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White supremacists revive dream of a homeland in Northwest

Kevin Harpham's attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King parade in Spokane, Wash., reflects the foothold white supremacy has in the region.

February 09, 2012|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
  • Kevin W. Harpham is serving a 32-year prison sentence for planting a bomb along the route of the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Wash. The Army veteran had made hateful postings for years on a white supremacist website.
Kevin W. Harpham is serving a 32-year prison sentence for planting a bomb… (Spokane County Sheriff's…)

Reporting from Spokane, Wash. — Three sanitation workers found it along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march: a nest of wires in a backpack.

The homemade bomb was equipped with an unusual remote-controlled trigger and stuffed with more than 100 heavy fishing weights coated in rat poison. The Spokane County bomb squad disarmed it hours before the route would have been flooded with marchers last year.

If the device had detonated and the weights had torn into the intended victims, the poison would have prevented their blood from coagulating, all but ensuring their deaths, lab analysts concluded.

The intense manhunt that ensued led authorities to a remote cabin in the pine-shrouded hills north of Spokane. In it lived Kevin W. Harpham, an Army veteran who had posted venomously for years on a white supremacist website, the Vanguard News Network.

"Those who say you can't win a war by bombing have never tried," he wrote. "I can't wait till the day I snap."

At the conclusion of a hurried, tense investigation, Harpham pleaded guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and a hate crime and was sentenced in December to 32 years in prison.

A decade after the dissolution of the Aryan Nations compound in northern Idaho and the arrest of the Montana Freemen, white supremacists, far-right militias and radical patriots have revived their dream of a homeland in the Northwest.

In 2010, residents in several parts of Idaho woke to find Easter eggs tossed on their lawns — courtesy of the not-dead-yet Aryan Nations. The eggs contained jelly beans and solicitations to "take back our country and make it great, clean, decent and beautiful once again."

In October, a federal jury convicted Spokane-area resident Wayde Kurt of firearms violations in a case prosecutors said stemmed from Kurt's membership in the white supremacist group Vanguard Kindred.

In a sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors said Kurt discussed with an FBI informant a plan for what he called an act of terrorism "of the worst kind," comparable to the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, that "would mean a death sentence if he is caught."

"The defendant stated that he needed to make sure that everyone is fed up with [President] Obama," the memo says.

Meanwhile, prominent white nationalists, radical constitutionalists and other apostles of the far right have established beachheads in northwestern Montana. They include April Gaede, who is appealing to white "refugees" to establish a Pioneer Little Europe; Karl Gharst, a former member of the Aryan Nations who has been screening Holocaust denial films at the local library; and Ronald Davenport, a Washington man who was convicted in November of filing more than $20 billion in false liens against government officials seeking to collect $250,000 in unpaid taxes.

Conservative preacher and radio host Chuck Baldwin, the 2008 presidential candidate of the Constitution Party, moved to Montana from Florida in 2010 to help establish an "American redoubt" for "liberty-loving brethren," and is now running as a Republican for lieutenant governor.

"We know there's a fight coming. We know there is a line being drawn in the sand, and we want to be in the right place. The good ground is right here in Montana," Baldwin told supporters last year.

In a recent report, the Southern Poverty Law Center said "a new round of antigovernment stirrings" was evident in northwestern Montana, especially around Kalispell.

"We're seeing a real resurgence of the idea once again of retreating to the Pacific Northwest, the last best place, as they say," said Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the civil rights group.

The new arrivals have not made overt threats of violence. Many have said they came to establish a quiet line of defense against rising crime in cities to the south. Yet Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, said the militant right posed a different kind of challenge.

Instead of doing most of their proselytizing online, as they have in the past, he said, the groups are now sponsoring public meetings, bringing in guest speakers such as David Irving, an internationally known writer who challenges the Holocaust, and Paul Fromm, a well-known Canadian white supremacist.

"The idea that they just want to move here and be left alone — we've seen in the last 21/2 years that that's not what these folks are about. They're about pushing their agenda, trying to recruit people if they can," McAdam said. "It's definitely about establishing a presence and saying basically, 'We're here.' "

In the case of Baldwin, he added, "They're engaging mainstream political institutions and trying to accumulate power."

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