Thursday, January 20, 2011

FBI: MLK Parade Backpack Bomb Linked to Aryan Nations. People of Spokane: We Doubt It.

By Keegan Hamilton
Seattle Weekly
published: Thu., Jan. 20 2011 @ 1:00PM

​We now know what the backpack bomb placed on the route of Spokane's Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade looks like, but the bigger question still looms: Who planted the potentially catastrophic device and why? In public statements, the FBI has suggested that the Aryan Nations, the notorious white-supremacist group with long-standing ties to the inland Northwest region, might be responsible. The Spokane community, however, is skeptical.

Here's what Frank Harrill, the FBI agent in charge of the agency's Spokane office, told the AP yesterday:

The FBI received no warnings in advance and does not have a suspect, Harrill said. No one has claimed responsibility for planting the bomb.

The discovery before the parade for the slain civil rights leader raised the possibility of a racial motive in a region that has been home to the white supremacist Aryan Nations.

"The confluence of the holiday, the march. and the device is inescapable, but we are not at the point where we can draw any particular motive," Harrill said.

The story goes on to describe an incident in December in which a man from Hayden, Idaho (about 40 miles east of Spokane), built a snowman on his front yard that looked like a Ku Klux Klan member, complete with a noose dangling from its hands.

But while northern Idaho has long been known as a hotspot for hate groups, recent reports from Spokane indicate that the Aryan Nations has nearly faded to obscurity in recent years.

In 2000, the group lost a civil lawsuit filed by a mother and son who were run off the road and shot at near the Aryan Nations compound outside Coeur d'Alene. The $6.3 million judgment bankrupted the organization, and their compound was eventually bulldozed. Richard Butler, the group's founder and longtime leader, died in 2003.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, after Butler's death several splinter groups formed from the remnants of the Aryan Nations. The most notable is the American National Socialist Party, headed by a guy named Paul Mullet (seriously, that's his last name), which relocated to Ohio.

Nevertheless, the timing of the bomb plot with the MLK parade is enough to rouse suspicions that racist groups are once again rearing their ugly, bald heads in Idaho and eastern Washington. Spokane's Mayor, Mary Verner, is trying to play down the connection, telling reporters that Monday's narrowly avoided tragedy "was an isolated incident and doesn't represent the people of Spokane."

This past weekend, the Coeur d'Alene Press ran a front-page story written by Zach Beck. A former top lieutenant to Butler, the SPLC once called Beck "one of the most dangerous white supremacists in the world." Writing from federal prison in SeaTac, where he is locked up for killing a black man in an altercation at a bar in Longview, Beck apologized for his actions and for permanently tarnishing the region's image:

I want to formally apologize for the image of hate that I helped bring upon this decent community. I could tell you I was ordered to do what I did and that I was young and dumb, manipulated and lied to, but it doesn't change the fact that it was still me. I wish I could take it back.

You don't have to forgive me, and I don't blame you if you don't, but I need you, Coeur d'Alene, to know that I and so many before and after me are wrong. Hate is pointless, destructive to everyone involved, selfish, childish, and cowardly.

I'm sorry.

As the Pacific Northwest Inlander points out, Beck's letter is a far cry from "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," but it does show that the times--and beliefs--are changing in Idaho.


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