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

Justice Keeping Blanket of Secrecy Over MLK Parade Bomb Case

By Bill Morlin on March 24, 2011 - 9:17 am, Posted in Anti-Black, Extremist Crime

The Justice Department is maintaining tight secrecy around its case against a 36-year-old white supremacist accused of planting a backpack bomb on the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day unity parade in Spokane, Wash.

Kevin William Harpham, who has past ties to the neo-Nazi National Alliance and made more than 1,000 postings on racist Internet sites, was indicted Tuesday, 13 days after his arrest by the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and other agents.

If convicted of attempting to use a “weapon of mass destruction” and knowingly “receiving and possessing” an illegal explosive device, Harpham was told at his arraignment Wednesday that he could be sent to prison for life.

But just how an FBI terrorism task force and Justice Department prosecutors built their case again the former U.S. Army soldier remains a secret. There have been no other arrests and Harpham wasn’t charged with conspiracy, which would have been a clue that FBI agents were still looking for one or more additional suspects.

During his brief arraignment in Spokane before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno, a team of deputy U.S. marshals guarded Harpham, who was kept in ankle chains.

“May I enter ‘not guilty’ pleas on your behalf?’’ the judge asked Harpham, dressed in a tan Spokane County Jail jumpsuit, as he stood beside his attorney, federal defender Roger Peven.

“Yes, please, your honor,’’ Peven responded.

“Not guilty,’’ Harpham added with a quick, firm voice.

An affidavit used to arrest Harpham on March 9 near his rural home in northeastern Washington state remained under seal Wednesday at the request of U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby of the Eastern District of Washington. Ormsby has said the affidavit detailing the case against Harpham is being kept from the public to protect his right to a fair trial.

Prosecutors even took the unusual step of redacting the name of the “foreperson” of the 23-member federal grand jury that returned the two-count federal indictment on Tuesday. The grand jury heard federal agents and prosecutors outline their evidence against Harpham in a secret session, one day before a public probable cause hearing would have been held in open court before Judge Imbrogno.

Even Peven, Harpham’s federal defender, said after Wednesday’s arraignment that he still has no clue yet how investigators built their case against his client.

“It is somewhat unusual,’’ Peven said outside the courthouse when asked about the secrecy surrounding the case.

Now that Harpham has been indicted, Justice Department prosecutors are compelled under court “discovery” rules to begin turning over investigative files to the defense, even though public access to the information remains blocked.

Peven said he expected to receive shortly an affidavit of probable cause that outlines how Harpham was identified and then arrested. But, he said, it probably will be several days or weeks before he begins receiving FBI “302” reports detailing the investigation.

Because he knows so little about the investigation, Peven said he is still not ready to attempt to ask for a bond hearing — a move federal prosecutors likely would strongly oppose on the grounds that the defendant poses a risk to the community, if not a flight risk.

Asked to comment about the defendant’s ties to white supremacist groups, Peven said, “I really can’t at this point.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has information showing that in 2004 Harpham was a member of the National Alliance, which for decades was the preeminent neo-Nazi organization in the United States. The group went into a steep decline after the 2002 death of its founder, and today is merely a shadow of its former self.

Research by SPLC also shows that Harpham posted more than 1,000 times on the Vanguard New Network (VNN), a leading racist and anti-Semitic site. Using the pseudonym “Joe Snuffy” in 2006, Harpham posted, among other things, “I can’t wait till the day I snap.”

Harpham’s father, Cecil “Bill” Harpham of Kettle Falls, Wash., told two Spokane televisions stations that his son was caring for him in the senior Harpham’s Stevens County home and couldn’t have traveled 60 miles to Spokane to plant the improvised explosive device. But he conceded that his son had racist views and might have built the bomb.

The device was found and tragedy averted at the last minute when day-laborers found it Jan. 17 in a backpack on a downtown Spokane street corner. Police then re-routed the “MLK Unity Day” parade — which had some 1,500 participants — and a bomb squad successfully disarmed the device without substantially damaging it.

It’s widely believed that the nearly intact backpack bomb — apparently intended to be detonated with a remote control device — provided a windfall of forensic evidence, possibly including DNA, fingerprints and product samples, during days of processing at the FBI lab in Quantico, Va.

The Seattle Times, quoting an unidentified source familiar with the investigation, said the FBI linked Harpham to the bomb through DNA and the purchases of bomb components, including a remote car starter and other electronics.

Meanwhile, what’s identified as an FBI “unclassified-law enforcement sensitive” report on the Spokane backpack bomb has anonymously been posted on the Internet.

