On a Saturday night in May, 300 women and men were dancing, laughing and visiting at a Lesbian/Gay nightclub, Neighbors, in Seattle.
Across town, two neo-Nazis from Richard Butler’s Aryan Nation compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho were loading pipe bombs into a van. Their demented mission: blow up the bar and slaughter as many people as possible. They also planned to blast a Jewish synagogue, Korean businesses, and a Black nightclub in Tacoma, Washington.
The FBI arrested the two less than an hour before the blast was scheduled to go off. The community was relieved that the bombing was thwarted, of course, but they were also furious-furious that Nazis continue to plague the Pacific Northwest and that the FBI had remained silent about the plot, despite the fact that they’d had an infiltrator inside Butler’s compound for four years and were certainly aware of the plot from its inception.
Why had the FBI kept mum? Because the last thing they want are Lesbians, Gays and other intended Nazi victims organizing on their own to stop the menace. Sure the FBI stopped the bombing: had Neighbors been blasted, another larger, political explosion among Lesbians and Gays would have swiftly rocked the Northwest.
The FBI role at this point is to keep things “cool” in the communities, and keep tabs on the Nazis-in part to prevent “excesses” like May’s near-bombings that would radicalize the anti-fascist movement.
A radical movement, you see, would coalesce against the entire capitalist status quo which the FBI upholds and which fosters the bigotries that have spawned the Nazis.
Little did the feds realize what they’d done by playing with people’s lives. After the arrests, a virtual summer of civil rights commenced in the Northwest; militant anti-Nazi organizing took off like a shot throughout the region.
People simply are not going to take it anymore.
Luma Nichol of Seattle’s United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) spoke to the prevailing mood in the communities after the attempt on Neighbors: “We can’t rely on the FBI or police to protect us from violence, and turning your back on Nazis only encourages them. Fascists have to be stopped before they gain enough strength to put us in concentration camps again. And it is up to us to stop them.”
A summer of civil rights. Up and down the West Coast anti-fascist activism is spreading like wildfire. Not only are open Nazis feeling the heat; the sheets are being ripped off “respectable” fascist front groups such as the Populist Party.
On June 11, one month after the attempted bombings in Seattle, the Pierce County Populists tried to meet at the James Sales Grange Hall in Tacoma. But a raucous picket line of 250 people forced them out of the hall, into their cars, and away, tails between their legs, a bare 30 minutes into the meeting.
The Tacoma meeting caused such a furor because the Populists are co-conspirators with the Aryan Nation and the Ku Klux Klan. Pierce County Populist organizer Kim Badynski used to reside in Butler’s Idaho compound. After moving to Tacoma in October 1989, he set up offices and a telephone hate line for the KKK.
The success of the Pierce County picket line shows exactly what must be done to squelch the Nazis. Picketers included Blacks, Koreans, Jews, Chicanos, Lesbians and Gays, Native Americans, unionists, feminists, civil libertarians, veterans and just plain folks-a united front if there ever were one. As Nichol pointed out at the rally, when fascism’s targets unite in resolute, militant self-defense, “It convinces others to take a stand. It discourages would-be storm troopers and teaches their targets that we’re not helpless; we can organize to defend ourselves and win.”
After the Tacoma victory, it was on to eastern Washington. When the Aryan Nation gathered at Butler’s hideaway on July 15, anti-fascists readily responded with a Rally For Racial Equality in Spokane, Washington, the city closest to Hayden Lake.
Organized by Spokane’s Citizens for Non-violent Action, with help from UFAF, the rally brought together a group as diverse as the one in Tacoma, one that, as rally organizer Spencer Hamm put it, “will not tolerate the violence and ideology that white supremacists and bigots try to impose on us.”
Militant and out front. UFAF is the Northwest’s most militant direct-action anti-Nazi coalition. Although alternately ignored and decried by the mainstream media and government officials, and criticized by liberal pacifists in the anti-fascist movement, UFAF’s record of effectiveness in beating back Nazis speaks for itself.
UFAF doesn’t hide from white supremacists they confront them head-on and chase them back to their holes.
The coalition was formed in November 1988 by Gay and Black community leaders, feminists, and radicals after word leaked of a memorial planned by neo-Nazi skinheads to honor Robert Mathews, a fascist killed in a shoot-out with the FBI in 1984. The memorial was planned for Whidbey Island in Washington state. In five hectic days UFAF organized nearly 500 people to travel to Whidbey and face down the skinheads. They did: a half-dozen Nazis spent the day cowering in bushes while anti-fascists chanted and sang at the entrance to the memorial site. The message, telecast from London to Osaka, Japan: Nazis aren’t welcome in the Northwest or anywhere.
The Whidbey demo established UFAF as a force to be reckoned with and anti-fascist organizing picked up on the West Coast and nationally:
• In April 1989, 1,200 protesters converged in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to march against Butler’s skinhead convention in Hayden Lake.
• In Glendale, California that summer, a Christian Identity conference to honor Hitler’s birthday was canceled after protest plans were announced.
• In July ’89 UFAF called activists to a community center in West Seattle and stopped the Populists, who were holding a convention there, from getting enough signatures to get on the King County ballot.
• This March in Portland, protesters chased White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger off the Portland federal courthouse steps and into his car. Metzger was in town after being charged in a lawsuit with instigating the murder of an Ethiopian man by bat-wielding skinhead thugs there in 1989.
When Metzger comes back to Portland for trial he will be confronted and chased again. And other Nazis who stick their heads out of the woodwork can expect the same.
The violence question. UFAF and other direct-action advocates continue to be attacked by liberals and pacifists for “inciting violence” against the Nazis. They are also accused of denying fascists their First Amendment right to free speech.
Would that German anti-Nazis had done the same to Hitler!
Responding to the charges, UFAF’s Guerry Hoddersen states that Nazis “have the right to meet. And we have the right—the obligation—to protest. Wouldn’t you protest someone shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater? Nazi speech is equivalent to setting fires!
“And if you consider free speech a means of concretely enhancing life, and not some abstract principle, don’t you think free-speech advocates should be out in force protesting these anti-human destroyers?”
A new day. The days of fear are obviously over. People have seen that Nazis aren’t just going to “go away” if we stick our heads in the sand and pretend they’re not there.
While some feel that neo-Nazis are a fringe melange of cranks and fanatics, it only takes one to blow up a bar and kill 300 people. More important, if Nazis go unopposed they gain strength, feeding off the bigotries that are rife in U.S. society.
The U.S. economy is presently hurtling toward a depression. joblessness and homelessness are rampant. People are growing desperate-and white males are being encouraged to find scapegoats among the traditionally despised and discriminated-against. Nazis will recruit from the scapegoaters if they aren’t stopped.
It is up to us, the scapegoats, the poor and working U.S. majority, to stop them. And we will.
As the successes of the anti-Nazi fight in the Northwest show, the way to freedom is unity against the enemy.
Matt Nagle, a staff writer for Seattle Gay News, is involved in UFAF and in Queer Nation, a newly formed group of Gay liberation militants.