SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — He has been an Aryan Nations member and Ku Klux Klan leader, and now Shaun Winkler wants to be the sheriff in a rural Idaho county near the Canadian border.
The white power activist is running as a Republican in the May 15 Bonner County primary to become the top law enforcement officer. Winkler said despite the white supremacist beliefs he holds as a KKK imperial wizard, his brand of justice would be color blind.
“In the event I was elected sheriff, I would not act on racial profiling,” Winkler said. “Being in the white power movement, I know how it feels to be profiled by law enforcement.”
Rather, Winkler is running on a platform that includes coming down hard on sex offenders and meth manufacturers, and reducing the impact of federal law enforcement at the county level.
Cornel Rasor, chairman of the county Republican Central Committee, doesn’t see much appeal to Winkler’s candidacy.
“The seven people that like him will vote for him,” Rasor said. “I don’t think he has a chance.'”
Bonner County is heavily Republican, with a large Tea Party following. But “there are very few Aryans here,” Rasor said.
A human rights group leader urged local voters to reject Winkler.
“If the voters of Bonner County will turn out in large numbers to oppose Winkler’s candidacy, they will be sending a clear message of opposition to all those who come to our great state to promote hate-filled ideologies,” said Tony Stewart of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, which, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, put the Aryan Nations out of business with a lawsuit more than a decade ago.
Winkler, 33, was for years an associate of Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, who ran for mayor of Hayden in 2003, the last time an admitted white supremacist appeared on a ballot in northern Idaho. Butler received only about 50 of the 2,300 votes cast in that election, Stewart said.
Winkler is running in the GOP primary against Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and Ponderay police officer Tim Fry. The winner will face independent Rocky Jordan in the November election.
Sandpoint, the county seat, is built along the shores of spectacular Lake Pend Oreille, and has a thriving tourist economy built around outdoor recreation and the arts. It shows up regularly on lists of the best small towns in the West.
But the area also has a history of radical and anti-government activism. The infamous Ruby Ridge standoff occurred about 20 miles north of here, and the Aryan Nations compound was about 30 miles south.
Kate McAlister, president of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, said Winkler is free to run for office, but his views do not reflect the majority in the area.
“Mr. Winkler does not in any way, shape or form represent Bonner County,” McAlister said. “We are not exclusionary.”
Bonner County, like much of the rest of the region, has a population that is overwhelmingly white — about 96 percent of the 40,000 residents.
Winkler moved to Priest River a year ago, and owns a landscaping business. He said he noticed immediately that there were large numbers of registered sex offenders and meth labs in the county.
He said he didn’t think local law enforcement was taking the problems seriously enough and decided to file for sheriff.
Winkler, who has a Ron Paul sticker on his truck, has no law enforcement or military experience, which he considers a plus. He said he has been a registered Republican since the age of 18.
He considers himself a white separatist, who believes people of different races should live segregated lives.
Winkler picketed Mexican food carts in nearby Coeur d’Alene in 2011, and protested the annual Martin Luther King Jr. events at North Idaho College in January.
He believes his experiences in the white power movement are valuable.
“Most people in the white power movement are concerned about their neighborhoods,” he said. “We oppose drugs, sex offenders and corruption in our areas.”
He considers himself a mainstream candidate, but understands how others might not.
“Of the Republican candidates, I have the most controversy, but also have more of the traditional Republican values of patriotism,” he said.
Winkler is married and the father of three young children.
For the past two years he has been the imperial wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for the state of Idaho, a group he said has only a handful of members in the region.
He has been doing some face-to-face campaigning in the Priest River and Sandpoint areas.
“A lot of people are 100 percent with me,” he said. “Or they say, ‘I don’t agree with your racist beliefs, but I agree the FBI shouldn’t have jurisdiction here, and sex offenders and meth are becoming a problem that shouldn’t be ignored.'”
But, he also acknowledged, “I’ve had people who say: ‘I don’t want nothing to do with you.'”
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