Gabe Trejo, left, and Devon Wright of White City joined in a protest in Medford's Vogel Plaza Friday against the recent activites of a group of neo-Nazis based in Phoenix. - Bob Pennell

Taking a stand against hate

A coalition of Rogue Valley peace and human-rights organizations wants to make sure the Oregon unit of the National Socialist Movement, based in Phoenix, doesn't gain traction.

The Community Response Team, a group of about 15 organizations that came together last year to speak out against hate after a KKK symbol was burned into the lawn of an interracial couple in west Medford, is planning an outreach program designed to counter messages of hate.

"We don't think people should be complacent," said Rich Rohde, a Rogue Valley organizer with Oregon Action and a spokesperson with the Community Response Team. "There really is a contingent here and what appeared in the paper is only the tip of the iceberg."

The team met Monday after a Mail Tribune story last week about the neo-Nazi group led by Andrew Lee Patterson, a 29-year-old who was convicted of racially motivated assaults in 2003. Patterson was arrested after the story appeared for allegedly violating his parole.

Pam Vavra, the team's other spokesperson and executive director of Peace House in Ashland, said that the team heard "serious stories" about the National Socialist Movement recruiting teens and potentially provoking problems in schools.

"We want to be proactive in regards to schools and youth and build a positive message to counter racist messages," she said.

The team noted in a statement that history has shown that hate groups tend to grow when ignored so a clear message of zero-tolerance for hate-motivated or gang-related bullying or harassment was called for.

Vavra and Rohde held up the types of responses chronicled in "Not in Our Town," a documentary about how Billings, Mont., responded to an escalating string of hate crimes — including the distribution of KKK fliers, the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, racist vandalism at a American Indian family's home, intimidation at a black church and a brick thrown through the window of a Jewish family — in 1993. The community came together to repair vandalism, stand up to intimidation and share symbols of hope.

A follow-up documentary included Medford's community meetings and school programs offered after the murder of lesbian couple Michelle Abdill and Roxanne Ellis in 1995.

"It's a broad-based response with a consistent, persistent message that racism and hatred will not be tolerated," said Vavra, noting that the approach has been adapted to schools and workplaces.

That message can be delivered without becoming negative or intolerant, she said, advocating compassionate listening to uncover the movement's root causes.

"They have the same concerns as anyone — safety and jobs and acceptance," she said of white supremacists and hate group members. "We can help them find the same conclusions that mainstream, civilized society has — that tolerance and celebrating diversity is a better option."

Vavra and Rohde said the team looked forward to working with young activists, including Medford resident Nicole Strykowski, who organized a gathering in Phoenix to counter hate April 26, and the Pyrate Punx, a local chapter of an international organization that promotes punk and metal music.

Medford Pyrate Punx organizer Gabe Hoover, 32, rallied about 30 people in downtown Medford Friday. Clad in black with spiked, dyed hair and sporting tattoos and piercings, the group waved anti-Nazi signs and handed out fliers and stickers most of the day in Vogel Plaza advising people to "Say no to hate."

Hoover noted that punk and metal music periodically have attracted people with racist or hate-filled ideologies, so fans since the '70s have worked to stop such hate and call for an even playing field for all and acceptance of diversity.

"Most metalheads and punks aren't that type of person and don't want to be bunched in with that type," he said, explaining his group's social activism for tolerance and equality.

He said he planned to attend the Community Response Team's next meeting.

The upcoming planning meeting also will include a representative from the Rural Organizing Project, a group that supports progressive causes across the state, Rohde said.

"We hope to make a statewide connection and even work nationally to gain experience from those who are familiar with responding to hate groups," he said.

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

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