HAYDEN, Idaho -It’s been more than two decades since the Aryan Nations went bankrupt and left North Idaho. However, last month, the Aryan Freedom Network announced it would have a meeting in Hayden Lake. The details of how many people, where it was and when were all unknown.
Because of the group’s announcement to meet, two groups gathered Saturday to spread messages of love.
Organization Love Lives Here Coeur d’Alene held a “kindness toss” where people met to hold up signs of love and kindness.
“We’re here to represent what North Idaho culture is. We have a really wonderful, kind community. Sometimes that gets overshadowed by a few people who want to meet and talk about hateful things,” said Ali Orjala, the co-founder and volunteer with Love Lives Here Coeur d’Alene organization.
Orjala said it’s sad that a group decided to come to the Hayden area to try and talk about “that messaging.” She believes it’s a misinterpretation of what North Idaho is now like.
“We really have a lot of wonderful people here. We’re a kind community. We’re accepting. That’s really what we want to show at this event,” she said.
After people waved signs as people drove by and honked, they went over the Human Rights Education Institute (HREI) to hear from speakers, specifically from former neo-nazi and former Aryan Nations member Sean Gillespie.
Gillespie is also a Spokane native. He spent the last 16 years in prison for committing a hate crime in 2004. Gillespie was sentenced to 39 years in prison, however, he was released in 2020 because of changes in the law.
Gillespie says he was sexually assaulted by an Asian man when he was young and says that’s when his hatred began. Following that, he found himself at the Aryan Nations compound in North Idaho. He said they took him in without question.
At 20 years old, Gillespie threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Oklahoma City. When asked why he did that, Gillespie said it’s a long story.
“In short, hate. I was lead to believe that Jews were the cause of all of my own issues and I was a very selfish, immature child who decided to blame others for my own faults in life,” he said.
During his 16 years in prison, Gillespie said he educated himself and changed his views.
“I think education is important when it comes in terms to hate. A lot of people that are in the hate movements aren’t very educated. They claim they’re educated but they don’t read anything except for one point of view,” Gillespie said. “I was able to read a lot of stuff while I was in prison and I think once you gain knowledge, you cannot take that back. It allows you to look at the world from a different perspective, and I think that’s what gave me the opportunity to change.”
He shared this story to a room full of people at the HREI, now hoping to “counteract their forms of hate for love.”
His message to those still meeting in the Aryan Nations:
“Don’t waste your life. You have one life to live, and if you can live it bettering your community and bettering the world, why not? Bad things happen of all races and religions, but to blame one or to blame specific races and people for the world’s problems, it’s more complex than that. The world has issues and it’s how you interact with the people around you that you can find a solution to them or create more problems,” he said.
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