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June 1997 | Traverse City, Mich., noted primarily for its beaches, tourists and cherry pie values, appears to be erupting as a national battleground of opinion over the white power movement, with forces on both sides of the issue coming out of the woodwork to vent their outrage over racial issues.
On Thursday, June 5, residents along stretches of Washington and Front streets in town came home to find a slick package of information from the National Alliance hanging from their doorknobs. An outgrowth of the American Nazi Party, the National Alliance is a white power group which advocates the creation of "two Americas," one of which would be "White Space only with no Jews or blacks." The Alliance, advocates genocidal practices if need be to achieve its goals, and plans to distribute 1,000 information packets in Northern Michigan.
Protest organized to oppose July "NordicFest"
The incident arose only a day after more than 150 people from throughout Northern Michigan gathered at a Hate-Free TC meeting to oppose the NordicFest, a skinhead rock festival sponsored by the Ku Klux Klan, to be held at a secret location 20 miles south of town, July 3-6.
The NordicFest is being advertised on the Internet and will feature at least six skinhead bands featured on Stormfront Records and Resistance Records -- both of which are purveyors of neo-Nazi hate music. It will also reportedly feature speakers from the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations.
Thus far, the NordicFest's location has been a closely-kept secret by David Neumann of Bloodbond Enterprizes, the concert organizer and a former director of the Michigan Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Neumann has told local media that 300 tickets have been sold for the concert -- about half the number he expects to sell. Reportedly, concertgoers will be provided with maps to the secret location at a checkpoint.
Bands expected to play at the NordicFest include Intimidation One, Aggravated Assault, Blue Eyed Devils, Max Resist and the Hooligans, and No Alibi.
Local churches offering seminars on the white power movement and the importance of diversity
Journalists have made inquiries on the NordicFest from as far away as London, New York and Colorado as a result of the Northern Express story circulating on the Internet. A segment for National Public Radio is expected to take the issue nationwide, possibly focusing the world's attention on Traverse City on the eve of the National Cherry Festival -- an event which draws more than half a million visitors, many of them from ethnic minorities.
"We're creating a rainbow ribbon that we hope everyone will wear in rejection of skinheads and the Klan," said Rabbi Stacey Fine. "We hope to have hundreds of ribbons during the time the Klan is here, available from downtown merchants."
Fine says the group also hopes to march in the National Cherry Royale Parade with a three-by-eight-foot banner covered with thousands of signatures in a show of support for racial and cultural diversity. Thus far, Cherry Festival officials say they have received no applications, but will consider the request if approached.
Dottie Kye says the Traverse City group doesn't plan to try stopping the NordicFest despite their opposition ot the concert. "We're ignoring it," Kye says. "We celebrate anyone's right to organize and free speech. But our thing is unity and celebrating diversity." In addition to several church seminars on the white power movement and the importance of diversity, Hate-Free TC is organizing a three-day "Unity Festival" which will feature dozens of musicians, artists, poets, actors and peace activists at the Traverse City Opera House, July 3-6.
Concert organizers say that more than 40 musical acts will send a pro-diversity message to area teens, with performers including Willie Kye, Alright Already, John Greilick, Samantha Moore, the Motor Town Juke Boys, Bentley Filmore, the Sisters Grimm, and Lack of Afro, among many others. A concert with Fishbone is planned for later in the month.
"Even if the NordicFest doesn't happen, something positive is going to come of it because it gets people thinking about the prevention of violence"
THE TEEN CONNECTION
The Unity Fest counter-concert is seen as a vital tool in fighting the influence of the white power movement on teens in the area. After the initial story broke, the buzz in local high schools was that the NordicFest would be offering free beer to minors. Although that notion is clearly erroneous, a small number of teens in the area still cling to the idea and have also been attracted by the rebellious nature of the skinhead rock scene.
Tim Hall believes that his Unity Fest concert will help turn that tide. The three-day concert will be located in the heart of Traverse City in the old City Opera House, with easy access for the hundreds of teens who hang out downtown, often with little to do. "Our message is going to be one that values racial and cultural diversity," Hall said. "And we've had a great response so far. We had to put a lid on the performers when we reached 40 acts, because everyone wants to play at this event."
The Unity Fest will also coincide with the Annual Reggie Box Memorial Blues Blast, which was created five years ago to bring the heritage of black music to Northern Michigan for the overwhelmingly white Cherry Festival. This year's Blues Blast will feature John Mayall, Marcia Ball and the Bihlman Bros. in a free concert downtown on July 6. The concert will also feature a strong message promoting diversity.
The law enforcement view Traverse City Police Chief Ralph Soffredine says members of the law enforcement community, including the State Police and sheriffs from Grand Traverse and Wexford counties, are taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether the NordicFest will even be held.
"People ask what we would do if the skinheads wanted to march, and it's our position that they have the same rights under the First Amendment as anyone as long as they're obeying the law," Soffredine said. "It's a neutral situation for us. We just want to maintain the peace."
He added that skinheads coming to Traverse City would be treated "no different than if longhairs come into town, or square dancers. We'd certainly observe them and respond if there's trouble."
The chief noted that a similar event occurred in the Buckley area several years ago when several motorcycle gangs gathered for a rally. While the event was monitored by local police agencies, few people in the area knew that it occurred.
"Even if the NordicFest doesn't happen, something positive is going to come of it because it gets people thinking about the prevention of violence, which has become a serious problem in our community and our schools," he concluded. "The unfortunate thing is that it sometimes takes a swastika or a racial issue for people to get active."
"Sheriff Barr implies that people who have the courage to confront them will be put in jail."
