When you arrive at the Convention Center you’ll be asked to go through a metal detector, similar to the airport. Leave your jackknife at home. We have a good local reason to be sober about this, the more so this year than ever. Remember: Kevin Harpham, a locally grown white supremacist from Addy, Washington, set a radio-controlled backpack bomb containing fishing weights as shrapnel, rat poison, and human feces along the MLK Day parade route in Spokane on January 17, 2011. The backpack was discovered and reported to police around 9:25 that morning. The bomb was defused and the parade went on as planned with most marchers unaware of the threat. (Read more here.)
It would be nice to think of Kevin Harpham’s attempt at domestic terrorism as a one-off, but that would ignore recent local events and multiple linkages. Leah Sottile, then a music and entertainment reporter for The Inlander, lived a block away from the site of the Spokane backpack bomb in 2011. That near-miss sent her on a investigative reporting quest that resulted in a fascinating–and chilling–series of podcasts and writings entitled Bundyville and Bundyville, The Remnant. They represent a body of work that have become essential to my understanding of Matt Shea and the movement of which he is a part and, to a degree, over which he presides. I am even more convinced of the significance of Leah Sotille’s work after seeing that Sottille was labelled by Heather Scott (ID Leg. Representative from Blanchard and a comrade of Shea’s). Scott called out Sotille as “Portland uber-left journalist writer Leah Sottile” from Scott’s echo chamber of Redoubt News. This comment from Heather Scott, this comment standing all by itself, is a glaring reason to spend the time to read or listen to Sottile’s deep dive into this movement.
As we mark Martin Luther King Day nine years after Spokane’s near miss, people like Shea and Scott, folks with connections to people in the movements that spawned Kevin Harpham, are serving as elected state representatives from our region. We would do well to remember the near-miss of 2011. We should contemplate the pertinence the 2011 incident to what we face today. (I do not mean to scare you. I’m sure security will be tight. Law enforcement remembers this event better than the average citizen.)
For less recent historical context, I urge you to click on the wikipedia entry, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and read. If you imagine establishing a holiday to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday was a slam-dunk (as I had rather naively imagined), the article is a must read. President Reagan signed the bill to make MLK Day a federal holiday in 1983, after a petition in favor of the holiday was submitted to Congress with six million signatures. The petition was identified by the magazine The Nation as “the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.” There were several prominent naysayers, including Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and John Porter East (R-NC). To his great credit, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) on the floor of the Senate literally stomped on the 300 page document Helms submitted, calling it “a packet of filth.”
There is a lesson here about what it takes to get legislation passed…
Get out and honor the day. (See the box above for details.)
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Even more striking: In all this context, Matt Shea will be speaking today, this MLK Day, at a 2nd Amendment Rally in Coeur d’Alene “at the clock tower in front of The Coeur d’Alene Resort at 11 a.m. before moving to the Avista Pavilion at McEuen Park at noon.” Not only does this seem a particularly tasteless and threatening thing to do on MLK Day, but Coeur d’Alene, like so many other places Shea appears, isn’t even in his home district.
P.P.S. If you have a strong attachment to places and locations like I do, you might be interested to know the backpack bomb was found “on a metal bench at the northeast corner of Washington Street and Main Avenue.”
P.P.P.S. While sifting through article after article for this post I realized I had mostly forgotten this bomb event, despite the broad coverage of it at the time. How much better remembered would it have been had it detonated and killed marchers? I more clearly understand why, as those who actually were there take their memories off to their graves, it is glaringly important to remember and remind ourselves of historic events like the Holocaust–lest we be condemned to repeat them.