GOLD HILL — City Council members are questioning whether the city should help fund Gold Dust Days after discovering a man who once declared himself a neo-Nazi and has been convicted of racially motivated assaults is marching in the parade.
Andrew Lee Patterson, owner of Patterson's Martial Arts on Second Avenue, is marching with his students in the June 2 Gold Dust Days parade.
Councilwoman Christine Alford voiced concerns about Patterson's participation in the parade during Thursday's council meeting. She presented copies of Mail Tribune articles on Patterson from 2003, when he was convicted of a racially motivated assault on two homeless people and an East Indian motel owner, and from 2009, when he identified himself as the state leader of the National Socialist Movement.
Alford questioned Councilwoman Lorraine Parks, who volunteers for the Gold Hill Historical Society, which sponsors Gold Dust Days, about "standards for who can be in the parade."
"The parade itself is handled by Patrick (Elementary) PTO. They're the ones that are guarding the gate, Christine," Parks told Alford. (See correction below.)
"Well, let me tell you about guarding the old gate here, OK?" Alford said. "When somebody wants to stand up in the paper and say they're a neo-Nazi, they need to be acknowledged publicly as one.
"I would think, if you've done this, that you would be obligated to come out publicly and say, 'I repudiate my former connection with the neo-Nazi party,'" she added.
Patterson acknowledged his past involvement in the National Socialist Movement but said "it's not something I'm doing now."
"I was involved in that group, but that's been something I have kind of let go and haven't had any more involvement in for about three years," he said. "What we're doing here is good things for these kids. I don't want to get involved in town politics. I just want to contribute something positive to the community."
Patterson said he believes Alford's decision to stir up his past is related to an unpaid bill for martial arts classes for her grandson.
"The reason why she's doing it is she's in collections with us. She has defaulted on a contract, so she has a personal vendetta with us," Patterson said.
"We waited seven months to send her contract to a collections agency. She decided she wasn't going to pay, so now she's running around telling everyone we're Nazi leaders."
Alford said she had a contract with the previous owner of the school and discontinued lessons last summer. She only recently learned of Patterson's past, which she said caused her concern for the town's children.
"The issue is that he didn't bother telling people he was a Nazi when he came into this town. I took my grandson out of the school when I found out he lived in the dojo and that the building was doubling for his house," Alford said.
Alford acknowledged she owes the dojo money but said she didn't receive the services she expected and she disputed the bill, which Patterson said was $250.
Janet Sessions, president of the historical society, said it was financially unfeasible to do background checks on all parade participants.
"We wouldn't have a parade if the school hadn't taken our request to run it, but we would not knowingly ever associate with that type of organization (neo-Nazis) or anyone with that philosophy," Sessions said.
In 2009, Patterson publicly announced his role as a state leader for the National Socialist Movement in Oregon, describing his beliefs at the time to include holocaust denial and demanding illegal immigrants be deported so the white race does not become extinct.
Six years before, in January 2003, Patterson and two fellow Oregon Army National Guard soldiers attacked two homeless men, calling them a "disgrace to the white race," and an East Indian motel owner in what police called hate crimes.
Patterson was sent home early by the National Guard from a past peacekeeping mission in the Sinai for discipline problems and discharged from the Guard after conviction of second- and third-degree assault in the hate crimes case.
"I shouldn't trivialize my past because it's a serious past and has a lot of negative connotations to it, but that's not what I'm about anymore," said Patterson, who took ownership of the Gold Hill dojo in October 2011, according to state records. "... I want to be remembered as somebody who tried to help, not somebody who tried to hurt."
Parade organizers did not return calls seeking comment on Patterson's involvement in Gold Dust Days. (See correction below.)
Council members discussed the idea of having some input into those allowed to participate in the parade if the city continues financial support of Gold Dust Days, but made no formal recommendation.
"If the old PTO is going to be in charge of the parade, then probably next year I would recommend that the city doesn't have the mayor and the city involved in it and funding it," said Alford. (See correction below.)
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Johnna Gill, president of the Patrick Elementary PTO, says private citizens, not the PTO, are in charge of the Gold Dust Parade.