Eileen Sullivan / Associated Press & Mark Potok / Southern Poverty Law Center – 2011-03-13 00:54:56
Tears, Shouts as Terror Hearing becomes Political
Eileen Sullivan / Associated Press
WASHINGTON (March 10, 2011) â€“ Congress pushed deep into a raw and emotional debate Thursday over American Muslims who have committed terrorist attacks in the name of religion, in a hearing punctuated by tearful testimony, angry recriminations and political theater. Republican Rep. Peter King declared US Muslims are doing too little to help fight terror in America. Democrats warned of inflaming anti-Muslim sentiment and energizing al-Qaida.
Framed by photos of the burning World Trade Center and Pentagon, the families of two young men blamed the Islamic community for inspiring young men to commit terrorism. On the other side, one of the two Muslims in Congress wept while discussing a Muslim firefighter who died in the attacks.
The sharp divisions reflect a country still struggling with how best to combat terrorism nearly a decade after the September 2001 attacks. Al-Qaida has built a strategy recently around motivating young American Muslims to become one-man terror cells, and the US government has wrestled with fighting that effort.
King, a New York congressman and the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he called the hearing because Muslim community leaders need to speak out more loudly against terrorism and work more closely with police and the FBI. Democrats wanted the hearing to focus on terror threats more broadly, including from white supremacists.
“This hearing today is playing into al-Qaida right now around the world,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who said the committee was trampling the Constitution.
Republicans said that was nothing but political correctness. “We have to know our enemy, and it is radical Islam in my judgment,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas.
Thursday’s hearing was the first high-profile event for the new Republican majority in the House, and it roused the city. The room was packed, and officials steered onlookers into an overflow.
At one point, an exchange between Reps. Tom Marino and Al Green grew loud as they talked over each other. Green, a Texas Democrat who is black, said the terrorism hearing should have included discussion of the Ku Klux Klan. Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is white, said the subject of the day was terrorism, prompting the chairman to rap the gavel repeatedly as the two argued over whether the KKK was a terrorist organization.
Despite years of government focus on terrorism, dozens of unraveled terrorism plots and a few successful attacks have suggested there is no one predictable path toward violence. Thursday’s hearing offered no insight into those routes.
Homegrown terrorists espousing their Islamic faith have included high school dropouts and college graduates, people from both poor and wealthy families. Some studied overseas. Others were inspired over the Internet. That has complicated government efforts to understand and head off radicalization. It also reduced some of Thursday’s debate to a series of anecdotes: Islamic terrorists on the one hand, an Islamic paramedic on the other.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress, wept as he discussed Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a Pakistani-American paramedic who died responding to the World Trade Center attack.
“This committee’s approach to this particular subject, I believe, is contrary to the best of American values and threatens our security, or could potentially,” Ellison said.
After the hearing, the White House repeated its position that America should not practice guilt by association. “And we also believe that Muslim Americans are very much part of the solution here and not the problem,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Further complicating any broad discussion, the Muslim community is diverse and widespread. No single organization speaks for everyone, and the religion itself does not have a leader, as Catholics have the pope. Some groups that dominate the discussion represent a relatively small number of people and have varying degrees of credibility.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, for instance, has launched one the most aggressive media campaigns in the country, often making itself the public face of the Muslim community when talking about fighting terrorism. The group has an extremely strained relationship with law enforcement. The Justice Department has linked the group to a terror financing case, and the FBI will not work directly with its members. The group’s California chapter recently put up a poster reading, “Build a wall of resistance. Don’t talk to the FBI.”
When young men have embraced a radical, violent view of Islam in the United States, they have sometimes done so in secret, without the support or knowledge of local religious leaders or their families.
Melvin Bledsoe, whose son, Carlos, is charged with killing an Army private at a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., testified about his son’s conversion to Islam and isolation from his family. Bledsoe said he didn’t fully understand what was happening as his son became increasingly distant, stopped coming home for holidays and changed his name. He said the United State is not being aggressive enough about rooting radical elements from the Islamic community.
“We’re talking about stepping on their toes, and they’re talking about stamping us out,” Bledsoe said. “Why don’t people take their blinders off?”
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Spokane Bombing Arrest Details Emerge
Mark Potok / Southern Poverty Law Center
(March 10, 2011) — Earlier today, the FBI arrested a suspect in the attempted terrorist bombing of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Wash. Authorities say the sophisticated bomb — left in a backpack on a bench along the parade route — was a powerful device packed with shrapnel dipped in rat poison.
Our independent investigation has confirmed that the suspect was a member of the National Alliance, for years one of the most dangerous neo-Nazi hate groups in America and one of the groups tracked by our Intelligence Project.
National Alliance founder William Pierce was the author of The Turner Diaries, the race war novel that inspired the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 men, women and children.
The bombing attempt in Spokane demonstrates that the threat of domestic terrorism from elements of the radical right is very real. And the threat may be growing. Just last month, we released a report showing that hate groups now number more than 1,000 for the first time.