“We assess with medium confidence that the [explosive device] was designed to fire directional fragmentation similar to a single shot shotgun with buckshot or cannon with a grapeshot round,” the report says. “We likewise assess that the device was viable and could have caused personal injury or death.”

The report added: “Although the use of a radio-controlled trigger suggests the bomb maker possesses a greater degree of knowledge and skill than the typical pipe bomb builder, the device incorporated components that are commonly available in the United States and relied on techniques published in open sources.”

  • Stephen Villano

    The secrecy IS significant and hints that there may be others involved in a conspiracy that was aborted before fruition.
    I AM a bit surprised that the FBI is holding jurisdiction over this, as explosive devices are normally handled by the BATF. That further hints to a possible group that is being investigated.
    May they root the lot up and remove that risk to the populace soon.

  • Sam Molloy

    Recently a transgendered black lady was shot and dragged behind a pickup in Arkansas. (I know, hard to believe…) The sheriff quickly went very public about plaster casting the tire tracks, possibly to show he was seriously trying to catch the bad guys. Bad police work. The bad guys probably went far away and bought new or used tires.

  • DrMJG

    As a former Grand Jury Foreman, I am happy that they are keeping the identity of the foreperson and perhaps all members under wraps for now. While it does not happen often, sealed indictments are not ALL that uncommon and are for both protection of defendants as well as prosecutors or juries. All will, and must, come out in due time. All the defense needs know at this time is that a grand jury feels that there is enough base evidence to advance the case. Other levels should bring out more.

    Patience, friends, patience. Unusual? Perhaps yes from the norms for most indictments. Unwarranted? maybe not so much.

  • Louise Davis

    I can see the need for secrecy, to prevent any problems in getting a conviction. The defendant’s lawyer doesnt need to have a jump start. However, given this administration’s obsession with secrecy, it does give me pause to ponder. Why would they want to protect far right fanatics? Then again, why have they refused to look at war crimes under Bush and Cheney? I no longer have much faith in them.

  • difluoroethene

    They found a T-shirt at the scene that was a souvenir from a recent high school play put on in eastern Washington. Because of this, I have a feeling at least one other person, probably around age 20 (while Harpham is 36) is involved. That’s probably why the FBI is keeping secrets, so as not to interfere with the investigation into the identity of Harpham’s young protege.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    There have been some rumors about the “Creator” member Craig Cobb possibly being involved, apparently. I don’t think he was ever a member of the NA though. If the NA has any members it’s probably some guy in charge of liquidating the property of the NA’s businesses, keeping squatters out of their HQ, and of course a bunch of confused old people and maybe some teenagers who joined online.

  • Ian

    Does the hush-hush nature suggest that there may be other current or former members of the National Alliance under investigation?

  • swaneagle

    Given how readily the Feds are to declare the ALF and ELF as terrorist organizations, people defending animals and earth from destructive highly profitable corporate practices, i find it deeply disturbing that the plethora of white supremacist groups, many whose members have been involved of killings of Indians in border towns, homeless people, prostitutes, migrant workers and other marginalized groups targeted by documented bigots, that these groups have yet to be declared “terrorist organizations”. ELF and ALF have never killed anyone. Ever. The long history of killing marginalized peoples by white supremacists stands in glaring contrast. I cannot help but feel that these dangerous bigots are the emerging amerikkkan death squads. I have done extensive research on this exact issue. I am sad to say it confirms my suspicions. It is a tragedy that most americans have done so little to examine their own racism or to really keep altert to the antics of such deadly philosophies that thrive in the mire of ignorance and fear. From the shooting of so many in Tucson that included the serious wounding of Garielle Giffords to the killing of the black guard at the Holocaust museum to the killings of doctors providing abortion to the killing of the 9 year old Mexican girl and her father by white supremacist Shawna Forde also in Arizona, we are seeing a disturbing trend. This is only a small sample of the extent of killings that few are making the connections. Oh, we have a big problem here. May education and solution emerge quickly. We do not need a thriving truly domestic terrorist network killing the scapegoats for this country’s failure to stop war on all fronts.

  • Linnea

    For sure!

    Seriously, folks, this was a near-disaster. I can understand the need for holding back some information as the case is put together, but total secrecy is odd. Can’t prosecutors at least publicly confirm that this guy was connected to racists? Or confirm that they are finding evidence (they don’t have to specify what kind) that at least points to the possibility of Harpham’s involvement?

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Yeah they need to maintain secrecy so that Congressmen King won’t look like such a moron.