Less than an hour before Spokane, Washington’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day “Unity March,” three workers from the Spokane Public Facilities District noticed a suspicious backpack at an intersection the marchers would pass.
When they opened the pack and saw wires, they informed nearby police officers, who quickly re-routed the parade and called in the bomb disposal unit. The bomb squad successfully defused the bomb.
According to Frank Harrill, the FBI agent in charge of the Spokane office, the Swiss Army-brand backpack held an incendiary device that was “very lethal and had the potential to inflict multiple injuries.” On The Rachel Maddow Show, a Spokesman-Review reporter said that the bomb was positioned on a steel bench against a brick wall, so the force of the blast would have been sent in the direction of the marchers.
“The Worst Device…I’ve Ever Seen”
The FBI hasn’t officially released details about the bomb, but an FBI source who spoke to the Associated Press anonymously said, “[The FBI agents] haven’t seen anything like this in this country. This was the worst device, the most intentional device, I’ve ever seen.” Two security sources told the Spokesman-Review that the bomb included a remote detonator. Based on these accounts, the bomb seems to be a more sophisticated mechanism than — for instance — was used in the failed Times Square bombing.
The FBI has released photos of the Swiss Army brand backpack and the two t-shirts the device was wrapped in, and they are offering a $20,000 reward for information on the person or persons responsible.
FBI special agent Frank Harrill, who is in charge of the investigation, told press that no group or individual has taken credit for the attempted bombing. However, he said that given the bomb’s placement at the march route, the connection with racism was “inescapable.” He is quoted by the Associated Press (via MSNBC) as calling the incident “domestic terrorism,” and saying, “Clearly, there was some political or social agenda here.”
History of Hate
While at the time of this writing, the FBI is saying it has no official suspects, Frank Harrill has acknowledged that they will be investigating whether or not the incident is related to white supremacist activity in the area.
For several decades, the area near Spokane has been the headquarters of virulently racist and anti-Semitic groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center places eight hate groups within a one and a half hour drive of Spokane; two are Neo-Nazi groups and two subscribe to an explicitly racist ideology called “Christian Identity.”
Until 2001, the notorious Aryan Nation’s headquarters were in Lake Hayden, Idaho, which Google Maps says is a mere 44 minute drive from the intersection where the bomb was found.
Though the group lost its compound after losing a lawsuit to the Southern Poverty Law Center and going bankrupt, in 2010 the Spokesman-Review reported that at least some Aryan Nation leaders had returned to the area, fighting each other for power and stepping up recruitment efforts.
Yesterday, FBI special agent Frank Harill confirmed to the Spokesman-Review that recent protests by white supremacists in a nearby city would be part of the investigation. According to the article, Spokane’s police chief and a member of the anti-hate Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations both report “an increase in hate literature and other white supremacist activity over the past two years,” which does appear to be part of a well-funded and well-organized campaign.
Of course, the fact that a group explicitly promotes hate, violence, and racism makes them reprehensible and dangerous, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are responsible for this particular incident. Nor is investigating white supremacists the FBI’s only avenue of investigation: in the linked story, FBI special agent Harrill describes an extensive forensics investigation of the bomb itself, which he hopes will yield clues about its origin.
“Stand With A Greater Determination”
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Americans celebrate King’s vision, persistence, and commitment to both peace and justice. But Reverend King didn’t just have a dream, he also asked for radical courage in the face of hatred, even when there were real risks to demanding equality.
In his last speech before he was assassinated, “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop,” Reverend King said: “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”
Even as the bomb squad worked to disarm a device that could have injured or even killed many of the 1,500 marchers, Spokane’s Mayor spoke at the Unity March, saying, “The violence seems to be escalating…We’re going to face it head on. We’re not going to ignore the fact that we have violence in Spokane.”
As they face this act of terrorism, we need to be courageous in our insistence on freedom and equality, and stand by Spokane with a greater determination to make America what it ought to be.
“Frosty the Klansman?” (Note that the incident Jessica describes happened less than an hour from Spokane.)
This photo was found on HeatherHeatherHeather's flickr, and is reused with thanks under Creative Commons Licensing.