30 Years Ago In White Supremacy

Image may contain: 16 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoorThirty years ago I was a sophomore at BYU majoring in English. I lived in a house with 4 other women just two blocks south of BYU campus. 4 of us were LDS, and one was a Methodist film major who came to BYU to be near Robert Redford. I was at that time peripherally connected to some of the students who ran the Student Review, an off-campus paper that riffed on BYU culture and published student opinion pieces and poetry. We were all deeply troubled by a news story that broke in November of 1987, a story a few of our readers may remember.

A white supremacist group called Aryan Nations was coming to Utah.

My feelings were strong. I felt protective of the church’s reputation and defensive that a white supremacy group would consider Utah a bastion of racism, a haven for what they considered “like-minded” people. Even if Utahans didn’t find their message compelling or fully align with their principles, Aryan Nations hoped that the libertarian-leaning state would at least turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. The race-based priesthood & temple ban had been lifted a mere 9 years earlier. The notion that this late adoption of racial equality was considered evidence of Mormonism being friendly to neo-Nazi views about racial purity was something that many of us felt needed to be publicly repudiated in the strongest terms possible. Aryan Nations was infamous for its violence, but despite the concern of retaliation or events at a protest escalating, we knew we needed to make our opposition known, to be clear that there was no acceptance for these hate-filled ideas in Mormonism.

Image may contain: 8 people, outdoorFrom an L.A. Times article dated Nov. 24, 1987, the decision of the local radio station to air the weekly program was consistent with its quirky format:

This is not a story of neo-Nazis storming–or even creeping–into Utah via the airwaves or other means. Despite recent disclosures of white-power extremists in the Utah State Militia, there is no evidence of Butler’s group making visible gains in the state, according to knowledgeable sources. And KZZI, with its relatively weak signal and daytime-only broadcasts, is no ticket to mass exposure. . . .

KZZI is a talk-radio smorgasbord whose call-in shows range from an hour hosted by a psychic to one hosted by the polygamy-preaching “prophet of the eighth dispensation.” The execution is rudimentary, the diversity admirable.

Neil Davis, a Jewish radio professional who worked at KZZI at the time, explained the Aryan Nations’ hour long program content:

“McCarthy “preaches (that) Hitler was a great man, the Holocaust was a hoax, racism is good and the satanic Mongoloid Jews must be separated out of the Aryan nation republic.”

Despite the content and Davis’ pointed objections, station owner John Hinton rationalized that first amendment rights were more important, and what’s more, his struggling radio station needed the cash inflow the Aryan Nations was willing to put down. Aryan Nations was rumored to be considered relocating its headquarters to Utah as a result of this friendly business interaction, believing that it boded well for how their doctrine would be received by the state.

In a follow up piece decrying the inconsistency of the FCC in censoring profanity while allowing racial epithets from known hate groups, Harold Rosen of the L.A. Times wrote on November 30, 1987:

When it comes to broad policy, in other words, the FCC believes that the marketplace should decide the nature and content of broadcasting: Regulations are mostly not needed because what the majority of the public doesn’t like will die of attrition or lack of support anyway.

When it comes to the so-called dirty stuff that might offend the sensibilities of individual commissioners, however, the FCC changes its hands-off tune and becomes the nation’s official Blue Nose, believing the marketplace incompetent to decide what words should be uttered on the public airwaves. . . .

If it remains true to its record, moreover, the FCC will not censure KZZI-FM in Salt Lake City when the hate-mongering “Aryan Nations Hour”–whose host boasts about being racist–debuts on that station Saturday.

Freedom of speech or freedom of double standard?

According to the FCC, racist rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment, but certain sexual material–including even suggestive euphemisms for sexual activity–is not. You can spew racial hate on the airwaves, but you can’t describe anyone’s sexual relations because that wouldn’t be nice. So much for contemporary community standards.

Sex is natural, racism is not. So which is obscene?

Image may contain: 8 people, crowd and outdoorTrue to form, the FCC did not censor (or censure) KZZI for allowing hate speech.

The Student Review quickly galvanized its readers, coordinating rides and sign painting to get a group to Ogden as part of a larger protest that was being planned. I talked to my roommates, and we all spent a day painting signs and preparing for the drive. Rebecca, my Methodist roommate, was the first person to introduce me to the fact that there were “holocaust deniers” (the Aryan Nations was one such group). I couldn’t fathom the idea that anyone would disbelieve the wholescale murder of six million Jews when there was so much documented proof. She tore photo pages out of an expensive hardcover book on World War II that she owned and pasted them on her sign with the caption: “Holyhoax, Mr. Butler??” The horrific pictures of concentration camp victims were a sickening reminder of where these ideas of white supremacy had led in the past.

