March 9, 2011 in News, City
Suspect in MLK bomb tied to racist movement
Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Review
An ex-soldier with ties to the white supremacist movement has been taken into custody in connection with the planting of a backpack bomb along the planned route of the Martin Luther King Jr. march in downtown Spokane, authorities have confirmed.
Kevin William Harpham, 36, of Colville, could face life imprisonment on charges of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered explosive device, according to documents on file in U.S. District Court. An initial court appearance is scheduled for this afternoon.
Harpham was arrested this morning during a raid at his home at 1088 Cannon Way near Addy, Wash., by dozens of federal agents who had been assembling in Spokane during the past few days.
The Southern Poverty Law Center confirmed that Harpham in 2004 was a member of the National Alliance, which is one of the most visible white supremacist organizations in the nation. It was founded by the late William Pierce, who authored “The Turner Diaries,” a novel about a future race war. That book was believed to be the blueprint behind the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh.
“What to me this arrest suggests is that the Martin Luther King Day attack is what it always looked like: A terror-mass murder attempt directed at black people and their sympathizers,” said Mark Potok,
who is the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project that tracks and investigates hate groups.
Potok said his organization’s records also indicate that Harpham was in the U.S. Army in 1996 and 1997, serving with the 37th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Lewis.
The arrest marks the first significant breakthrough in the case, and comes after dozens of FBI agents from across the Northwest began assembling in Spokane earlier this week.
Mike Ormsby, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced the arrest but provided no other details about the case.
“The tireless dedication and extraordinary efforts of the law enforcement officers involved in all aspects of this complicated investigation are commended,” Ormsby said in prepared remarks.
Records indicate Harpham is a registered voter, which suggests he has no prior felony convictions, and could explain why it took so long for a suspect to be identified.
Agents are in rural Stevens County searching Harpham’s home near Addy, which is south of Colville. Witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion that agents used to breach the front door.
Kevin Coy, who lives near the house being searched, said law enforcement took one of his neighbors into custody this morning as he drove across a bridge over the Colville River. In an interview with KHQ News, Coy described the suspect’s house as a trailer, and said there were lots of dogs around. He also said a blue four-door Honda was put on a trailer and removed by the federal agents.
Previously, federal officials had called the bomb a thwarted attempt at domestic terrorism and said the investigation would likely turn on forensic testing of the bomb, which had been sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation lab in Quantico, Va.
Indications that agents have made significant progress in the case came as welcome news to the Rev. Happy Watkins, who was a featured speaker at the Unity March in January.
Watkins, senior pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Spokane, said he has not heard anything official from law enforcement regarding any new developments.
“We’ve been asking questions but no one has talked to us,” said Watkins. “People in New York City hear about Spokane and associate us with Hayden Lake and the Aryan Nations. It just shouldn’t be that way because it’s a great place to live. We’ve still got that hate that lingers and doesn’t go away. That’s disheartening.”
The bomb was discovered on Jan. 17, just minutes before the planned Unity March. Three contract workers located the black Swiss Army brand backpack containing what turned out to be a powerful bomb on or next to the bench at the southeast corner of Washington Street and Main Avenue.
Spokane Police officials were alerted of the backpack’s presence and quickly re-routed the march to avoid the potential danger. Other sources, who received security briefings after the discovery, said it was a sophisticated device which could have been detonated remotely, using something similar to a vehicle key-less entry switch.
Sources said the bomb could have inflicted multiple casualties and was placed in a way to maximize the blast toward marchers in the street.
Other sources then revealed that it appeared the bomb maker used rat poison, with the potential intent of causing victims to continue to bleed once struck with shrapnel.
As the investigation progressed, much attention was focused on the region’s past bombings, all of which were carried out by either members of the Aryan Nations or other white supremacists.
The most recent came in 1996, when three bombs linked to racists caused severe damage to a Planned Parenthood building, Spokane City Hall and the Spokane Valley office of The Spokesman-Review.
Harrill said the FBI made the bombing investigation its top priority.