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Recent white supremacist activity in Washington is not new

This is the second in a two-part series on white supremacist activity in the Northwest. Read part one here.

When a group attacked a DJ at a Lynnwood bar last December, it surprised some that the assault was carried out by a gang of white supremacists.

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But to others, the incident wasn’t a surprise. After all, it happened on Martyrs Day — a holiday for white supremacists in memory of Robert Mathews, a leader of a movement in the 1980s called “The Order.” Mathews died during a confrontation with FBI agents at his home on Whidbey Island Dec. 8, 1984. Every year, on that day, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists are known to gather in his honor.

On Dec. 8, 2018, seven men and one woman were arrested after assaulting a black DJ at the minority-owned bar in Lynnwood. It was investigated as a hate crime.

The legacy of Mathews and The Order lives on in the Northwest through a range of hate groups. While the region continues to experience a population boom, these groups have always promoted what The Order did — a white homeland in the Northwest.

“For many decades a number of prominent white supremacist leaders have viewed the Pacific Northwest as the last bastion of whiteness in the country,” said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich. “So you have a long history of white supremacist groups in Idaho, or Oregon, or Montana who have looked to the Pacific Northwest as the last place you can have a majority white demographic.”

Sheriff Knezovich’s office has partnered with the FBI and the joint terrorism task force to counter neo-Nazi and other extremist activity in Eastern Washington. One such incident was in 2011, when a man placed a bomb along the Martin Luther King Day parade route in Spokane. Sheriff Knezovich was in that parade, along with hundreds of children.

“So yeah, these people are deadly,” he said. “They’ve killed people before.”

The issue is a prominent segment of a presentation he gives about extremism at public meetings titled “The Threats We Face.” And it’s not just white supremacist activity from the right that he speaks to.

“You have an extreme anti-Semitic movement within the left right now … talking very much the same rhetoric as the alt-right and the neo-Nazi mindset,” he said. “Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism. I don’t care if it is right, left, or center.”

“The most recent iteration (of white supremacy), if you can call the ‘80s recent, is the Christian Identity movement … which morphed into the Aryan Nation …” Knezovich said. “We have several of the players that formed that movement who live in this area. You have that along with the fact that there’s kind of … a relationship between some of the so-called patriot groups and the Christian Identity movement. Some people fade back and forth between the groups.”

The groups have received more attention in recent months. The FBI has noted in 2018 that there has been a dramatic rise in hate crimes throughout the state over the past year — an increase of 32 percent.

Burien’s mayor was assaulted in July 2018; it was investigated as a hate crime. Anti-Semitic graffiti was spotted in West Seattle at the home of a Jewish family in November 2018. Another instance of hate paint was reported days prior on Western Washington University’s campus.

Mosques were threatened throughout 2017. A Sikh man was shot in Kent in March 2017. Fliers for white supremacist groups have been spread at college campuses and throughout Western Washington, sometimes with candy near schools. Also, in Tacoma where locals have pushed back.

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The Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood was tagged with anti-Semitic graffiti in March 2017. (KIRO 7)

The recent flurry of fliers in the region have been tied to the Patriot Front group.

“The truth is that there are, unfortunately, a lot of white supremacist groups in our area that preach similar ideology and it seems pretty similar to a lot of groups that try to disguise their intolerance with this vision of America that honors our European roots, but is a place only for whites,” said Miri Cypers, regional director for Anti-Defamation League Pacific Northwest Office. “So Patriot Front’s language and ideology mirrors other white supremacist groups that we know of in our area.”

While Patriot Front is a newer group, it is just among the latest in a long line of organizations that have flourished in the Northwest. For example, there’s Vanguard America, a group that Patriot Front splintered off from. American Front, a Aryan skinhead group, was active in Portland and Kitsap County in the 1990s. Sheriff Knezovich has observed many others, such as the Redoubt Movement, which targets Eastern Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Proponents want to form a white ethnostate. There’s also the Aryan Nations that grew out of Idaho.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate map counts about 26 hate groups in Washington (white supremacists and others); 12 in Idaho and 17 in Oregon.

“If you really do your homework, a lot of this came from the west side first,” Knezovich said. “Back in the ’80s and ’90s, they originally started in the Seattle area and then moved over to the eastern side of Washington. This has been a part of Washington’s history, as a collective, for a very long time. One of the reasons they pick states like Washington is the ratio of the white population to the minority population. And back in the ’80s and early ’90s, Washington was a fairly non-diverse state.”

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