In a third follow up piece dated Dec. 6, 1987, the L.A. Times noted that approximately 400 people showed up to a protest six blocks away from the radio station to oppose the presence of the Aryan Nations in Utah:

For about an hour, the demonstrators sang and heard speeches criticizing supremacist doctrines. Groups represented included several student organizations from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, the Roman Catholic Church and the AFL-CIO.

Content from the first broadcast included an interview with Rev. Richard Butler, leader of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian – Aryan Nations to share the group’s doctrinal views via the program, views that sound freshly familiar:

During his interview, Butler said mixing of races was partly to blame for a decline in U.S. morality.

Butler also said the Bible taught that God favored Israel, which he said consisted of members of white races such as the Anglo-Saxons, Celts and Nordic peoples.

What was the outcome of this social action? According to a New York Times article dated Dec 16, 1987, just 11 days after the Aryan Nations’ program debuted at KZZI:

John Hinton, the station’s owner, told reporters he had lost ”virtually all” of his advertisers since the show began. ”I’m looking for a buyer,” he said. ”Would any of you like to buy my station?”

Some saw this outcome as evidence of an assault on the Aryan Nations’ first amendment rights; others saw it as the free market refusing to pay for hate speech and the local community refusing to be affiliated with views so unacceptable. But another outcome not remarked in the news was related to one thing we protesting BYU students had hoped to achieve: sending a clear message that our church vehemently disagreed with these holocaust-deniers and hate-mongers who described other races as inferior, subhuman, deserving of violence and oppression.

If someone had told me then that in 2017, we’d be having this same conversation again, I would not have believed it. I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me that in spring of last year. But here we are.

Comments

  1. I was there, in Ogden, as the president of the BYU College Democrats. Interestingly, the person painted signs with was the president of the BYU College Republicans, who was in the same cohort of MTC Spanish teachers as I was. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world for us to forget about our arguments with the marginal tax rate and go together up to Ogden to protest Nazis.

  2. Why are people surprised that white supremacism still thrives in certain corners when the de jure second-class status of non-whites was abolished barely half a century ago after nearly three centuries of white supremacy being enshrined in law? Progress often is measured in tombstones, after all, and lifespans have increased.

  3. Thanks, Angela. I had no idea that Aryan Nations tried to relocate to Utah, but it speaks well of Utah (or, at the very least, you and the other protestors) that they didn’t stay.

  4. There are photos of this event; I remember them, because I was ticked that I couldn’t find a ride and go. I’m going to hunt them down if I can.

  5. Im so glad I ran into this post, as my mom was telling me all about this just today!! I was 2 years old at the time and lived in central Utah.. My mom inserted herself proudly into the whole shebang 😎 proud Utahan here! 👍

  6. Mark Tullis says:

    Good article. As one of the founding editors of the Student Review, I became one of the instigators of this protest 30 years ago. During the weeks preceding the protest, I recall visiting other student activist groups at the UofU and Weber State, with a couple other SR staff, Kristin Rushforth was one of them. I thought Weber State would be particularly interested in joining us since it the Aryan Nations were fixing to set up shop in their backyard. Hailing from Ogden, I took a personal incentive to protect my hometown from the extremists. For various nuanced reasons that I can’t recall, neither university group decided to join us. So it ended up being a few handfuls of BYU students, led by Student Review staff, who made the trip to Ogden on a rainy autumn day to protest the idea that Ogden would be a welcome home for the Aryan Nations. BTW, I have over a dozen photos of this event

  7. Mark, do you think you could find them and post them to FB? I’d love to see them, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

  8. wreddyornot says:

    From 1979 to 1985, my wife and I and our family lived in Boise. We became fast friends with a professor of sociology at Boise state, James Christensen, who went to the same ward that we did. One Sunday in EQ I taught a lesson and told about Helmuth Huebener (I served in the South German Mission ’67-’69 — Alan Keele was one of my instructors in the LTM ) and that’s what kicked off our friendship. Jim invited my wife and I during that period one time to attend one of his classes at Boise State where he’d invited the Rev. Richard Butler to come and speak. It, of course, made the news, and I remember watching Butler and his minions leaving the building after the lecture to the vitriol of the gathered students there. Some students actually spit upon the Aryan Nations participants.

    In the words of Elie Wiesel, “Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”

  9. Mark: Thanks for posting those photos on Facebook. I still need to search for the copy of the newspaper article I have somewhere that featured a picture of my roommates and me. I seem to have misplaced it.

    While protesting Aryan Nations was kind of an easy call, uniting the left and the right at BYU, the insidiousness of white supremacist attitudes and miscegenation has been allowed to fester below the surface in the church. I’m glad we are finally started to deal with it and root it out. I’m not willing to celebrate this presidency as the impetus to that change, any more than I’d celebrate leeches for bringing bad blood to the surface even if the end result is a healthier body. But getting these unhealthy attitudes into the open where they can be dealt with is, I suppose, a necessary evil.

  10. This is fascinating, Angela. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Great write up, Angela.