lying now?
Mend: Probably one of the biggest challenges we have today is the gay issue. That is probably one of the toughest things. There are a lot of people who just have strong feelings about--that gays are not real human beings. And I'm a great believer that about ten percent of our population is gay. Somebody once told me God doesn't make any mistakes. He made us, he made them; he made me, made all of us.
Franklin: Your group did so much. Is there something that stands out for you?
Mend: The trial was a major, major thing, but we could have done it in 1986 and we didn't. It was one of the biggest mistakes that we ever made. And at that time Bill Wassmuth who was a Catholic priest at the time, when his house was bombed we had a good way to get rid of him at that point. Morris Dees even contacted us to say that we could do it and Bill did not want to involve the church into the mix. And Bill said about I think it was right around the trial I was talking to him and he said that the biggest mistake that he ever made was not going after the Aryans in 1986, that we could have gotten rid of them then.
Franklin: Do you miss him?
Mend: I do. Yeah. He was a mentor, a friend and he's a human rights hero. He is just great. I remember so many things that we did together. I remember going to Spokane with him and we're going to go talk to a minister over there who was heading up the Spokane Human Rights Task Force and they wanted to talk to us about gay people and Bill said "You know something? We're focused on human rights, race, religion, creed. We're not getting into the gay issue." Right on. I'm with you 100 percent.
And we get over there and we listen to this guy's story and we're driving home and he looks at me and I look at him and there is no way we could not be involved in it because all it is is hatred and it's the same kind of hatred that you have in race, religion, gender, whatever. Hate is hate.
Franklin: What if someone said to you, "I have a lot on my plate already. Why should I care about human rights issues?" What would you say?
Mend: Human rights is for human beings. It's for everybody. That's who human rights is for. No special rights for anybody, it's just human rights for human beings.
Not all human beings "except." It is for all human beings. We all deserve human rights. Doesn't matter what they are. We might not agree with them, but they have the same human rights. They don't have any extra human rights but they have the same rights that we all have.
Franklin: What was it like to go to the compound?
Mend: That was not nice. I did not like it. I never went back. I have never been back since.
Franklin: Did you get involved because of Sid Rosen? Is that how you got involved?
Mend: That was the first thing that came up. The only reason I got involved in the beginning… was for me, not for anybody else, OK? I got involved because I was a Jew and here's a group of Nazis that I found out about right after I moved here. If I would have heard the word Nazi before I came to Coeur d'Alene I would have never considered Coeur d'Alene.
We lost millions and millions of dollars of people who didn't come to Coeur d'Alene that we don't even know about, that we can't even imagine because of the people who were like me.
We lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the economic development of companies that would have moved here but didn't move here, didn't even consider us because of the Aryan Nations image.
I remember when we did our billboard campaign I had the Association of Realtors sponsor that billboard campaign and we put them all over the state. Idaho is for everybody. We had this picture of all different kinds of races and it was a great billboard.
One of Bill Wassmuth's greatest statements that he ever came up with was "Saying yes to human rights is the best way to say no to racism and bigotry." And that's a creed that we live by and I live by, and that is really the truth -saying yes to human rights is the best way to say no to racism and bigotry.