By Tina Podlodowski
Washington State Democratic Party Chair
In 1993 I was a young(er) activist, moving from a corporate career at Microsoft to community-based organizing efforts, and taking a job as Staff Director at Hands Off Washington.
One of our board members was the incredible Bill Wassmuth, founder of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment. Bill, a former Roman Catholic priest, waged a vigorous battle against white supremacist hate groups in the Pacific Northwest. And he experienced the violence of the Aryan Nation groups firsthand when they blew up the back of his house with a pipe bomb as he sat in his living room.
Three Aryan Nation members were convicted in the bombing. And Bill was a prime mover of the legal action in 2000 that led to a $6.2 million judgment against the Aryan Nations, bankrupting the group and forcing it to abandon its compound in Northern Idaho.
Bill passed away in 2002, but I’ll never forget his warning to be vigilant: ’’To ignore hate groups, even though they usually include relatively small numbers of people, is to miscalculate the impact that they can have on a community.’’
We cannot ignore what happened in Charlottesville, or, indeed, what happens every day across this country, including in our home state of Washington. It’s easy to say that white supremacy is a problem somewhere else – a problem in the South, or in other states, or not in our cities, towns and communities. But it’s not – it’s a problem we have to confront and address here, too.
For example, one of the leaders of the white supremacist rally this weekend in Charlottesville was from our state – James Allsup, president of the College Republicans at Washington State University in Pullman.
And, here’s Camas native Joey Gibson, the white supremacist leader of Patriot Prayer in the Vancouver area who organizes racist rallies in Vancouver, Portland, and -- just this past weekend -- in Seattle.
All in all, the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 21 hate groups in Washington State, like Faith Freedom in Bellevue, The Daily Stormer in Seattle, Proud Boys in Bellingham, Northwest Front in Bremerton, KKK chapters in Vancouver and Spokane, and statewide groups like Firm 22 and Crew 38. These last two are racist skinheads that form a particularly violent element of the white supremacist movement, and have often been referred to as the "shock troops" of the “hoped-for white revolution”.
Enough. On behalf of Democrats across our state, I ask every elected official of any party or affiliation in the State of Washington to take a stand against the white supremacist movement. And specifically, I call on my counterpart – Susan Hutchison, Chair of the Washington State GOP -- to issue a statement denouncing the white supremacist groups and rhetoric that are causing this violence and division in communities across our state and our country right now.
The America we love has become a dangerous place for far too many people, and I’m going to make sure we Democrats do all we can to heal our country. We must turn back the racist white supremacy movement that’s growing too quickly, even in Washington. I’d appreciate your help and your ideas and your support – keep on standing with us – and please support the incredible groups in Washington that do anti-racism and anti-bias work every day.
Thank you for all you do,