SOUTH WHIDBEY STATE PARK, Whidbey Island - Amid dark and lonely trees in an otherwise deserted state park, about 20 neo-Nazis were encamped last night to pay homage to a slain leader.
In a ceremony they remembered Robert Matthews, founder of the Aryan organization known as The Order. Matthews died in a fire during a gunbattle with FBI agents on the island on Dec. 8, 1984, not far from the park.
Almost every year since, other members of the Aryan Nations have gathered in South Whidbey State Park.
An uneasy calm prevailed earlier yesterday when a group of about 50 protesters from Seattle, organized by the United Front Against Fascism, chanted, sang and paraded in a circle at the park entrance. They were kept from entering the park by law-enforcement personnel from Island and Skagit counties and the Oak Harbor Police Department.
After the demonstrators dispersed at midafternoon, the neo-Nazis held a brief news conference near where they were assembled.
Said the Rev. Richard Butler, an Aryan Nations leader: "We have a duty and a right to preserve our race. Every species, the spotted owl included, needs a territorial imperative."
Members of the tight little organization known as the Aryan Nations are trying to establish a strong foothold for their beliefs in the Pacific Northwest. Most were from the Silverdale and Poulsbo areas.
Butler praised Matthews as a man of conviction, saying, "He made the total commitment."
Standing beside Butler, who lives in Idaho, was Justin Dwyer, a Bremerton resident who is Washington state leader of the Aryan Nations. "We are the only people I see that are concerned about our race," Dwyer said. "Preservation of our race is very important."
While Butler and Dwyer spoke to reporters, they were flanked by six men in blue uniforms not unlike those of Nazi storm troopers.
The group's assembly in the park in other years has included speeches and the playing of loud German marching music in a candlelight ceremony.
The demonstrators at the park entrance shouted, "Racist, sexist, Nazi clan! We will stop you and yes, we can!"
One of them, Guerry Hoddersen, who described herself as a Seattle community organizer, said they were were trying "to prevent the Nazis from turning a racist murderer into a hero," referring to Matthews. "We want the Nazis to know they can't meet anywhere in the Northwest without being faced by counter-demonstrators."
Leon Lewin, a retired Seattle printer, said he was participating in the demonstration because members of his family in Poland were killed by Nazis in World War II.
"I think you have to stop them at the source," he said, "and not let them get by with anything."
The neo-Nazis began arriving early yesterday, and Butler arrived in a car about noon, slipping past the demonstrators with only a few of them seeing him.
Lt. Michael Hawley of the Island County Sheriff's Office said about 20 neo-Nazis were in the park's group campground, which they had reserved.
He said law-enforcement agencies in several jurisdictions were alerted about a possible confrontation between the neo-Nazis and the demonstrators, but none occurred.
Among those watching the demonstrators was Robert Hughes, a mediator in the community-relations service of the U.S. Justice Department. He said he was there so both groups could meet peacefully and have the right of free speech.
One of the speakers at the demonstration was the Rev. Tom Walker, minister of the United Methodist Church in nearby Langley. He said he was opposed to neo-Nazis getting a foothold on Whidbey Island.
Walker also indicated concern about some of the more inflammatory words carried by some of the demonstrators and told a reporter they hoped the demonstrators would not fight "hate with hate and violence with violence."
A half-mile away inside the park, the road inside the group campground was blocked by a white gate and one or two neo-Nazis stood guard there to prevent anyone else from entering.