Last weekend, my old friend Bill Morlin wrote a major Sunday piece for the Spokane Spokesman-Review describing how the old scourge of white-supremacist hatred and the violence that always accompanies it has been on the rise again:
There’s also been a spike in racist activity and hate crimes in Spokane and other Pacific Northwest communities – indeed, almost everywhere in the United States.
Racist graffiti, acts of malicious harassment and distribution of hate literature in 1980 marked the emergence of the Aryan Nations in North Idaho, recalls Marshall Mend, a founding member of the human relations task force.
For nearly three decades, the Aryans and their splinter-group associates were responsible for a series of crimes, including murders and bombings, throughout the United States. The Aryan Nations held annual gatherings of hatemongers, burned KKK crosses and even got permits for disruptive parades down Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene, all of which severely tarnished the region’s image.
Most local hate activity disappeared with a multimillion-dollar court verdict in 2000 that bankrupted the Aryan Nations. Four years later, Aryan founder Richard Butler died, and some wishfully thought hate, too, had disappeared in this region.
Now, though, there are two new self-proclaimed Aryan leaders in North Idaho – Gerald O’Brien and Paul Mullet – who are fighting each other for power. There are two competing Aryan Web sites. Another splinter faction, the Aryan Nations Revival, based in New York state, dissolved last week and, according to a Web posting, threw its support to O’Brien’s faction.
Meanwhile, almost a dozen hate crimes have been reported in the past 14 months to authorities in Kootenai and Spokane counties.
The region’s spike in hate crimes follows a national trend that started after the country elected its first black president in 2008. Besides more hate groups, experts say they also are seeing an increase in secretive, anti-government militia activity.
Sure enough, in the week that followed, there were three major stories involving white-supremacist violence in the Inland Empire.
A Whitman County man who bragged online about being involved with racist taco truck protests in Kootenai County was arrested on a federal gun charge Wednesday.
Jeremiah Daniel “J.D.” Hop, who describes himself as an anti-race-mixing activist on the racist website Vanguard News Network, is accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Investigators spent most of Wednesday searching Hop’s home near Pullman, as well as another property in Whitman County associated with the suspect, said Don Robinson, supervisor for the FBI’s Coeur d’Alene office.
Hop, who was arrested Wednesday morning, is not a member of the Aryan Nations but is involved in racist circles, Robinson said. Hop was convicted of third-degree rape of a child in 2005.
The guy is obviously a genius. I thought everyone loved taco trucks. And the child-rape conviction just reminds us, once again, that a lot of these people have, well, issues.
Such as Kevin Harpham, the neo-Nazi arrested for planting a lethal backpack bomb along the parade route of this year's MLK parade in downtown Spokane. He was further charged with federal hate crimes this week. Meanwhile, the Spokesman's Meghann M. Cunniff reported on what Harpham's online postings revealed about his mindset -- and his politics:
He also wrote of being influenced by writings and podcasts by Edgar Steele, the former Aryan Nations lawyer who is currently awaiting trial on federal charges that he hired a man to kill his wife. Harpham promoted a speaking engagement by Steele in Florida in 2006 and wrote in 2007 that he “finally broke down and had to go out buy some silver,” because of Steele’s influence.
Harpham eventually became an active supporter of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination; he urged others to make individual rather than group contributions to help avoid any links between white supremacists and Paul’s candidacy. Harpham claimed in 2007 to have made two contributions, one for $50 and another for $25, to the Paul campaign but contradicted himself in other posts, saying he supports the campaign but wouldn’t spend money on it.
“I don’t care about getting America back on its feet, what I want is for Ron Paul to provide the conditions for us to build White communities with our own businesses and schools,” he wrote on Christmas Eve 2007. “We could do very well under these conditions and start amassing great wealth to expand.”
But as Paul’s presidential prospects faded and the U.S. economy tanked, violent themes began emerging in more of Harpham’s online comments.
Harpham last posted on Jan. 16, a day before the bomb was discovered. Ten days earlier, he had offered to let fugitive white supremacist Craig Cobb stay at his home. It’s unclear whether Cobb, who faces hate crime charges in Canada, took him up on the offer.
Oh, yes, and speaking of Edgar Steele -- he was found guilty of plotting to murder his wife and mother-in-law this week too. And it seems the wife, who has remained loyal through it all, is now denouncing the verdict:
A murder-for-hire trial comes to an emotional end. A federal jury convicted Edgar Steele on Thursday of plotting to kill his wife and mother-in-law. But Steele's wife vows to set the record straight. The Boise jury found Edgar Steele guilty on all four counts.
The trial was moved to Boise for fairness at the request of the defense. Despite those efforts, Cyndi Steele said her husband's trial was some kind of federal government conspiracy.
"They took our life and turned it into an ugly story, it is farthest from the truth," said Cyndi.
The story began when a mechanic found a pipe bomb under Cyndi Steele's car. Investigators said a hired hand, Larry Fairfax, planted the bomb at the request of her husband, Edgar Steele.
"I am the wife, the proud wife of Edgar J. Steele, and I am here to tell you that this is a cover-up, a frame-up to cover-up Larry Fairfax's crime against me," said Cyndi.
I have a hunch she's going to be showing up on Fox News to plead her case.
In any event, these are obviously all just "isolated incidents" that have no larger significance whatsoever. Move along, please.