Resident plans gathering to counter neo-Nazis

Shocked by the news that a state branch of a neo-Nazi group had set up headquarters in Phoenix, Medford resident Nicole Strykowski decided to act.

She's inviting the community to take a stand with her on the sidewalks in the center of Phoenix between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday to "make the presence of love felt" and peacefully counter the ideology represented by the National Socialist Movement.

"I want to show that most people in Oregon — contrary to popular belief — aren't bigots or racists," said Strykowski, a Southern Oregon University theater graduate who has appeared on stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Camelot Theatre and ArtAttack, as well as in San Francisco-area productions.

She wants people to gather along the sidewalks at the intersection of Fern Valley Road and Main Street, in front of Ray's Food Place, with heart signs, music, cookies, or whatever expression of love they want to share.

"We want to counter hate with love and let people know the residents here stand for love, not hatred," Strykowski said. "We are so much bigger than bigotry, hatred and fear."

Strykowski said that when she first read about the National Socialist Movement in Oregon and its members' criminal pasts and recruiting efforts, she wanted to ignore the news.

"I didn't want to give them any of my energy or even the time of day," she said of the group led by 29-year-old Andrew Lee Patterson, who was convicted of racially motivated assaults in 2003 and recently released from prison.

He and other members of the National Socialist Movement have become increasingly active in Southern Oregon, handing out white pride fliers.

As Strykowski reflected on her own family heritage — which includes Polish and Cherokee — she decided she couldn't ignore the issue.

Wanting to avoid political rallies or angry demonstrations, she decided that banding together to show an outpouring of love, peace and respect seemed like the best response.

"More hatred is counterproductive," she said. "You can't fight hate with hatred."

Strykowski's gathering is one of many expected responses.

Organizers of the annual Take Back the Night vigil Friday at Southern Oregon University's Women's Resource Center noted that the event's message of respect and safety for all was especially timely and important in light of the news about the neo-Nazis.

Jonathan Eldridge, SOU's vice president of student affairs, sent a campuswide message Thursday to reaffirm that the university is a supportive and inclusive place that rejects bias and hate.

Eldridge said that the SOU community has started brainstorming responses such as forums or panel discussions about racism and hate groups. Plans will be announced later.

The Community Response Team, a group organized last year to speak out against hate after a KKK symbol was burned into the lawn of an interracial couple, will meet Monday to plan a response to the emergence of the local National Socialist Movement.

Co-facilitator Lori Warfield said the group is a coalition of about 20 social justice and service groups that work together to prevent and respond to bias and hate crimes. She expects the group, funded in part by the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, to plan a vigil or rally.

"That's a nice way to continue a display of action," Warfield said.

Randy Blazak, a sociologist at Portland State University who studies hate groups — especially skinheads, said a public "not-in-our-town" response in which people come together and align themselves with victims of bias can be an effective message to stop hate.

Blazak also leads the Coalition Against Hate Crimes, a Portland-based, statewide organization that supports non-violent solutions to the problem of hate and hate crimes. The group has disseminated information about the National Socialist Movement unit here and wants to reach out to Southern Oregon and serve as a resource.

Patterson said he is already feeling a response against the National Socialist Movement office he heads from his family, landlord, employers and the community.

He reported that he was evicted from his Phoenix home this week after speaking publicly about the group, and his parole and probation officer has scheduled a meeting in the coming week to talk about his activity. Even family members who disagree with his beliefs have distanced themselves from him, he said.

His most recent employer, Patricia Joyner, owner of the Phoenix 7-Eleven store, reported that she fired him weeks ago for handing out National Socialist Movement fliers while he worked the night shift.

"I tried to give someone a second chance and was just disgusted when I found him doing this," she said. "I don't want people to think that I feel that way."

She said her store and the entire Phoenix community is friendly and welcoming to all.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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