The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 21 hate groups operating in Washington, most claiming as members white supremacists and white nationalists.
The groups, identified in the center’s “Hate Map,” range from Our Place Fellowship, a tiny Christian Identity church in Colville, to the American Vanguard, a small but virulent group of neo-Nazis out of Bremerton, said David Neiwert, the center’s Northwest representative.
The center, which tracks hate groups in the United States, has identified five anti-Muslim groups, the same number of racist skinhead groups and four white nationalist groups in the state.
The nationalist groups include Seattle-based Counter-Currents Publishing — which publishes white nationalist and hate literature — and the Wolves of Vinland, whose members worship the Norse god Odin and subscribe to the idea of Aryan superiority.
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There are two chapters of the Ku Klux Klan in the state, one in Vancouver and the other in Spokane, according to the center’s research.
The center has identified a dozen hate groups in Idaho and 11 in Oregon.
“We have a long history of being a breeding ground for extremist groups and individuals,” said Neiwert, who is based in Seattle.
In 1999, a lieutenant in the Church of Jesus Christ Christian-Aryan Nations in North Idaho shot and killed a Los Angeles postal worker and then opened fire at a nearby Jewish community day-care center, wounding five people, including three children.
The gunman, Buford Furrow Jr., was an avowed white separatist who grew up in Thurston County. He is serving a life sentence in a federal prison.
Neiwert said, there is a thinning of ideological barriers that have separated some Northwest extremists who subscribe to so-called patriot and militia movements, such as the Proud Boys, who have participated in Seattle May Day demonstrations, or the III% (Three Percenters), and fascists and neo-Nazis.
More and more, Neiwert said these individuals are “rubbing shoulders” at rallies such as those held in Seattle and Portland in recent months.
“And they have much bigger numbers, and are a much bigger threat,” he said.
The country saw an explosion in the number of militias and radical patriot-type movements in the eight years Barack Obama was president, Neiwert said, many of them heavily armed out of fear that their Second Amendment rights were threatened.
Some, such as the Northwest Front, are urging white people to migrate to the Northwest and espouse a white homeland in Washington and Oregon.
On Wednesday, the Lakewood Patch community news site reported that business cards bearing a message from the Northwest Front were left beneath windshields of cars at a city park.
“Our race is our nation,” the cards state. “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
The Seattle office of the FBI doesn’t track membership in domestic extremist groups, because “membership is not illegal,” the agency said.
FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said “the threat of domestic terrorism appears to spike in a manner that coincides with hot-topic social, political and societal issues and events.”
From the bureau’s viewpoint, it is an “enduring threat” that comprises a minority of the counterterrorism cases the FBI investigates, she said.