SUQUAMISH — Kitsap Aware hosted a March 4 forum series presentation at the Suquamish Museum in which local individuals spoke about the importance of identifying and countering hate groups in Kitsap County.
Chuck Tanner, advisory board member and a researcher at the Institute for Research and Education, opened the discussion by explaining the history of white nationalist movements and how they have evolved — not just on a national scale, but at the local level, too.
One political organization, known as the Northwest Front, follows “The Butler Plan,” Tanner said. This ideology goes back to Richard Butler, who founded a white supremacist religious organization called Aryan Nation in Idaho.
“They’ve targeted this community,” he said. “This is their plan; they want to relocate the better elements of white community to their homeland, form a party, push that party into politics and, at the end, seize state power through the creation of the Northwest Aryan Republic.”
He also spoke of a man named Harold Covington, who is an American neo-Nazi activist and was part of the National Socialist Party of America.
“[Covington] preached violence,” Tanner said, adding that Covington, who now resides in Seattle, recently began preaching like he used to on his podcast. “Right now, Covington is trying to push the boundaries of that — I believe to get some young individual to take it to the next level.”
Another local group that he spoke of is The Patriot Front. This group was recently blamed for posting propaganda fliers on the Olympic College campus in Bremerton.
“The Patriot Front wants to dress up fascism as American in red, white and blue,” he said.
Knowing that these individuals and groups are close to home for many who attended the meeting, some asked what, if anything, can be done. Leah Henry-Tanner, who works as a health equality liaison at Seattle Children’s Hospital in the Center for Diversity and Health Equity, said it begins with exposing their agenda and looking at who these organizations and individuals are targeting.
“What Chuck mentioned today is certainly very disturbing and very scary,” Henry-Tanner said. “It’s important to expose these types of people, know who they are in our community and know who their targets are so that we can come together as a community.”
Cheryl Nuñez, vice president for Equity and Inclusion at OC, expanded on Henry-Tanner’s point by explaining that colleges and universities across the nation are “ground zero” for white nationalist organizations.
“We really are in a struggle for hearts and minds for young, impressionable individuals,” she said. “We have left a big, gaping vacuum. Despite the 50-year progression of critical studies … we have made very few gains in bringing those programs to our colleges and universities.”
To prevent and counter the messages like the ones put up by The Patriot Front, Nuñez said it begins with responding proactively and “better utilizing our socializing institutions.”
“We found ourselves not quite knowing what to do,” she said. “We really didn’t have a policy that would have enabled us to systematically address what [was] and what was not appropriate.”
Nuñez drafted a policy that reframed the campus facilities as state property that was there to advance the interests of the college. She said OC also implemented a bias assessment and response team to address the concerning behaviors.
For her, the biggest threat is a hate group connecting with a student or faculty member who feels it would be a good idea to invite one of these individuals to campus for a lecture.
“They are intentional about wanting to promote violence because they want publicity,” Nuñez said.
Tracy Flood, president of the NAACP unit 1134 Bremerton, said people must first recognize that violence has been a part of American history from the beginning. She said until we acknowledge this fact, nothing will change.
“The key is education,” she said. “We have to educate ourselves, we have to educate our children … If we can’t educate our children, others will do it. And if you allow others to educate your children, then they will filter in those things that will continue to cycle violence and hate.”
—Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.