The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

The Spokane Bomb Attempt: Who Is Kevin William Harpham?

By Bill Morlin on March 10, 2011 - 8:05 am, Posted in Anti-Black, Extremist Crime

So who is the suspect accused of building a “weapon of mass destruction” and planting it along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day unity parade route in Spokane, Wash.?

The emerging picture suggests 36-year-old Kevin William Harpham is a “lone wolf’’ with a military ordnance background and apparently increasingly extreme radical-right views that may have prompted the attempt to carry out a mass murder on the late civil rights leader’s birthday. He is also a man who has joined a neo-Nazi group, apparently posted to racial extremist websites and worried that the 9/11 attacks were actually a government conspiracy.

The domestic terrorism suspect faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of the initial two charges he faces: attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an improvised explosive device. Other federal charges could come when a federal grand jury in Spokane reviews the case on March 22.

“This one is very serious,” federal defender Roger Peven said outside the courtroom, moments after he was appointed to represent Harpham.

The backpack bomb, reportedly containing shrapnel dipped in rat poison to enhance bleeding, was spotted moments before hundreds of people were to march by it. Authorities rerouted the parade immediately.

At some risk, a bomb squad defused the device and kept it intact — likely leading the FBI to capture a windfall of forensic evidence, possibly including fingerprints and DNA that could have identified Harpham as the suspect.

The affidavit of probable cause used to affect the suspect’s arrest is sealed from public inspection — another indication of the secrecy surrounding the 51-day investigation by the FBI’s Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Despite the official secrecy, Harpham has left Internet fingerprints and other public records that give a glimpse of him.

Internet postings believed to be those of the former Army artillery soldier suggest he had an interest in old cars, metal fabrication, the neo-Nazi National Alliance and conspiracy theories associated with the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Harpham, who was raised Stevens County in the rural northeast corner of Washington state, was a member of the National Alliance in late 2004, the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed yesterday.

He also lived in Spokane from 1999 to 2004 and in East Wenatchee, Wash., from 2004 to 2006.  His parents live near Kettle Falls, another Stevens County community, not far from Harpham’s home in Addy, Wash.

A man using the name “Kevin Harpham” posted a message in 2008 on the anti-Semitic Vanguard News Network, operated by Alex Linder of Kirksville, Mo., himself a former member of the National Alliance.

On another Web site, Harpham posted that he watched the video “Loose Change” — popularized by the antigovernment “Patriot” group We Are Change — that the U.S. government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11.

Leading anti-Semites, including Christopher Bollyn, have suggested that Jews were responsible for 9/11.

On the “Loose Change” Facebook page, there are references to a “Zionist connection” and links to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion — a famous forgery that is a touchstone for the neo-Nazi right, including the late founder of the Aryan Nations, Richard Butler, who accuse Jews of plotting to control the world.

“I typically don’t buy into these conspiracies, then my friends told me to watch this video called ‘Loose Change,’” Harpham posted on another website forum devoted to steam automobiles.

“Some of the stuff was speculation but overall it changed my opinion greatly,’’ the Harpham posting said.

Harpham served in the U.S. Army in 1996-97, when records suggest he was part of the 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Lewis, Wash.

It’s not been public divulged if Harpham’s military training includes exposure to improvised explosive devices like those encounter by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan — and like the one found sitting on a corner park bench in downtown Spokane on Jan. 17.

During Harpham’s time in the U.S. Army, as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report first reported in 2006, military investigators identified 320 extremists in the Army ranks at Fort Lewis, the sprawling military base near Tacoma in western Washington. (Eventually, the Pentagon tightened its rules in response to that and subsequent articles in the Report.)

It’s not known if Harpham shared antigovernment, anti-Semitic or racist views during his time in the military.

In media interviews Wednesday, various people who knew or lived near Harpham’s isolated mobile home at Addy, Wash., described him as a loner and not overly neighborly.

Once FBI agents identified him as a suspect, they weren’t taking chances.

A SWAT team of agents was brought to Spokane in advance of the Wednesday’s early morning arrest of the suspect.

Armed FBI agents, using Stevens County road department equipment, appeared to be working on a road near a narrow bridge as Harpham left his residence.

According to various media accounts, as Harpham’s vehicle slowed for the construction workers, a “flash-bang” device commonly used by SWAT teams as a distraction, was fired through one of the car’s windows.

In no time, Harpham was arrested without incident and whisked to the U.S. Courthouse in Spokane, about 52 miles away.

Other FBI agents then served a search warrant and spent the day combing Harpham’s residence for evidence that could be tied to the backpack bomb.

Authorities were mum about what they found.

In court, Harpham appeared a bit bedraggled, dressed in blue jeans and a gray “Wells Fargo-Petty Racing” shirt. He made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno.

Looking like he hadn’t shaved for a few days, Harpham poured himself glasses of water and didn’t look around the crowded courtroom during the brief proceeding.

He told the judge he understood his constitutional rights to remain silent, the charges against him, the possible penalties and asked the court to appoint a public defender.

Peven, chief trial counsel for the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, and Assistant Federal Defender Kim Deater appeared to represent Harpham.

Peven told the judge Harpham would waive his right to have a bail hearing within three days, meaning he will be held in federal custody.

The federal defender can attempt at a later date to request a bail hearing, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington is expected to argue that Harpham is either a flight risk or danger to the community, or both, and should not be released under any circumstances.

