“We have long history of being a breeding ground for extremist groups and individuals,” says a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has identified 21 hate groups in Washington state.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has identified 21 hate groups operating in Washington, most claiming as members white supremacists and white nationalists — people who have flocked to this corner of the country for more than a century, the group says.
The groups, identified in the SPLC’s “Hate Map,” range from Our Place Fellowship, a tiny Christian Identity church in Colville, Stevens County, to the American Vanguard, a small but virulent group of neo-Nazis out of Bremerton, said David Neiwert, the SPLC’s Northwest representative.
The SPLC, which tracks hate groups in the United States, has identified five anti-Muslim groups, the same number of racist skinhead groups, and four white nationalist groups in the state, including Seattle-based Counter-Currents Publishing — which publishes white nationalist and hate literature — and the Wolves of Vinland, whose members worship the Norse god Odin and subscribe to the idea of Aryan superiority.
There are two chapters of the Ku Klux Klan in Washington, one in Vancouver and the other in Spokane, according to SPLC’s research.
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The SPLC has identified a dozen hate groups in neighboring Idaho and 11 others in Oregon.
“We have a long history of being a breeding ground for extremist groups and individuals,” said Neiwert, who is based in Seattle. That likely won’t end with many white nationalists emboldened by the race-driven violence and protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend and President Donald Trump’s response to the clashes.
Moreover, Neiwert said, there is a thinning of ideological barriers that have separated some extremists who subscribe to so-called patriot and militia movements, such as the Proud Boys, who have participated in Seattle May Day demonstrations, or the III% (Three Percenters), and fascists and neo-Nazis.
More and more, Neiwert said these individuals are “rubbing shoulders” at rallies such as those held in Seattle and Portland in recent months.
“And they have much bigger numbers, and are a much bigger threat,” he said.
The country saw an explosion in the number of militias and radical patriot-type movements in the eight years Barack Obama was president, Neiwert said, many of them heavily armed out of fear that their Second Amendment rights were threatened.
Some, like the Northwest Front, are urging white people to migrate to the Northwest and espouse a white homeland in Oregon and Washington.
On Wednesday, the Lakewood Patch community news site reported that business cards bearing a message from the Northwest Frontwere left beneath windshields of cars at a city park.
“Our race is our nation,” the cards state. “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
The Seattle office of the FBI doesn’t track membership in domestic extremist groups, because “membership is not illegal,” the agency said in a statement.
FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said “the threat of domestic terrorism appears to spike in a manner that coincides with hot-topic social, political and societal issues and events.”
From the bureau’s viewpoint, it is an “enduring threat” that comprises a minority of the counterterrorism cases the FBI investigates, she said.
The idea of a white homeland in the Northwest was at the root of perhaps the most visible white-supremacist movement in America outside the Ku Klux Klan — the Church of Jesus Christ Christian-Aryan Nations and its leader, the Rev. Richard Butler.
The open celebration of neo-Nazism and white power seen last week in Virginia was an almost weekly event at Butler’s Northern Idaho compound, where he spewed race hate, burned crosses and held an annual congress of supremacy groups. It’s also where some of the most violent neo-Nazi hate groups were born.
The Aryan compound was the breeding ground for Robert J. Mathews and The Order, a neo-Nazi “silent brotherhood” whose members trained at his farm in Metaline, Pend Oreille County, about 94 miles north of Spokane. Throughout 1983 and ’84, Mathews and his followers robbed banks and armored cars in hopes of funding violent white revolution, netting $4 million in one robbery alone. The Order also took responsibility for the 1983 murder of Denver radio host Alan Berg, who was Jewish.
Mathews died in a fiery shootout with U.S. marshals and the FBI at his Whidbey Island cabin in 1984.
In 1986, a young white separatist from Ohio named Randy Weaver showed up at the Aryan Nations compound. He would later attract the attention of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, whose agents tried to arrest him on a gun charge at his cabin on Ruby Ridge in Boundary County, Idaho. The ensuing 11-day standoff ended only after a federal marshal and Weaver’s wife and son were killed.
Ruby Ridge became a rallying cry for not only white supremacists, but the militia and patriot movements appalled at what they said was government overreach and attempts to undercut their right to arm themselves
In 1999, another Butler lieutenant named Buford Furrow Jr. shot and killed a Los Angeles postal worker and then opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun at a nearby Jewish community day-care center, wounding five people, including three children.
Furrow, an avowed white separatist who grew up in Thurston County, was briefly married to Mathews’ widow. He is serving a life sentence in a federal prison.
In 2011, city workers preparing the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane came across an abandoned backpack near a bench. Finding wires inside, they alerted police.
The FBI later said the backpack contained a “low-explosive” device surrounded by lead fishing shot coated with rat poison, which contains a chemical that inhibits blood clotting.
The FBI arrested a “lone wolf” white supremacist named Kevin Harpham, who lived in Addy, Stevens County. Harpham was sentenced in 2011 to 32 years in prison.
Harpham was a member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in late 2004, according to the SPLC. Mark Potok of the SPLC said it was not known when Harpham joined or whether he was still a member.
However, Erich Gliebe, chairman of the National Alliance, based in Hillsboro, West Virginia, told The Spokesman-Review newspaper that Harpham is not a member.
Harpham also routinely posted on the Vanguard News Network, a racist and anti-Semitic website, according to the SPLC, and contributed to the white nationalist newspaper The Aryan Alternative.