Officials identified the suspect arrested in connection with the attempted Martin Luther King Jr. Day bombing in Spokane, Wash., as 36-year-old Kevin William Harpham. Harpham was charged federally with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and receiving and possessing an improvised explosive device.
Harpham was a member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in late 2004. It was not known when Harpham joined or if he was still a member. The National Alliance was one of the most prominent hate groups in America for decades, but has fallen on hard times since the 2002 death of its founder, William Pierce. Pierce is the author of The Turner Diaries, a race war novel often referred to as “the Bible of the radical right.”
Our research indicates that Harpham was apparently in the military in 1996-97, when records suggest he was part of the 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Lewis, Wash. The SPLC reported in 2006 that Fort Lewis was one of several military installations with a concentration of secret extremist members.
KXLY-TV reported earlier today that law enforcement officials were executing a search warrant at a home in Addy, where Harpham was said to live.
Alleged Spokane Bomber Fantasized about Killing Anti-Racists
Heidi Beirich / Southern Poverty Law Center
(March 10, 2011) — Kevin William Harpham, the alleged Martin Luther King Day bomber who was arrested yesterday, was deeply involved in the white supremacist movement and once fantasized about killing anti-racists.
The Army veteran posted his thoughts, in fact, more than 1,000 times on the racist and anti-Semitic internet forum, Vanguard News Network (VNN) since 2004.
“I can’t wait till the day I snap,” Harpham wrote under the pseudonym “Joe Snuffy” in a 2006 message. Harpham was responding to a post about German anti-racists protesting white supremacists. The post claimed the police cared only about the anti-racists and “turned their loaded guns on the neo-Nazis.”
“Videos like that bring me closer to it every time I watch them,” Harpham wrote. “Fear of death is the only thing stopping me and it is a fear that is hard to get over if you can relate to that.”
Harpham also showed a deep interest in bombs. “Who was the person during WW2 that said something like ‘Those who say you can’t win a war by bombing have never tried,'” Harpham posted to VNN, also 2006. In a 2010 VNN discussion of thorium, a slightly radioactive element sometimes used in nuclear reactors, Harpham mentioned “its uselessness in building bombs,” indicating some real knowledge of explosives.
In 2004, Harpham signed on as a member of the National Alliance, for years the most prominent neo-Nazi organization in the United States. The year after he joined the NA, in 2005, Harpham participated in a VNN thread devoted to The Turner Diaries, the race war novel written by the founder and leader of the National Alliance, William Pierce (Pierce died in 2002). The novel inspired Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the Oklahoma federal building in 1995, and pages of it were found in McVeigh’s car when he was arrested. That bombing killed 168 men, women and children.
Harpham wrote on VNN that while he was in the Army, “my lieutenant told me Tim McVey [sic] read The Turner Diaries and that there was a blueprint for a truck bomb in it.” But Harpham ended up disappointed with the book because “there was [sic] no plans for a bomb inside.”
Besides the National Alliance, Harpham was a contributor to the white nationalist newspaper, The Aryan Alternative, published by longtime white supremacist Glenn Miller. Miller, who was the head of the White Patriot Party in the 1980s and before that of the Carolina Knights of the KKK, was convicted of contempt of court in a federal civil case (filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center) for raising a paramilitary army and using explosives.
After the conviction, he declared war on the United States, went underground and was subsequently captured with a cache of weapons and explosives after an armed standoff in Schell City, Mo.
Thanking Harpham for supporting his newspaper, Miller wrote in 2007 on VNN, “You rank among the top 5-6 VNN’ers in total amount of money contributed. When [we] needed a boost, you were always among those who stepped up.”
KXLY in Spokane also reported today that Harpham had expressed interest in the mid-2000s in joining the Aryan Nations, long a major neo-Nazi group in Idaho until the group lost its compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, as the result of another SPLC lawsuit.
David Holthouse at Media Matters disclosed yesterday that Harpham had offered to house Craig Cobb, a longtime neo-Nazi now on the run from hate crimes charges in Canada and an advocate of “lone wolf” violence. The offer was made just 10 days after Harpham’s last post on VNN, on Jan. 16, which was also the day before the attempted bombing.
Cobb created the virulently racist and anti-Semitic website Podblanc in 2007, which encourages hate crime murders of non-whites and Jews. It features tribute videos to “lone wolf” white supremacist killers, including Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, who in July 1999 went on a three-day shooting rampage targeting Jews and non-whites.
“Craig, if you read this and you need a place to stay for the winter I have an empty basement with a couple rooms, a bed and bathroom you can live in till spring,” Harpham posted. “I live in Washington, not too far from [your home] Kalispell [Montana].” Cobb replied that there was a “small chance” he’d take Harpham up on his offer.
The Spokane Bomb Attempt: Who Is Kevin William Harpham?
Bill Morlin / Southern Poverty Law Center
(March 10, 2011) — So who is the suspect accused of building a “weapon of mass destruction” and planting it along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day unity parade route in Spokane, Wash.?
