Acts of hate and harassment helped spark commitment to promote human rights
Marshall Mend continues commitment to human rights.
When Marshall Mend moved to Coeur d’Alene from California in March 1980, he just wanted to begin a new life with his family in this beautiful part of the country. Unexpectedly, that new life included helping start the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (KCTFHR) in 1981.
Interested in real estate and sales, he received his real estate license in June 1980.
In December, Chef Rosen’s restaurant in Hayden, Idaho, was defaced with swastikas.
Community activist Dina Tanners invited Marshall to join other Jewish individuals to meet about the incident. Dina was “the mother of the Task Force.”
Undersheriff Larry Broadbent, the prosecuting attorney Glen Walker and 25 others attended.
“I had never been involved in human rights,” Marshall said. “I liked all kinds of people. I had a variety of friends. In the early 1960s, my first wife used to march in civil rights protests, but I was working and did not get involved.”
In February 1981, another hate crime occurred. A single mother had four children, two of whom were mixed race. An Aryan Nations member began harassing and threatening them. The city attorney prosecuted the Aryan Nations member for a misdemeanor and he served 60 days in jail.
“At first, I was concerned about my family and myself, but that’s when I changed,” Marshall said. “I was angry that someone would do that to four children and a single mother. That’s when I made my commitment to human rights.”
The group gathered with others at First Christian Church.
“We felt we needed a new law,” Marshall said.
Rick Morse, then the pastor of First Christian Church, was chosen as president. Several other ministers attended, including Ed Hart of First Presbyterian and Al Osgood from the Methodist church. Tony Stewart, the only other founding member still with the task force, also came.
Members of the Aryan Nations, the group responsible for these acts of hate, also attended. They marched in the back of the room during the meeting, but did not say anything.
By 1983, the KCTFHR played a major role in passing legislation to combat hate crimes and promote human rights. Both Republicans and Democrats backed the law.
Then the task force stopped meeting. Marshall went back to selling real estate.
In late 1983, a syndicated cartoon appeared nationwide. He saw it in the Long Beach Press Telegram in California. It pictured Adolph Hitler leaning against a sign that said, “Welcome to Hayden Lake, Idaho.”
Marshall approached Sandy Emerson, head of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, saying the task force needed to reconvene. They asked Fr. Bill Wassmuth of St. Pius X Catholic Church to head the group.
When Rick headed it, he and his family were harassed. Fr. Bill, as a priest, had no family. He lived in a brick house, which they believed would keep him safe from bombing.
Marshall mentioned several incidents instigated by the Aryan Nations over the years. The KCTFHR worked to minimize their power.
In 1986, the head of the Aryan Nations, Richard Butler, called a conference, which drew about 200 people. The task force countered by putting on a celebration in the park the same weekend. The governor attended. The celebration, involving about 1,000 people, received strong press coverage and downplayed the Aryan Nations meeting.
Marshall was the target of some death threats. A local school district superintendent called him to say some road barriers had been defaced with swastikas and the words, “Kill Marshall Mend.”
Another time, he said, some Aryan Nations members had defaced about 27 of his real estate signs with his picture, putting horns on his head in the photo, a Nazi anti-Semitic symbol. He learned they had been trained to hate by propaganda of the Aryan Nations.
One Aryan Nations member had a son with a cleft palate. When the group told him to euthanize his son, because he was not perfect, the man left the group and later apologized to Marshall.
“I never lost any sleep worrying about the harassment,” he said, “but my wife and daughter did. I just tried to be careful.”
The KCTFHR website details ways the group has worked for human rights.
Marshall, who grew up in Los Angeles, remembers a sign on the LA Country Club fences saying dogs and Jews were not allowed.
He dropped out of high school at age 16 to work in a wholesale meat supply business.
A few years later, he and a cousin became partners in a wholesale restaurant supply business. In 1973, he started a company doing direct sales of meat and seafood. He later partnered with a meat packing company. They became known as The United Steaks of America. He hired and trained the sales force.
“I became a good sales person,” he said. “I hired and trained more than 1,000 individuals.”
He was with them until 1980.
