Southern Poverty Center updates 'hate map'; Amana no longer listed as site of neo-Nazi activity

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After getting pushback, the Southern Poverty Law Center no longer lists Amana as having a link to the hate group that gained nationwide infamy after this month’s violent Charlottesville, Va., rally.

David Rettig, executive director of the Amana Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he learned Monday that the center — which tracks hate groups across the United States — updated its online map to show The Daily Stormer neo-Nazi organization is active across the state and not only in Amana.

“We’re thrilled,” Rettig said Tuesday. “And the fact is, it’s now accurate. There is no hate group in Amana.”

Southern Poverty Law Center Research Director Alex Amend explained the decision to change the designation:

“We just heard quite a bit of feedback from the community,” he said. “I did not know the nature of the tourist town and the German heritage that is embraced there. We just heard feedback from people in the community, leaders like Dave Rettig. We just made the decision it’s not worth the trouble there.”

The center said Amana had originally earned the designation after the organization determined members of The Daily Stormer made plans to host a “book club” meeting there in 2016. A cached page of The Daily Stormer’s former website — which was taken down by the GoDaddy hosting service earlier this month after the deadly rally — showed members making plans to meet in the Amana Colonies in September 2016.

“It was a one-time situation and they have not been back, nor are they welcome,” Rettig said.

Rettig said he first learned about the hate map designation earlier this month. He said he then sent two emails and left two voice mails with representatives at the center. Rettig said he spoke with a man from the center last Thursday for about 30 minutes about “what was actually going on in Amana.”

“We left it that he was not in a position to make any changes (to the hate map), but he would discuss this with his superior, who was on vacation until Monday,” Rettig said.

On Monday morning, Rettig said he learned from the media the designation had been changed. He also got a call from the center to inform him.

“He called to tell me they had reviewed the situation and had changed the map,” Rettig said. “He apologized for any problems it may have caused the Amana Colonies.”

Amend said the map is not meant to indicate that communities listed on it are “safe harbors for hate.” Rather, the center is trying to show where hate activity exists across America.

The center shows that the Daily Stormer, which organized the Virginia rally, as being active in several other cities. Earlier this year, the center deemed it as the “top hate site in America.”

“We want to raise awareness these people can be in your backyard,” he said. “This is a very individualized and unique decision we made. We didn’t want to cause overwhelming consternation for this community. We just decided to let it go.”

With the map now changed, Rettig thinks the record on Amana has been set straight.

“We believe we’ve gotten the correct information out; what’s truthful, what’s accurate,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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