From the June 2001 Idaho Observer:
We are not like that here
by Don Harkins
I first met J.J. Johnson, editor of the daily electronic news source The Sierra Times ( www.sierratimes.com. ) when he represented the Ohio State Militia on a panel before the Senate Committee on Domestic Terrorism in the summer of 1995. J.J., along with John Trochman, Bob Fletcher and Norm Olson, defended the honor of the good people of this nation before a congressional committee. This committee had hoped poison public opinion against the militia movement by painting its members as domestic terrorists in post-OK City bombing in America.
At the time I was the new editor of The Oregon Observer. Who are the Real Terrorists was the front page headline for the August, 1995 edition of The OO. It was clear to me by the testimony of that panel and the responses by committee members such as Charles grab all the guns Schumer (D-NY) and Arlen magic bullet theory Specter (R-PA) who the real terrorists are and it is not the members of the militia movement or its leaders.
As of this writing six years later, I do not believe I have since been more proud to be an American. From all their mouths flowed the evidence of our concerns and, with the help of our God, their words were powerful and flawlessly delivered to the international C-SPAN audience. Congress has not convened a panel of patriots since this historic event.
Though J.J. and I had spoken to each other on the phone several times over the years, we had never actually met until he came to north Idaho in response to the horribly discompassionate manner in which JoAnn McGuckin and her children had been treated by Bonner county (see pages 11-15). J.J., a black man, came to north Idaho to get a story. He made up his mind to accomplish what all others had failed to accomplish: He was going to get in to see JoAnn McGuckin. He did not get to see or speak to her. Instead he came away with an even bigger story. Had he been allowed to visit with her, J.J. would have gotten the story of immediate importance for which he expended his limited resources to get. Instead, he got a story of tremendous, long-term importance to all the good people of God's Country here in north Idaho: J.J. found out in his heart that, we are not like that around here.
To read the full text of what J.J. wrote about his 24 hours in north Idaho, please visit his website at www.sierratimes.com. For now be satisfied with a few choice passages of his 4,100-word report.
As a person who's traveled to 45 of the 50 states, I've learned when to be careful when, for some reason, the hairs on the back of my neck stands up. But that didn't happen here. The words Welcome to Idaho were spoken to me over and over again, even unsolicited by people in places I didn't even know. I could tell - it was genuine. I can say that at times I didn't get such a warm welcome returning home for a Thanksgiving dinner.
The story J.J. came away with was that everyone that he met in God's Country (Idaho) has been waiting seemingly forever for someone besides us to tell the world -- our reputation of being the home of racist hatred and discontent is a mischaracterization. J.J. learned that the first thing out of our north Idaho hearts when they see a black man is to say, Welcome to Idaho. The second thing out of their hearts is to say, We really aren't like that here.
J.J. observed that it has become second nature among Idahoans to defend ourselves against the image that pops up in the minds of people who don't live here. He saw that all of us -- the employees of Bonner county, the people in the Starbucks coffee shop in Sandpoint and the people who arrived to protest the county's treatment of McGuckin -- all of us feel the same way: We really aren't like that here.
You can't blame Randy Weaver. You can't blame Edgar Steele. You can't blame Sheriff Jarvis. And you can't blame JoAnn McGuckin. The blame should be laid squarely on those who are hell bent on holding the political identity of Idaho hostage for their own political gain. In some sense, the Siege at Ruby Ridge has never ended here. The Aryan Nation's Camp is gone, but its ghost is larger than Richard Butler ever was. When an incident happens, the only folks who come to their defense are called anti-government and extremists for their efforts. You see, most folks don't want to be called anti-government. In God's Country. they just want Justice, the Constitution, and to be left alone. For some reason, to the rest of the world, it justifies the unwarranted public relations attacks against the good people of Idaho. And it's time for this to stop, J.J. wrote.
When I saw J.J. up against the U.S. Congress defending the honor of the concerned citizens of this embattled nation in the summer of 1995 I sensed he was a good man. Now that I get to call him my friend I can see that he is also wise, insightful and absolutely committed to doing his part to bring the people of this nation together so that we can win the battle against those who choose to exploit and oppress the American people.
J.J.: thank you for setting the world straight on what's really wrong in north Idaho.
For those of you who are interested, J.J. concluded his report with the beginnings of a plan to rid Idaho of its so richly undeserved reputation. Find it at: www.sierratimes.com/archive/files/jun/13/arjj061301.htm
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