The Spokane Bomb Attempt: Who Is Kevin William Harpham?
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.