SPOKANE, Wash. – V. Anne Smith, president of the Spokane NAACP, praised local and federal law enforcement officers for the arrest of a suspect in the attempted bombing of the Jan. 17 Martin Luther King Day march in Spokane.
“We are very pleased by the work of law enforcement in making this arrest,” Smith said in a phone interview. “Less than two months have passed. They have done an outstanding job. The credit goes to our city and county law enforcement and of course the FBI.”
Arrested Mar. 9 in the town of Addy about 55 miles north of here was Kevin William Harpham, 36, charged with one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of knowingly possessing an improvised explosive device. He faces possible life imprisonment if found guilty. According to Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Harpham was a member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi hate group in 2004. Harpham served in the U.S. Army at Fort Lewis from 1996 to 1999.
Three Spokane sanitation workers walking along the scheduled route of the MLK Day march had spotted the backpack loaded with high explosives, rat poison, and steel shrapnel. “They approached it, realized what it was and called police officers to the scene.” Smith said. “It was removed by robot.”
The march of about 2,000 people, reflective of Spokane’s diverse population, continued without incident. Smith said she spoke at the rally but left early to care for a family member who needs round-the-clock care. She found the parking lot where her car was parked cordoned off by a crime-scene yellow tape. The police officer told her she could not retrieve her car because of the bomb danger.
“I told him I had to get home to care for someone,” she said. “His answer: ‘Ma’am, I will contact emergency services to get someone to your home.’ I criticize the Spokane police. But that told me something about their service to the community.” Many people were not able to get to their cars back until the next day, she said.
The FBI later announced that it was a highly sophisticated bomb, rigged to be remotely detonated, and designed to inflict maximum casualties.
Smith said the NAACP and other progressive organizations stage a series of events every year aimed at uniting the community in Spokane. “We work to bring our cultures together. We have a ‘Unity in the Park’ celebration every summer. We are going to have to be more vigilant, to always be alert that there are hate groups out there that don’t want our community to come together. We have nooses put on people’s porches. We combat that hate. We address it. We meet.”
She added that it is “hard to imagine that there could be a young man out there so evil, so filled with hate who would want to harm so many good people, so many children.”
She assailed “racist right-wing groups” for targeting President Obama “thinking they have the right to resort to violence” in their hatred of the nation’s first African American president.
The Spokane NAACP hosted a community forum of more than 70 people Feb. 22 to urge the state and local police and the FBI to give top priority to tracking down the domestic terrorist. Frank Harrill, head of the FBI field office reassured the crowd, “This will not quietly go away.” Asked if he has confidence that a suspect will be apprehended, Harrill answered, “Yes.”
Investigators were able to link Harpham’s DNA to the backpack and two T-shirts stuffed inside to help conceal the bomb. They also linked Harpham to the purchase of bomb components including a remote car starter and other electronics purchased at local stores. At least one was bought with a debit card. It was described as a “meticulous, shoe-leather investigation.”
Smith said she has been in struggle against racist terrorism in the so-called “Inland Empire” for decades. She recalled standing with Spokane’s legendary first African American lawyer, Carl Maxey, in fighting to eradicate the menacing neo-Nazi Aryan Nations compound in nearby Hayden Lake, Idaho. “Now we are going to have to step up that vigilance,” she said. “There’s another one out there. But now I think the nation realizes that we are going to catch that guy before he kills.