Acting swiftly, Federal and local law enforcement officials quietly converged on a small home in the backwoods of northeastern Washington State to arrest the man they believe planted a backpack bomb along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Unity march in Spokane earlier this year.
On March 9, Law enforcement personnel and vehicles, including SWAT teams and a government satellite truck, encircled the hillside Stevens County property of Kevin William Harpham, a thirty-six year-old former soldier active in white nationalist circles, and took him into custody without incident. Harpham was immediately arrested and transported sixty miles south to Spokane, where he was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered explosive device.
The bomb was discovered just minutes before the annual Unity March on January 17. Three workers discovered a black Swiss Army brand backpack containing a powerful and sophisticated bomb on a downtown bench and notified police. (Sadly, the courageous workers who risked their lives that day, and may have saved the lives of hundreds more, have been fired by their contract company over their handling of the incident).
Specific details linking Harpham to the backpack bomb are still scarce, as the affidavit to obtain the arrest warrant is still sealed. The evidence of Harpham’s connections to white nationalism, however, is much more abundant.
The Southern Poverty Law Center puts Harpham as a member of the National Alliance, in 2004. Once the largest neo-Nazi group in the country, in recent years the National Alliance has been riven by internal disputes. The neo-Nazi outfit linked to numerous acts of violence is most widely known for the group’s founder, William Pierce, authorship of the race war fantasy novel, The Turner Diaries. National Alliance leaders deny that Harpham is a member of the group.
Further, an online trail left by Harpham shows him to be a hard core white nationalist who openly advocated a “white revolution” while pondering how a race war could bring down the U.S. government.
In more than a thousand posts to the white nationalist forum of the Vanguard News Network website under the pseudonym “Joe Snuffy” (military slang for a low-ranking soldier), Harpham referenced stockpiling weapons, commented on the efficacy of bombing campaigns and fantasized about a “white homeland.” In a May 2009 posting, he wrote, “I personally think we need a couple thousand pro White psychopaths then maybe we might start getting somewhere with this White Revolution.” His forum postings also use vulgar language to disparage practically every racial and ethnic group.
The site where Harpham shared his ideas with racist comrades, the Vanguard News Network (VNN), was created in 2000 by Alex Linder, a former National Alliance member. The VNN site motto is “No Jews, Just Right.” In addition to featuring racist and anti-Semitic blog articles, the site has become a virtual meeting place for nearly three thousand white nationalists. Linder runs the site from his Kirksville, Missouri home. He also publishes the crude racist tabloid, The Aryan Alternative, with fellow Missouri white nationalist Frazier Glenn Miller.
As IREHR president Leonard Zeskind notes in Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, Miller was the founder of the White Patriot Party and after going underground to elude authorizes was finally arrested on weapons charges and violating of an injunction against paramilitary activity in 1987. After his arrest, Miller agreed to testify against his white supremacist comrades in the Fort Smith, Arkansas sedition trial.
Miller thanked Harpham for a “gigantically large” donation of $500, according to a post on VNN in December 2006. The posting also noted that the contribution paid for nearly 7,000 copies of the tabloid and that Harpham was one of the top 5 or 6 donors from the site. Harpham also donated cash to Miller’s 2006 and 2010 congressional campaigns.
Unlike most hardened white supremacists who eschew anything related to the government, Harpham was a registered voter and participated in the political process. In addition to the contributions to Miller’s campaigns, the VNN postings show that Harpham became an active supporter of Rep. Ron Paul’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “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 December 24, 2007. “We could do very well under these conditions and start amassing great wealth to expand.” His posts give contradictory accounts as to whether he donated to the Paul campaign. As Paul’s campaign faded, Harpham turned increasingly towards race war fantasies.
Harpham also wrote of being influenced by the work of another area racist, Edgar Steele. The former Aryan Nations lawyer is currently awaiting trial on federal charges that he hired a hit-man to blow up his wife with a pipe-bomb. Harpham also expressed interest in joining the Aryan Nations in the mid-2000s, according to KXLY TV in Spokane. In 1986, members of the Aryan Nations bombed the home of the late anti-bigotry activist Bill Wassmuth in nearby Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Harpham last posted on January 16, a day before the bomb was discovered. Ten days earlier, he had offered to let fugitive white nationalist Craig Cobb stay at his home. It’s unclear whether Cobb, who faces hate crime charges in Canada, took him up on the offer. Cobb’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Spokane has been hit by white supremacist bombers before. In 1996, a group calling themselves the Phineas Priesthood set off bombs that caused serious damage to Spokane City Hall, a Planned Parenthood building, and the Spokane Valley office of The Spokesman-Review newspaper.
If convicted, Harpham could receive life in prison. Preliminary hearings are scheduled to start later this month. IREHR will continue to follow this case closely. Please check back often for updates and reports.
Devin Burghart is vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.