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Years ago, Evie Bruins played a role in shutting down the Aryan Nation compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho.

"Everyone knew that there were white supremacists over there. Skinheads," said Bruins, now of Missoula. "We knew what they were, that they were dangerous people."

She remembers sitting shoulder to shoulder talking about the compound with lawyer Morris Dees, who founded the Southern Poverty Law Center and fought the white supremacists.

She worked closely with Victoria Keenan before a lawsuit by Keenan and the Southern Poverty Law Center against the Aryan Nations shuttered the compound and drove out its acolytes.

Now 87, Bruins is seeing white supremacy raise its head higher in Montana and the country. She places the blame on the election of Donald Trump as president, and she is passing on the torch of action to her son, Randy Bruins, of Charlo.

Randy Bruins, a retired nurse in forensic psychiatry, said the way forward involves patriotism of the highest order and compassion for white supremacists, who have the power to change.

"Their whole premise of being is based on fear," he said. "So it's a damage. They're really probably not bad people. They're damaged people."

He also said he has a responsibility to protect his country. The philosophy his father and uncles fought against in World War II is espoused by people now staking claims to the country and even the White House itself, he said. 

President-elect Trump selected as his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who used to run Breitbart News and called it a platform for the "alt-right," a white nationalist movement.

"We are a very patriotic family, and right now, I think dissent towards neo-Nazis and white supremacy in the White House ... is the most patriotic thing I can do," Randy Bruins said.


Aryan Nations founder Richard Girnt Butler moved to Hayden Lake in 1973 and set up a white nationalist compound there – a remote place that appealed to him because it was far from "the mongrel masses."

Around 1985, Evie Bruins started working for a court advocacy program in Northern Idaho. She was a battered woman herself, and she saw the need for victims of domestic and sexual violence to have support in the justice system.

"They're frightened. They're shameful they're in this mess. They're afraid of the court," Bruins said.

Back then, in the 1980s and 1990s, her children worried for her. Tense domestic situations can easily escalate and turn violent.

"I remember trying to talk you into getting a handgun, and you refused," said son Randy Bruins.

Said his mother: "I had other ways. I wasn't afraid, and they're chickens."

She remembers helping one victim of domestic violence flee the husband who had beaten her and taken their baby to the Aryan Nations compound. She told her colleague in the car that if the neo-Nazis killed her, she wanted to be buried in an open field with a tree planted at her grave.

"I wasn't afraid of batterers. I lost three clients. I don't run easily," Bruins said.

She counted down the minutes for the woman to grab some belongings at her home, and with two minutes to spare, the woman raced out the door with her suitcase, clothes flying.

They drove away, to safety.


Somewhere along the way, Evie Bruins crossed paths with Victoria Keenan. In 1998, Victoria's car backfired as she and her son, Jason Keenan, drove past the compound, and they were shot at during a car chase.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a civil suit against Butler and the Aryan Nations on behalf of the Keenans, and Bruins remembers the way the trial turned the city inside out.

"It was so horrible. On all the buildings around, there were riflemen. It was like a war," she said.

The plaintiffs won a $6.3 million award. They bankrupted Butler.

Bruins doesn't remember everything she did to support the cause, but she marched in rallies and had faith that the compound and its white supremacists wouldn't withstand the trial.

"I never had a doubt because we worked so hard," Bruins said. "And I can't tell you what we did. This is gone from my memory, which I feel thankful for in a way because it was painful."

She remembers seeing pictures in the newspaper of a large swastika on top of one of the buildings in the compound.


Just the other day, Bruins was watching a television program about veterans and Pearl Harbor, and the national anthem played. She was surprised to find tears rolling down her cheeks.

"What is my America going to be like?"

She believes President-elect Trump has fanned the flames of white supremacy despite his statement of disavowal. For her, the election brought back the fights and marches in Idaho, and for her son, it popped a bubble.

Bruins is from a county in western North Dakota that voted 80 percent for Trump, she said, and her late husband's relatives still live there.

"I know where they were politically. I didn't send any of them any Christmas cards this year," Bruins said.

This time around, she'll leave most of the activism to her son. Randy Bruins is retired, but he'll take up the charge, for love of country and because of a lecture from a friend.

"I would rather be retired and be going to sleep on a porch reading the New Yorker than being an activist, but my nature will not permit that," he said.

A friend of his, a black woman, had harsh words for him recently about his bubble.

"It's just you white people who get to rest from the idea that you're no longer a racist country," his friend told him. "None of us have ever gotten to rest."

So he's helping to promote a "Love Not Hate" rally on Saturday, Jan. 7, in Whitefish, and he wants people to "come out of their fear and be counted."

"What is going to be effective is a huge crowd of people," he said.


Evie Bruins believes that it's important to have good information about white supremacists to combat them.

"Learn as much as you possibly can about the enemy because then, you'll be more ready for whatever is going to come by," she said. "Don't back down. That sounds simple, doesn't it?"

Randy Bruins doesn't think of the people harboring hateful ideas against others – gay people like himself, blacks, Asians, Jews – as enemies.

"I think that fortifies them. They want to be the enemy," he said.

Plus, he's a nurse, and he said nurses don't get to have enemies.

"I was able to be a nurse to nuns and neo-Nazis," he said. "My belief system is if you see a man beating a dog, and you don't have the same compassion for the man as you do the dog, you're not competent in that situation."

Bruins' specialty is violent and aggressive people; he believes white supremacy is a mental illness, one that's curable. Someone with ambition can find the way out with compassion from others, he said.

"It's worth it to come out," he said. "And I've seen people to come out, and I would lovingly help someone to come out of that culture."

He wants others to do their part, too. Community members should to turn out for events such as the Jan. 7 rally, he said. The press should help educate the public, not provide a "forum for hate" for people such as Richard Spencer.

Spencer, who has been based in Whitefish and Washington, D.C., is a white nationalist who wants to protect a future for European descendants in the United States. Last month, the broadcast of a conference in Washington, D.C, showed Spencer at the microphone saying "Hail, Trump," and raising his arm with a glass in his hand; some others in the audience gave clear Nazi salutes. 

"Our country cannot survive without an educated populace, and the press is dismal," Randy Bruins said. "It's only interested in the circus."


Evie Bruins is a survivor, and her story is one of hope. Butterflies arranged in flight shine from a frame hanging in her living room, and to her, they represent freedom.

She remembers a story from Morris Dees' book about a church burning in the South. The fire singed an old, old Bible dear to the congregation, but she said the minister could still make out a verse in Ecclesiastes.

"'There is a time to hate and a time to love. A time to tear down and a time to build up.' And that was when that black minister decided to rebuild this church. So I think now is the time that we all have to give what we can."

This article has been updated to reflect that Randy Bruins is helping to promote, not organize, the "Love Not Hate" event.

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University of Montana, higher education