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Dangerous ground

It's understandable that a Gold Hill city councilwoman is concerned that a one-time neo-Nazi with a violent past is marching in a city parade next month. But she's out of line to suggest the sponsoring Gold Hill Historical Society establish "standards for who can be in the parade."

At issue is the annual Gold Dust Days parade June 2. The parade is organized by a group of volunteers.

Andrew Lee Patterson, the owner of Patterson's Martial Arts on Second Avenue, plans to march in the parade with his students. A local business catering to kids marching in a community parade is hardly unusual.

But Patterson is not just any business owner. In 2003, he and two fellow National Guard soldiers attacked two homeless men and an East Indian motel owner they mistook for an Arab. The three beat one homeless man with a wooden bat so badly that he was hospitalized in critical condition. The motive for the attack? The homeless men were "a disgrace to the white race."

It should be obvious who the disgrace was in that case.

The alleged ringleader in those attacks committed suicide. Patterson served a Measure 11 prison sentence for his role.

After his release from prison, Patterson was in the news again in 2009 when he proclaimed himself the state leader of a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement.

City Councilwoman Christine Alford raised questions about Patterson's participation during a council meeting last week.

Patterson says he is no longer associated with the group, and he's not proud of his violent past. Regardless of his sincerity, he's entitled to participate in the parade as the owner of a legitimate business in Gold Hill.

However distasteful Patterson's past actions — and they were undeniably that — city officials would be setting themselves up for a lawsuit if they tried to impose standards of appropriateness on parade entries.

If an individual with past ties to a white supremacist organization can be excluded for those views — or be required to publicly repudiate them — what's to prevent a rule barring Democrats from marching, or Republicans? And who gets to decide what is appropriate and what is not?

In calling for standards, Alford said Patterson should be publicly identified as a former neo-Nazi. She's taken care of that.

If the parents of Patterson's students are concerned about his past, his business won't survive long. If they are satisfied that he's changed his ways, then he may succeed in his stated desire to contribute something positive to the community.

Either way, it's not the City Council's responsibility to decide who can and cannot march in a parade.