John Day is a pretty little Eastern Oregon town that up until last month was known mostly for the good fishing in the John Day River and good fossil-hunting in the nearby John Day Fossil Beds.
But in mid-February, a group that embraces fossilized political and racial ideas cast an unwelcome spotlight on John Day. Paul R. Mullet, who calls himself the national director of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations group, breezed into town in a swastika-bedecked shirt and let it be known that he was looking at some real estate. The group is planning to relocate from northern Idaho, he said, and John Day looks like the perfect place to establish its new headquarters.
Aryan Nations is a virulently racist white supremacist organization founded in the 1970s and originally headquartered in northern Idaho. It's anti-black, anti-Semitic and anti-Hispanic, and dreams of creating a "Fourth Reich," a whites-only "Aryan" nation within the United States.
After Mullet showed up in John Day, the local weekly newspaper, the Blue Mountain Eagle, wasted no time in sounding the alarm, and the citizens of John Day and surrounding Grant County promptly and loudly made it clear that the "Aryans" and their poisonous ideology were not welcome.
Groups of local citizens marched down the main street with picket signs telling the Nazis to stay out of their town. Two informational meetings arranged by the Eagle drew overflow crowds of more than 300 - in a town with a population of 2,000. The Eagle has started distributing green ribbons that people can tie on their vehicles to show their opposition to the "Aryans" and their doctrines.
It's tempting to dismiss Mullet and his followers as just a bunch of nutbags running around in the woods of northern Idaho, but that would be a dangerous mistake. Hitler and his followers were once just a bunch of nutbags ranting about Jews in a Munich beer hall.
Though Mullet insists his organization isn't violent, its website seethes with violent rhetoric, including a quotation from Hitler: "Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live."
And the group has a history of violence. In 2000, the Southern Poverty Law Center won a $6.3 million jury judgment on behalf of two people who were beaten with rifles by drunken Aryan Nations thugs in Coeur d'Alene. The FBI has called the organization a "terrorist threat" and the RAND Corporation described it as the "first truly nationwide terrorist network" in the United States.
Mullet says the opposition in John Day has made him all the more determined to move his group there. "They want to mess with me, they mess with the wrong bird," he told a reporter.
Well, we'll see about that. In the meantime, the people of John Day and Grant County - and especially Eagle Publisher Marissa Williams and Editor Scotta Callister - have earned the GLASS SLIPPER for taking a firm and unequivocal stand against his brand of bigoted lunacy.