Alleged white supremacist activity spurs pushback in Tacoma
A Tacoma community is pushing back against alleged white supremacist activity in the area.
“Our website, Disconnect White Power, is an educational website for Tacoma residents to understand white supremacy in Washington state … specifically we are focused on Tacoma,” said Tacoma resident and educator Hope Teague-Bowling. “Across the nation, a lot of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, or Nazis in various forms, have stepped up and become emboldened with the current administration and they feel they have a right to say a lot of hateful and vile things.”
The website Disconnect White Power was created by community group Tacoma Against Nazis. It encourages Tacoma residents to report incidents, businesses, and any white supremacist sightings in the city. From there, they educate and even confront the activity.
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One business inspired the website, and the group has already taken action. Tacoma Against Nazis posted a billboard near a tattoo shop where Teague-Bowling says operators promote white supremacist ideology. She says they are connected with Northwest Hammerskins, a neo-Nazi organization with chapters throughout the country.
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“A lot of evidence was brought forth. These same group of folks have claimed a connection with the local Hammerskins, and they had done a little white lives matter rally,” Teague-Bowling said. “… So we decided to approach this in a handful of ways … our website is specifically about education and giving information to point out the local neo-Nazis in our community. But also some calls to action.
“Part of that action is being more educated about the symbols we see everywhere around us, whether it’s on a car or it’s someone’s tattoo.”
Symbols such as the number “88,” which are common among neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. It is often featured as a sort of dog whistle to other white supremacists. In short, the eighth letter of the alphabet is “H;” 88 stands for HH, which means “Heil Hitler.”
Teague-Bowling says the managers of the tattoo shop also fly flags outside their home that deliver the same covert messaging.
“They are directly across from an elementary school in a predominantly black and brown neighborhood,” she said. “And that’s a problem for us.”
Teague-Bowling further says that her organization is seeking to shut the tattoo shop down. The billboard is part of that effort. They also had a demonstration outside the shop in June.
“It was a large group of white people saying ‘We are no longer going to put up with this, and we are going to speak out about it,'” Teague-Bowling said.
She said that they are also promoting a letter-writing campaign to the owner of the property, urging them to cancel the lease for the tattoo business.
“Tacoma Against Nazis wants to make Tacoma a place where Nazis or anyone with white supremacy ideology is not welcome,” she said. “That they are not comfortable flying their flags, they are not comfortable running their businesses, they will not be (given business)…”
Neo-Nazis in Washington state
White supremacist and neo-Nazi activity has been increasingly seen throughout Washington state.
A neo-Nazi group held a pro-police demonstration in Olympia in 2015 in the wake of a controversial police shooting. The University of Washington has experienced a string of neo-Nazi posters posted throughout its campus. Schools are a common target. Identity Evropa has been observed hanging posters near colleges and high schools from Seattle to Tacoma. The region’s law enforcement agencies have also noted a rise in bias crimes. A white nationalist even attained an official position with the state’s Republican Party in Eastern Washington.
The group Patriot Front has increased activity throughout Western Washington. They have spread posters in Gig Harbor, and distributed fliers in bags with candy near schools in Bellevue and Clyde Hill.
Teague-Bowling is familiar with Patriot Front as its members have also targeted Tacoma.
“Last week, we had folks from Patriot Front come over … and leaflet a couple neighborhoods in downtown Tacoma and put up their terrible signs with references to ‘bloodandsoil.org,'” she said.
“Blood and soil” is a slogan based on the World War II era German saying “Blut und Boden“ and re-purposed for American neo-Nazis. The fliers encouraged people to turn in illegal immigrants, stating “they are not immigrants, they are criminals” and “Keep America American.”
“Which we know is really a comment about making America white,” Teague-Bowling notes.
“They are showing up in relation to each other,” she added. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in Portland, we had a big riot there, and a few days later we have these fliers in Tacoma. People are testing.”
White people against white supremacy
Teague-Bowling points out that the I-5 corridor is where many of these incidents occur. Both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have maps which chronicle these groups and incidents. Law enforcement agencies have also noted a rise in bias crimes in the Puget Sound region.
Tacoma Against Nazis is a reaction to this rise, Teague-Bowling said. She argues white supremacy is created and perpetuated by white people. Therefore, they need to be active in countering it.
“Essentially, we see a rise of white supremacy in this country and white people benefit from white supremacy, so it is our responsibility to speak out against it if we don’t believe in it,” she said. “Particularly if we want a country where we accept everybody, and we have these beliefs that anybody can be anything in America. If we really do believe that we need to support those values.”
“It’s really easy for us to be in our bubble,” Teague-Bowling said. “I’m a white person. I think a lot of white people see things and think if we are silent or quiet, things will go away … silence is really condoning and accepting these behaviors and ideologies. When you shine light on something and point it out, it has a chance to be aired … a lot of white people that I talk to don’t really know what to do, and I think that’s part of why people are silent or nervous about it. But just speaking up and saying ‘I’m not OK with this,’ or ‘I’m not comfortable with this ideology and this is not what America means to me,’ those little things make a huge difference.”