Spokane Martin Luther King Jr. Day would-be bomber pleads guilty

Los Angeles Times/September 7, 2011

A man with ties to white supremacist organizations pleaded guilty to planting a homemade bomb packed with rat-poison-laced projectiles along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Wash.

Kevin W. Harpham, 37, admitted in U.S. district court to building a pipe bomb that was to be set off with a remote car-alarm trigger and putting it in a backpack along the route of the Jan. 17 parade.

Three city employees spotted the backpack on a bench about an hour before the parade and, when they found wires inside it, alerted police, who safely defused the bomb.

An FBI analysis said the device was more sophisticated than a typical homemade pipe bomb because it contained a remote-control trigger. A load of fish weights covered in a component of rat poison could have injured spectators in the vicinity, according to the report, posted by publicintelligence.net. The report said the device "was viable and could have caused personal injury or death."

"Hate-filled incidents like this one have no place in a civilized society. Thankfully, no one was injured by this man's depraved act," Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division, said in a statement after Harpham's guilty plea Wednesday morning.

"The placement of an explosive device in a crowded public area is horrific at any time, but this attack, planned to occur during an event celebrating the bonds of our community, makes it all the more reprehensible," said Laura Laughlin, special agent in charge of the FBI's Seattle office.

The Pacific Northwest has seen a revival in white supremacist and anti-government activity in recent years after a crippling civil lawsuit led to the dismantling in 2000 of the former Aryan Nations compound in northern Idaho, not far from Spokane.

The neo-Nazi group has been passing out leaflets and looking for a new regional headquarters in Idaho or Oregon, and other white supremacists and right-wing patriot groups have been newly active in Idaho and western Montana, according to local human rights organizations. In January, protesters carried signs outside a Mexican restaurant in Spokane with the words, "This is White land," and "We want you out of here." On the day before the King parade in Spokane, about 15 neo-Nazis protested in front of a civil rights center in nearby Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

The Aryan Nations, which officially relocated to Pennsylvania after the death of founder Richard Butler in Idaho, says on its website it has moved toward a "leaderless resistance" concept of forcing change.

"The lone wolves and the autonomous cells are sharpening their minds with the knowledge of their genetic heritage and the practical means by which they may defend such -- if necessary -- to the death," it says.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups across the country, said Harpham, who gained explosives experience as a former member of an Army artillery unit, in 2004 was a member of the National Alliance, for years the pre-eminent neo-Nazi organization in the U.S.

He was a frequent financial contributor to a white supremacist newspaper, "The Aryan Alternative," and posted regularly on neo-Nazi Web forums, the law center reported.

"I can't wait for the day that I snap," Harpham wrote in one of about 1,000 posts written under the name "Joe Snuffy," according to the report.

Harpham took photos of himself along the parade route, prosecutors revealed in court earlier this year, and also photographed young African American children gathering along the route, and of a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke.

Harpham had faced a hate crime charge in addition to the bomb counts in the original complaint and could have faced 30 years to life in prison. The plea agreement under which Harpham admitted to two counts of building and planting a bomb calls for a sentence of 27 to 32 years in prison, plus a lifetime of supervised release.

Sentencing is set for Nov. 30 before U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush in Spokane.

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