On Martin Luther King Jr. day in Spokane, the annual MLK unity parade had to be rerouted because of a suspicious backpack that three city workers found on a bench on the corner of Washington and Main. The three workers reported it to the police, and when the police investigated it turned out to contain a bomb that was almost certainly put there to target those participating in the march. According to the FBI, the backpack contained one of the most sophisticated bombs ever used by anyone attempting ‘domestic terrorism’ in the US, and the timing and placement of the bomb was very clearly linked to the MLK march.
The bomb was able to be remote detonated, and it was placed on a metal bench in front of a brick wall – which means that it was designed to inflict as many casualties as possible.
Spokane, and the general Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho area, has a long history of violence and white supremacist groups. Below is a segment from a Spokesman-Review article about the attempted bombing and the local history of violence:
“In 2009, someone spread hate literature throughout North Idaho and Spokane Valley, Stewart said. There was a lull in activity, until the events last week, he said. …
Stewart and others started their efforts to combat hate in 1981 after Richard Butler founded the Aryan Nations compound in 1973. Stewart said his organization tracked more than 100 felonies committed by hate groups in the area in the 1980s and ’90s, including eight murders, several bank robberies and other crimes intended to intimidate residents.
The crimes attributed to people linked to the Aryan Nations included several bombings in the mid-1980s, including those at the home of a Catholic priest, the federal courthouse in Coeur d’Alene and other locations, Stewart said.
Then in 1996, three bombings linked to racists caused severe damage to a Planned Parenthood building, Spokane City Hall and the Spokane Valley office of The Spokesman-Review.
Butler began holding annual marches in downtown Coeur d’Alene in the 1990s before Morris Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, bankrupted Butler in a civil trial in 2000. Butler died in 2004 and much of the crime spree ended with him, Stewart said.”
Additionally, a bomb was discovered last March outside of the Thomas S. Foley Courthouse in downtown Spokane. The authorities still have no idea who planted that one.
Clearly, this is nothing new to the area. But as a Spokane native (the house where I grew up is about 1.5 miles from where this bomb was placed), this history of the area was not something that I was familiar with. Growing up I had heard of the white supremacists that were “somewhere over in Idaho” but I never connected any of these groups to Spokane or to anything personal/local. This wasn’t something that was talked about in schools or any of the other places I had access to as a child growing up.
But why not? And why hasn’t this bomb become a national news story? Aside from some coverage by Rachel Maddow and a couple stories on NBC there hasn’t really been much.
The reason why I’m blogging about this here is because it is a BIG FREAKING DEAL. And it should matter to all of us. The fact that this kind of violence still happens in the US should be something that everyone knows. Racism, prejudice and oppression still exist in America even though we like to pretend that we’re all post-racial and tolerant now. Just because Obama is president doesn’t mean that a long history of oppression and hatred is automatically wiped out or that people don’t face oppression (racial, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, class, or otherwise) daily.
This attempted bombing should be something that everyone who is involved in anti-oppression and social justice work knows about, particularly those of us who are active in Washington. We should be creating dialogue about it and working actively to expose all the hate that these white supremacist groups are still spewing, and educating our friends who think we’re living in a post-racial society. Because we are still living with racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, classism, and a whole slew of other oppressions, and the only way we’re going to overcome one of them is to overcome all of them through continual struggle, resistance and education.