Editor's note: Since this article was first posted, Liberty Fellowship of Kalispell, Mont., has posted a rebuttal of the SPLC's allegation that neo-Nazis attend its church, stating that 20 percent of its congregation consists of minorities. You can read that post here.
Idaho is home to at least 12 hate groups, according to the Hate Map, a production of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Alabama-based nonprofit tracks extremists throughout the country.
That seems like a lot for a state with a small population — about 1.7 million people. And, in fact, Idaho’s concentration of such groups was a factor in financial news blog 24/7 Wall Street naming it the second most hateful state.
Landing on the SPLC’s hate map, though, doesn’t always mean an organization is burning crosses, inciting riots or goose-stepping down Main Street.
The center claims that a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan operates in Hayden and that various other neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations are active statewide.
Others appear far less menacing. Lordship Church in Coeur d’Alene is identified as a “general hate” group on the center’s map. And that’s simply wrong, pastor Warren Campbell said.
“I really abhor being lumped in as a hate group,” he said.
Campbell said Revelation 7:9 leads him to believe that God considers people of all “nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” his people. He said that his membership includes ethnic minorities and that neither he nor his congregation is racist, white extremist or anything similar.
He did say that he and his church are politically active. According to the Coeur d’Alene Press, Lordship Church has ties to a movement seeking to establish churches that are unincorporated and aren’t filed as nonprofits for tax purposes. A 1950s federal law prohibits nonprofits, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates; its effect on free speech by clergy is a matter of much debate.
In particular, Campbell wants stricter vetting of Muslims entering the United States and believes that they pose a threat to our security and culture. He said he objects specifically to Islam as a religion, not to Muslims’ ethnicity.
“Islam has been at war with America since Thomas Jefferson,” he told the Statesman. “The Mohammedans are violent people. And I believe that they are dangerous to America. We could spend all day citing incident after incident.”
What’s SPLC looking at?
According to the criteria, “All hate groups have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”
“Locally identified groups are tracked where members participate in hate group activities which can include criminal acts, marches, rallies, speeches, meetings, leafleting or publishing,” a center representative said in an email. “To be on our list, a group must have participated in at least one of those activities in 2016.”
A representative of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations — which grew out of Idaho’s experience with the Aryan Nations — told the Statesman that he was unfamiliar with Lordship Church.
Campbell said that neither he nor his church has participated in anti-Islam marches or other activities. He said he has participated in anti-abortion events but never took part in any violence.
The pastor and his associates have been on the center’s radar for a while, though.
In March 2012, SPLC published “Church at Kaweah spreads hateful, militant Christian views,” a feature on the church in Southern California where Campbell was pastor before moving to Idaho. The report described that congregation as becoming “increasingly radical, ramping up its paramilitary activities and forging alliances with an array of figures revered on the radical right — among them, militia and Patriot leaders, white supremacists, neo-Confederates, border vigilantes and Christian Reconstructionists, whose goal is to turn America into a theocracy based on the Old Testament.”
The group also keeps an online profile of Chuck Baldwin, a Moral Majority figure in the 1980s and the Constitution Party’s 2008 nominee for president, who now lives in Montana and runs the unincorporated church movement that Lordship follows. The SPLC claims that Baldwin’s congregants include neo-Nazis. Baldwin's Montana church, Liberty Fellowship, has a post saying about 20 percent of its congregation is comprised of minorities and rebutting any suggestion of racism.
Campbell told the Coeur d’Alene Press that Baldwin was the one who suggested he move to North Idaho from California, and Baldwin was a keynote speaker at a November 2014 event in Post Falls that Campbell hosted. Both Campbell and Baldwin support the American Redoubt movement, an effort by religious survivalists to resettle in the Northwest to survive large-scale calamity, something the law center also finds worrisome.
Campbell said he and his congregation are strong proponents of the Second Amendment, but said the report on Church at Kaweah was distorted and based on erroneous information.
“It’s so inaccurate, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “There’s a panic mode among liberals if a church is, I guess, very politically active and strongly Second Amendment.”
It’s certainly not unusual for fundamentalists of all stripes to criticize other faiths. In 2006, a church in Twin Falls left copies of a video criticizing Mormon beliefs on the doorsteps of homes across that city and Jerome.
In particular, Campbell’s phrasing of Islam as a violent faith echoes beliefs held by other Idaho organizations the SPLC labeled as hate groups. In its definition of anti-Muslim groups, the SPLC says they “generally hold that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion.”
Rick Martin, of Buhl, founded the Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center in July 2015 after the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center announced that it would resettle as many as 300 people in Twin Falls that year, some possibly from Syria. The group sought a vote in Twin Falls County to ban refugee centers but got only 894 of the more than 3,800 signatures needed to put the matter on the ballot, according to the Times-News. Martin later ran for a CSI trustee seat and lost.
The SPLC calls the committee an anti-Muslim group. The same designation applies to three more organizations in Southern Idaho: ACT for America, with operations in Meridian and Twin Falls, and the Treasure Valley Refugee Watch in Meridian.
ACT for America got involved in the furor surrounding the sexual assault last year of a 5-year-old Twin Falls girl by three Iraqi and Sudanese boys. Founder Brigitte Gabriel told a crowd at Twin Falls High School that refugee resettlement is part of an Islamic plot to take over the West, and that “next time it could be your wife, your daughter, your girlfriend, your mother.” The SPLC says the group engages in unnecessary legislative lobbying against enacting Islamic law within U.S. borders, and regularly conflates mainstream Islam with terrorism.
Idaho Statesman efforts to contact ACT for America, Martin and the Refugee Watch group were unsuccessful. Law enforcement agencies in the groups’ areas also did not respond to requests for comment.
Idaho’s checkered past
Idaho, of course, has a long history with hate groups.
The one that defined this topic here was the Aryan Nations, which retired Lockheed aircraft engineer Richard Butler established in the 1970s in North Idaho. For two decades, Butler and his Aryan followers antagonized minorities and Jews in Idaho.
Butler declared bankruptcy and abandoned his compound after Aryan Nations guards fired guns at a car carrying a woman and her son, leading to a $6.3 million judgment against Butler and the organization.
In 1984, two members of Aryan Nations offshoot Silent Brotherhood set off bombs at Boise’s Congregation Ahavath Israel Synagogue. No one was injured in the attack.
These groups’ activities seem to differ substantially from that of Lordship Church and Campbell. Still, the pastor said he’s not too surprised his church came under scrutiny. He said the group, widely renowned for its legal advocacy in civil rights cases and its educational programs promoting tolerance, is driven by an anti-Christian agenda.
“They just make up things as they go,” he said. “They’re very inaccurate, and they’ve got a lot of hate on their own end. … Their animosity toward groups that they differ with is hate. The prejudice. The animosity. The rancor. The deception. The false information that they give.”