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For the week of Jan 29 - Feb 4, 2003

News

Former Aryan Nations member urges confrontation with racist ideas


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

A former Aryan Nations member urged local parents to more actively oppose the message spread by hate groups among young people.

"This movement is a danger to America for many different reasons," said former Aryan Nations Press Secretary Floyd Cochran during a talk at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum on Jan. 22. "The most important reason is that theyíre recruiting our children."

Cochran said that during the past 10 to 15 years, white supremacist groups in the United States have focused their recruitment efforts on people between 11 and 25 years old. He said that he himself was recruited by the formerly Idaho-based Aryan Nations as a teenager, but left the group in 1992 due to a change of heart about its doctrines.

While in the group, he said, he traveled throughout the Pacific Northwest as a youth recruiter.

"When you ignored me when I came into your community, you allowed me to work under the radar," he said.

In an interview, Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said that upon occasions, particularly in the 1980s, his office has encountered Aryan Nations recruitment materials locally. However, he said, he hasnít been aware of anything of that nature here for about the past five years.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., delivered a crippling blow to the Aryan Nations in September 2000, when it won a lawsuit against it on behalf of a woman and her son who had been attacked by the groupís security guards. The group was forced to sell its 20-acre compound near Hayden Lake, in northern Idaho, to help pay the $6.3 million verdict.

Since leaving the state, the group has relocated in Pennsylvania. Cochran said Aryan Nations leaders consider southern Pennsylvania to be fertile recruiting ground due to its somewhat isolated small towns inhabited almost exclusively by white people. He said his own experiences showed him that it is easy to play on stereotypes of minorities when most of the people in oneís audience have rarely met any.

So far, however, the Aryan Nationsí efforts there have failed to ignite much support. Last April 20, the birthday of Adolf Hitler, Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler held a rally in York, Pa., predicting the presence of 350 militants. Only about a dozen showed up.

"The Aryan Nations is practically dead," said Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Centerís quarterly Intelligence Report.

Potok said the group has been weakened by internal conflicts and owns very little property.

"There are so few spoils to be fought over that itís pretty pathetic," he said. "The so-called Aryan Nations in Pennsylvania is (leader) August Kreisís trailer."

However, Potok said, the groupís demise is not due to any waning of interest in its ideology. In fact, he said, the number of hate groups in the United States has been rising for the past 10 years. The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 676 such groups in 2001.

Potok said the vast majority are very small, though they range in size up to the 20,000-member Council of Conservative Citizens, based in St. Louis. The group calls itself a "neo-Confederate organization." Potok said there is no evidence that it is violent, but calls it "openly racist."

With 50 such groups, Texas ranks number one on the Southern Poverty Law Centerís state-by-state tabulation. In second and third places are Florida and California, with 43 and 42 groups respectively. Only nine groups are listed for Idaho.

In his talk, Cochran said the Aryan Nations is one of 40 hate groups active in Pennsylvania, up from only six there 10 years ago.

He said the Aryan Nations recruited him by making him feel like somebody special. As a foster child and one of the skinniest kids in school, he said, he was particularly vulnerable to that.

"No one paid much attention to me in school until I walked in wearing a T-shirt saying ĎWhite Power,í he said. "I thought at the time that I was being cool."

He added that the groupís message also allowed him to blame others for his failures.

He said the Aryan Nationís approach succeeded only because no authority figures challenged those ideas. He urged local teachers and parents not to fall into that trap.

Cochranís words were underscored by a man in the audience who said many children in Blaine County have never seen a black person. In response, Cochran suggested that parents make an effort to expose their children to other groups and cultures.

"Maybe we should start taking some field trips and getting to know other races," he said.

Cochran urged his listeners to acknowledge that we all have a little bit of fear about people who are foreign to us.

"I have come a long way in 10 years," he said, "but I have a long ways to go."

As an example, he pointed to a recent time when he was asked to speak to an audience about homophobia. He said he felt confident about the talk until he arrived at the locale and was suddenly surrounded by gay men and lesbians.

"All I could think about was that the men were going to hit on me and the women were going to hit me," he said.

In 1992, Cochran was shocked into a re-examination of his racist beliefs when one of his superiors in the Aryan Nations told him that after the group seized power, his 4-year-old son, who had a cleft palette, would have to be killed. He said that led him to empathize with all who were different from him due solely to an accident of birth.

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