The emerging picture suggests 36-year-old Kevin William Harpham is a “lone wolf” with a military ordnance background and apparently increasingly extreme radical-right views that may have prompted the attempt to carry out a mass murder on the late civil rights leader’s birthday. He is also a man who has joined a neo-Nazi group, apparently posted to racial extremist websites and worried that the 9/11 attacks were actually a government conspiracy.
The domestic terrorism suspect faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of the initial two charges he faces: attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an improvised explosive device. Other federal charges could come when a federal grand jury in Spokane reviews the case on March 22.
“This one is very serious,” federal defender Roger Peven said outside the courtroom, moments after he was appointed to represent Harpham.
The backpack bomb, reportedly containing shrapnel dipped in rat poison to enhance bleeding, was spotted moments before hundreds of people were to march by it. Authorities rerouted the parade immediately.
At some risk, a bomb squad defused the device and kept it intact — likely leading the FBI to capture a windfall of forensic evidence, possibly including fingerprints and DNA that could have identified Harpham as the suspect.
The affidavit of probable cause used to affect the suspect’s arrest is sealed from public inspection — another indication of the secrecy surrounding the 51-day investigation by the FBI’s Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Despite the official secrecy, Hampton has left Internet fingerprints and other public records that give a glimpse of him.
Internet postings believed to be those of the former Army artillery soldier suggest he had an interest in old cars, metal fabrication, the neo-Nazi National Alliance and conspiracy theories associated with the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Harpham, who was raised Stevens County in the rural northeast corner of Washington state, was a member of the National Alliance in late 2004, the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed yesterday.
He also lived in Spokane from 1999 to 2004 and in East Wenatchee, Wash., from 2004 to 2006. His parents live near Kettle Falls, another Stevens County community, not far from Harpham’s home in Addy, Wash.
A man using the name “Kevin Harpham” posted a message in 2008 on the anti-Semitic Vanguard News Network, operated by Alex Linder of Kirksville, Mo., himself a former member of the National Alliance.
On another Web site, Harpham posted that he watched the video “Loose Change” — popularized by the antigovernment “Patriot” group We Are Change — that the US government was behind the attacks of September 11.
Leading anti-Semites, including Christopher Bollyn, have suggested that Jews were responsible for 9/11.
On the “Loose Change” Facebook page, there are references to a “Zionist connection” and links to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion — a famous forgery that is a touchstone for the neo-Nazi right, including the late founder of the Aryan Nations, Richard Butler, who accuse Jews of plotting to control the world.
?I typically don’t buy into these conspiracies, then my friends told me to watch this video called ‘Loose Change,'” Harpham posted on another website forum devoted to steam automobiles. “Some of the stuff was speculation but overall it changed my opinion greatly,” the Harpham posting said.
Harpham served in the US Army in 1996-97, when records suggest he was part of the 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Lewis, Wash.
It’s not been public divulged if Harpham’s military training includes exposure to improvised explosive devices like those encounter by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan — and like the one found sitting on a corner park bench in downtown Spokane on Jan. 17.
During Harpham’s time in the US Army, as the Southern Poverty Law Centerâ€™s Intelligence Report first reported in 2006, military investigators identified 320 extremists in the Army ranks at Fort Lewis, the sprawling military base near Tacoma in western Washington. (Eventually, the Pentagon tightened its rules in response to that and subsequent articles in the Report.)
It’s not known if Harpham shared antigovernment, anti-Semitic or racist views during his time in the military.
In media interviews Wednesday, various people who knew or lived near Harpham’s isolated mobile home at Addy, Wash., described him as a loner and not overly neighborly.
Once FBI agents identified him as a suspect, they werenâ€™t taking chances. A SWAT team of agents was brought to Spokane in advance of the Wednesday’s early morning arrest of the suspect. Armed FBI agents, using Stevens County road department equipment, appeared to be working on a road near a narrow bridge as Harpham left his residence.
According to various media accounts, as Harpham’s vehicle slowed for the construction workers, a “flash-bang” device commonly used by SWAT teams as a distraction, was fired through one of the car’s windows. In no time, Harpham was arrested without incident and whisked to the US Courthouse in Spokane, about 52 miles away.
Other FBI agents then served a search warrant and spent the day combing Harpham’s residence for evidence that could be tied to the backpack bomb. Authorities were mum about what they found.
In court, Harpham appeared a bit bedraggled, dressed in blue jeans and a gray “Wells Fargo-Petty Racing” shirt. He made his initial appearance before US Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno.
Looking like he hadn’t shaved for a few days, Harpham poured himself glasses of water and didn’t look around the crowded courtroom during the brief proceeding. He told the judge he understood his constitutional rights to remain silent, the charges against him, the possible penalties and asked the court to appoint a public defender.
Peven, chief trial counsel for the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, and Assistant Federal Defender Kim Deater appeared to represent Harpham. Peven told the judge Harpham would waive his right to have a bail hearing within three days, meaning he will be held in federal custody.
The federal defender can attempt at a later date to request a bail hearing, but Assistant US Attorney Joseph Harrington is expected to argue that Harpham is either a flight risk or danger to the community, or both, and should not be released under any circumstances.
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