Bonner County Human Rights Task Force
The Bonner County Human Rights Task Force (BCHRTF) was established in 1992 to confront the growing challenges of white supremacist organizations in and around Bonner County, Idaho. Over the decade, BCHRTF has been noted for its successful proactive and reactive responses to messages of hate and intolerance. The Task Force has grown from an initial cadre of founding members and supporters to an organization of approximately 300 people who speak out for human dignity and against intolerance and prejudice.
The Creed of the BCHRTF states:
- We believe in the inviolable dignity of each human being.
- We oppose discrimination, segregation, intimidation, harassment, physical harm, or the denial of equal protection in any form based upon race, color, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.
- We promote interracial and intercultural understanding; we promote racial and ethnic harmony.
- We encourage parents and educators to teach fairness, justice, and equality; we encourage everyone to live these ideals.
In its desire to be proactive and "to inoculate" citizens, particularly young people, against the message of hate, the BCHRTF has long been involved in educational programs.
In the last years, the Task Force has:
- Marched in Sandpoint's 4th of July parade behind the banner of "Building a Better Community."
- Organized or cosponsored the August 2001 "Making a Difference" conference and Youth Leadership Institute.
- Conducted a videotaping session with Senator Mike Crapo on human rights themes.
- Met with human rights leaders from the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan sharing ideas on community leadership to create an improved human rights environment.
- In the wake of terror attacks on the USA, conducted the fall forum on the theme of "Human Rights After September 11th."
- Continued engagement with the Kalispel Tribe, the first people of Bonner County, to develop a curriculum for elementary, middle, and high school use.
- Provided support to the Lake Pend Oreille School District to promote the "Character Counts" program in elementary schools.
- Organized the annual Martin Luther King celebration with music, readings, and poetry.
- Launched the Bob Ward Memorial Fund for Human Rights Literature with the Bonner County Public Library.
- Cosponsored during African American History Month the presentation of Vernon Baker, Medal of Honor winner, and St. Maries, Idaho resident.
- Cosponsored with the Sandpoint High School Human Rights Club the performance of IntersectionZ Artz, a diversity dance company.
- Organized the spring semiannual forum on the theme of "Media's Role in Shaping or Breaking a Community."
- Presented the third annual $2,000 scholarship to a graduating Bonner County senior and the annual "Stone of Hope" award to a graduating senior for human rights involvement.
- Organized a video teleconference between the community leaders of Bonner County and the community leaders of Potter County, Pennsylvania. Teleconference shared ideas, approaches, and methods to counter the influence of a growing Aryan Nations presence.
- Presented the spring forum with a panel of national, regional, and local media experts discussing "The Role of Media in Making or Breaking a Community."
The BCHRTF activities of the last years are built on the foundation of a decade.
- May 1991: Public meeting attended by 200-300 citizens at Sandpoint High School featured Bill Wassmuth and Marshall Mend of the Kootenai County Task Force. Meeting rallied public support against the influence of Richard Butler's Aryan Nations.
- 1992: Formal establishment of the BCHRTF as a 501(C)4 nonprofit organization.
- 1994: Active involvement in Idaho's "No on One" campaign to block Idaho's anti-homosexual ballot initiative
- 1995: Public meeting of 500 citizens at the Sandpoint High School at a time of growing influence of the "Idaho Citizens Awareness Network" with its messages of antigovernment, antiimmigrant, conspiracy theory, and militia support. Bill Wassmuth again addressed the audience on the Patriot Movement and urged all "to take a stand."
- 1999: Successful signature campaign collecting 1,200 signatures in less than 2 days in response to a vitriolic hate mailing by Vincent Bertollini's "11th Hour Remnant Messenger." Under the banner headline, "We Will Not Be Silent," citizens communicated their resistance to the "11th Hour's" anti-Semitic message.
- 2000: Recipient of a $12,000 grant from Harbor Properties (owners of Bonner County's Schweitzer Mountain Resort) and Sandpoint's Evergreen Realty. In a public ceremony, the award was presented to the Task Force leadership by Idaho's Governor Dirk Kempthorne.
- April 2001: Participated in organizing the "Celebrate Sandpoint" event designed as a positive response to a threatened Neo-Nazi march in downtown Sandpoint. Over 400 people attended the event which feature speeches from civic leaders and the unveiling of the likeness of the statue "Tolerance" to be erected on the grounds of the Bonner County Court House in the summer of 2002.
- August 2001: Organized BCHRTF's first annual human rights conference, titled "Making a Difference: Empowering Individuals to Build Inclusive Communities." Cosponsored with the Northwest Coalition on Human Dignity, the annual Youth Leadership Institute providing leadership training to high school students.
- April 2002: Presented the 2001 Civil Rights Award by Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations for resisting intolerance and uplifting human dignity across the decade.