ANGER FROM ACTIVISTS
Not everyone is happy with the neutral attitude of law enforcement. Judy Lowenzahn of Traverse City thinks that local police agencies should get tough on the Klan concert, which has no legally-required bond or liquor license.
"These hateful groups are using skinhead music to recruit soldiers for their facist movement," Lowenzahn said. "If they are allowed to hold this event, in violation of local, state and federal laws and in violation of common decency, we will be capitve audience to their deranged homophobic, anti-semitic, racist, sexist ideology. Those who protest this message, along with those who are their scapegoats will be targets for hate crimes."
Lowenzahn upbraided Grand Traverse County Sheriff Barr after he made comments in a local paper that "I'd just as soon personally let them have their little event and be on their way." Barr added that if there was a confrontation between the skinheads and protestors, "there's going to be someone in jail."
"Does Sheriff Barr suggest that people of color and others who don't fit the aryan model hide inside their homes for the holiday weekend?" Lowenzhan responded. "Rather than offer a plan to protect the community from the violence that grows whenever white supremecists do outreach, Sheriff Barr implies that people who have the courage to confront them will be put in jail."
Northern Michigan targeted because of the predominantly white population
Up to now, the vast majority of Northern Michigan residents have been clueless on the Klan and the white power movement. Many, for instance, had no idea that there even was a Ku Klux Klan operating in the region until Neumann revealed that there are about 60 members operating mostly as "a fraternal organization" between Gaylord and the Mackinac Bridge.
Similarly, the existence and agenda of the National Alliance is all-new to the area. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Alliance is headed by William Pierce, a former official in the American Nazi Party. Pierce is author of "The Turner Diaries," a novel about white power guerillas who bomb an F.B.I. building in Washington, D.C., and start a race war. The book served as a blueprint for Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.
An Alliance official says the group is targeting Northern Michigan because of the predominantly white makeup of the region. Other than small numbers of Native Americans and migrant workers from Mexico and the Southwest, ethnic minorities count for less than 2 percent of the region's 300,000 people.
Whether the NordicFest will go on as scheduled or whether the white power movement will take root in Northern Michigan is anyone's guess at this point. One thing's for sure, however; it's a topic that packs verbal dynamite on the street corners and lunch counters of Traverse City, and one that's likely to receive a national airing on the eve of the Cherry Festival.
The Community Unity Initiative
A story of bias and hate, and how our community responded
In late September of 1997, a bartender named Charley was ambushed by three self-identifying skinheads with a large wooden club as he was taking out the trash behind a local gay bar. Charley was tall, lank and fleet of foot and had the good fortune to out-run his attackers. The police responded immediately, and began an undercover investigation which resulted in three arrests. Traverse City citizens took the presence of skinheads in the region seriously and proceeded to do everything possible to make it clear that hate groups are not welcomed here. news of arrests
As information was gathered by law enforcement, it began to appear that the attack at the gay bar was more than just an isolated incident. The night before the assault on Charley, patrons were taunted and harassed in the parking lot of a local night club where the popular Rap group 2 Live Crew was performing. Over the course of the weekend, vehicles were vandalized, windows were broken, Native American's, and other ethnic groups were threatened, harassed and terrorized!
Traverse City Responded
At the October 15 City Commission meeting, Human Rights Commissioner M'Lynn Hartwell presented information about Hate Crime and urged that the City Commission support pending Hate Crimes legislation in Michigan, as well as at the Federal level. The City responded with a resolution of support. City Commissioner Margaret Dodd spoke of her concern for the fear people were expressing in the community, and recounted the story of the King of Denmark as a possible response:
Evil is ever present and it must always be worked against and the way to do that is to identify with and become one of those victimized by it. There is a famous story about King Christian X of Denmark that during WWII when the Nazis occupied Denmark, they announced to the king that all of the Jews in the country would be asked to wear a yellow Star of David for identification. Recognizing that this was the fist step in making it easier to round Jews up, the king of Denmark undermined the plan. To comply with the Nazi demands, the king issued the yellow stars to all of the Jews in the country. Then he donned a star himself and encouraged all of his fellow citizens to join him. It is said that many did, and this small act of peaceful dissidence began an effective resistance that saved the lives of literally thousands of Jews in Denmark.
The idea of attempting to find a suitable symbol to demonstrate community unity grew out of this Danish legend of people standing together against the Nazis'.
Traverse City embarked on a campaign to reclaim our city against forces that would assault us, and to assure our citizens that our city was a safe place. The "We Are Traverse City" community unity campaign was initiated as a celebration of our strength, caring, kindness and compassion as a community.
The symbol to show our community unity against the forces of destruction was decided to be in the simple form of a "We Are Traverse City" bumper sticker.
The rainbow background is based on a several designs used throughout history. Our rainbow colors represent respectively: life, healing, sun, nature, art, harmony & spirituality — values each of us can identify with in northern Michigan!
The Rainbow Flag is recognized by the International Association of Vexillological Associations, and is flown worldwide. Today it is recognized as a universal symbol of peace and unity. The rainbow flag is commonly made with six, seven and eight stripes.
The We Are Traverse City rainbow design exhibits our appreciation for the rich diversity that exists in Traverse City; be it religion, race, skin color, age, national origin, real or perceived gender, sexual orientation, height, weight, familial status, marital status, disability; full-time resident or part-time guest.
The inter-connected puzzle people reminds us that we are all connected as one community of family, neighbors and friends. As such, we care for, protect, and respect those in our community.
The bright, cheerful, rainbow colored We Are Traverse City bumper sticker visually represents the welcoming inclusion of everyone in our wonderful resort city nestled along the coastline of Lake Michigan.
If you have an interest in the history of We Are Traverse City, click here to visit our archived website http://WeAreTraversecity.com/community/