In 1974, he was introduced to motivational, inspirational sales-training audiocassettes from a successful salesman and from Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn and others. A Mark Victor Hansen cassette suggested he put his photo on everything.
By then he was in Coeur d’Alene and selling real estate. In 1983, he decided to put his picture on his real estate signs. He doesn’t know of anyone who did that before then. He said he became the top agent in town.
“I stayed involved with human rights work because I get angry when people are discriminated against,” he said. “I get angry when people try to take rights from others. I believe equal rights are for everyone.”
Marshall invited a Holocaust survivor to speak in Coeur d’Alene. The man said he hated the people who beat him, but more than that, he hated the people who poisoned their minds to be the anti-Semites they became.
Marshall described other incidents:
• One Sunday night, Bill called Marshall and said a parishioner asked if he was “a Jew impersonating a priest.” Marshall jokingly replied, “Welcome, Lansman,” meaning fellow Jew. They laughed.
The next night about 2 a.m., Bill called and told Marshall to turn on all the lights in his house and call the sheriff to set up a patrol around his home. Bill’s house had just been bombed. He finished the conversation saying, “You know, Marshall? I’ve only been a Jew for less than 24 hours, and so far I don’t like it!”
• A doctor who lived near the Mends once told Marshall, “I’m glad the Aryans are here. It keeps the blacks out.” When Marshall asked why, he said he learned in the military that blacks were okay one-on-one, but in a group they “would turn on you.”
Marshall asked if he would feel more comfortable with a group of blacks or a group of whites. He said whites. Then he asked if the whites were rough-looking bikers and the blacks were doctors, which he would feel more comfortable with. He said the blacks. Marshall hoped he helped the doctor rethink his attitude.
• Several KCTFHR members went to Noxon, Mont., to visit after a teacher there had problems with a racist anti-government group. They set up a meeting on human rights in a school and invited the community.
Marshall asked the sheriff for police protection for the meeting. The sheriff refused, saying he was 40 miles away, had an entire county to patrol and could not spare any deputies.
Marshall called Ann McIntyre who worked in the Montana governor’s office. She and Marshall were members of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment. She said she would take care of it. Six police cars, each with two deputies, met the group at the Montana border to escort them to Noxon. Another 15 officers wearing bulletproof vests met them at the meeting that drew 500 people and about 50 racist protesters at the back.
• Marshall and Bill were keynote speakers at a Sandpoint event to start a human rights task force. Butler and several of his followers sat in the front row.
After both spoke, they asked for questions. Butler asked Marshall: “You hate me, don’t you?” Marshall said he did not hate him: “I’m not a hater.”
• Marshall spoke on human rights to the Key Club at Coeur d’Alene High School. Because he was speaking with young people, he felt he did not have to prepare as carefully and had no notes. He thought he had let them down until he saw a video of the graduation two months later.
In her speech, the valedictorian included Marshall as a mentor, along with her parents, Benjamin Franklin Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr.
• Marshall and Larry Broadbent were called to meet with city fathers at a mining company office. Some human rights supporters told them to tone down the KCTFHR work because it made the community look bad.
Marshall asked Larry how many Nazis were in Kootenai County. He said about 60. Marshall then asked how many there would be without the task force. Larry said 600 to 1,000. Marshall remarked, “Do you know why? It’s because silence gives consent to having Nazis terrorizing our community, our state or our country.”
A few weeks later, attorney Norm Gissel was invited to a timber industry office and asked to have the task force tone down its work. Norm said, “I’d agree if you can show me anywhere in history that being silent defeated Nazis.” Six months later, the head of the company called Marshall to say they were right and the task force’s work was important.
Marshall, who attended Faith Presbyterian Church with his wife for many years, found a mentor in Fr. Bill.
“He taught me how to live. Throughout his last illness, he taught me how to die with humor and dignity,” he said.
A quote from Fr. Bill heads the KCTFHR website and encapsulates what it stands for: “Saying yes to human rights is the best way to say no to prejudice and bigotry.”
For information, call 208-640-0469 or visit idahohumanrights.org.
Copyright © May 2016 - The Fig Tree