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September 09, 2004

Richard Butler, screwball

Our Sept. 9 page-one obit of Richard Butler, the Idaho Nazi, ended on the note that he had reached a pathetic end. I think he was pathetic all the way through. I am happy to see him leave the pages of the newspaper, because I think he was one of the most overplayed political stories I can remember.

The man was significant for two reasons only. First, he espoused an ideology that included hatred for other races, which was unusually mean-spirited and notable for its connection to the National Socialists; second, several people who had been associated with him committed violent crimes. As news, I think, that would make him a one-shot story for being an oddball -- what we in the news business call a “hey, Martha!” story -- and also an occasional police story.

He was not a story of major social and political significance. That is, his Aryan “Nation” didn’t represent a movement among white people in the Pacific Northwest, or anywhere. But it was covered as if it did.

The story became a clash between a small group of nutball race-haters who thrived on angering liberals, and thereby getting public attention for being nasty and horrible, and liberals who thrived on angering Butler, and thereby getting public attention for their altruistic crusade on behalf of human rights.

Each side needed the other to market itself.

I am reminded of a story of a parade over there in which Butler brought out his entire national following, such as would come to Idaho -- fewer people than could sit down in one city bus -- and the human rights crusaders brought out a couple of thousand, and the two sides faced each other and demonstrated their deeply held personal convictions. Newspapers and TV stations duly sent out reporters to record it all. They were marketing themselves, too.

In the end, what was the significance? Butler was a screwball. His people were losers. There were not enough of them to do anything except random crimes, for which they were duly arrested and jailed. After the first few “hey, Martha!” stories, we in the media should have ignored him.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at September 9, 2004 04:07 PM



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