  • Jim

    Recently, Kevin Harpham’s father from Kettle Falls was quoted as saying that his son was at his home helping him recover from a debilitating medical condition and couldn’t have been in Spokane on January 17th. This flies in the face of the “lone wolf”theory. My guess is that Harpham assisted in making the Rat Poison I.E.D. and his father admitted that that was a probability recently. A militia cell perhaps?? I attended a Militia of Montana presentation at the Fort Colville Grange in the mid-1990′s and attendance there exceeded 100 enthusiastic people…no doubt others will be implicated upon the F.B.I. review of Harpham’s computer and we will have a closer look at who else could have been involved..no more lone wolves in this story…

    Jim
    Colville

  • Reynardine

    Velveeta has blown up many people fatally, but not thataway.
    Re: that comparison of the common cold and ebola: your chances of getting ebola are mighty slim, and although I can’t assess how many people have died of respiratory complications of the common cold, I’ll wager it’s more than ebola.

  • Jordan

    Laura,
    No one doubts that well funded organized groups like Al-Qaeda are more dangerous than lone nut jobs, but we do doubt Kings delusional claims like that 80% of Muslims are extremists. All religions have fanatics and terrorists, Islam has such well organized groups as al-Qaeda because of the third world nature of certain Muslim-majority nations, do not mistake difference for inferiority or supremecy. People are mad at fanatics but they are targeting their anger at an entire minority rather than where it belongs.

  • Laura Stilwell

    This dude is nothing but a disturbed loner, he acted alone, and is obviously delusional with deranged views reflecting extensive confusion about who was responsible for 9-11. The Government, or the Jews, who are trying to take over the world? To compare this lone loser’s supposed “terror” attempt to the epic disproportionate magnitude of Radical Islam’s multiple attempts and massive devastating terrorist attacks resulting in countless deaths, is like comparing a common cold outbreak to an epidemic of the Ebola virus.

    Peter King’s hearings had multiple instances and straight up facts that are and have been, undeniably conclusive that there is a group here on our soil, AND in other countries who want to kill non-muslims in the name of their cultish ideology. They collectively ban together for this agenda, and have succeeded in enacting atrocious terror attacks that have killed many thousands in the U.S, Europe and around the world. This stupid hillbilly needs a padded room and electroshock therapy, not an investigation by a far right reaching group of incompetent uninformed has beens.

  • Difluoroethene

    He was apparently an anti-religious bigot, too; he frequently expressed his disdain for (all) religion in his posts, according to this website:

    http://www.spokesman.com/stori.....cts-views/

    Considering that Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor, this may have been an additional factor (besides racism) in his motives.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    If you hollow out a stick of velveeta for some kind of bursting charge, there is a remote chance that people would involuntarily ingest the velveeta at a range of maybe 30-50 meters or so. Just sayin’.

  • Reynardine

    Well, if you’re ingenious you could turn lots of things into weapons of mass destruction. A week or so ago, some of us wondered if that might include Velveeta. However, you can engage in a public display of Velveeta and remain within the law, because people have a choice about whether to put it into their bodies or not. That isn’t true of shrapnel covered with Warfarin.

  • Walt

    What ISN’T a weapon of mass destruction any more?

  • Cinnamonape

    Interesting that Harpham offered a “basement room” to a Canadian Neo-Nazi just a few days before the MLK day bombing. Yet he lives in a mobile home? I woulder if that might mean that he has another place…a “safe-house”?

    If the bomb actually contained Warfarin- an anti-coagulant- then it’s clear that it was a weapon of mass-destruction…intended to cause death on a mass-scale.

  • Reynardine

    The name Harpham is not a common one. I wonder if his father came from the Chicago area.

  • John H

    I would love to know what his discharge code was. If he was only in the military from 1996-97 chances are he was not given an Honorable Discharge. The question is was it General, Less than Honorable (any version of less than honorable) or medical?

    If he was in 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Lewis, Wash. chances are he did not have much training in exposure to improvised explosive devices except how to recognize them. It is not an artillery function to make or disarm improvised explosive devices, beyond the training all soldiers get.

    He could have gone to a school for a Special Skills Qualifier, but someone only in 2 years would not have gone to many of those types of schools. I could not imagine any commander trusting a newby to go to that sort of training.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “Has the definition of WMD changed since 2003?”

    It changed just before then to include chemical weapons, which were previously not considered WMDs.

  • http://www.admit2nothing.tumblr.com Stoner Witch

    A weapon of mass destruction is anything that can cause destruction on a massive level to humans or other living things and/or man-made structures.

  • Beefeater

    Interesting that we have another anti-semitic, 9-11 troofer on our hands. I wonder what his democraticunderground name is. They have a large 9-11 truther forum on their board, I’ll bet I know which one he is from the sound of it.

  • o

    “Weapon of Mass Destruction”

    Really? Not to sound like I’m defending the guy, but shouldn’t there be a mention in the article about how extreme the charge is?

    Has the definition of WMD changed since 2003?

  • Bob

    Thank You for all the work you do.. if only Congressman King would also do hearings on Christian groups, former Army, NASCAR (current and former) fans and people who drink water will I feel fair treatment. I am a loner who formerly lived in Spokane and am white.

  • Snorlax

    Ordnance is stuff that goes boom. Ordinance is a local law.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Right wing, white, domestic terrorist? He MUST be just some lone nut. No need to hold congressional hearings on right-wing extremism or anything.

  • Jim

    It’s “ordnance”, not “ordinance”.

  • http://www.splcenter.org/blog Hatewatch

    Tom, you’re right. We’ve corrected that typo. Thanks!

  • Ian

    Amazing reporting once again.

  • Tom

    “Harpham is either a flight risk or danger to the community, or both, and should be released under any circumstances.”

    should NOT be released, right?