The “Alt Right” movement must be condemned for its murderous actions in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday. Their movement is not about “free speech” but is about terror and oppression. Could it happen here? Yes, it has.
“Mom, there’s a Nazi flag hanging in the house across the street.” It was 1995. My son had arrived home from school to our house on Grant Street in the York Neighborhood and, as usual, had called me at work to check in.
The Lakeway Realty rental house across the street from our home had gone through a recent shuffle of tenants. In the preceding three years city departments were frequently contacted to complain about noise, garbage, broken out windows. Our then City Councilman Arne Hanna had been called on several occasions to help us try fruitlessly to get action from the property owner. It was a known “problem” house; my kids knew to stay away.
My son’s phone call that day signaled something different than just a nuisance. His reaction to seeing the Nazi flag was, rightfully, one of fear. In the weeks preceding its appearance another neighbor, Paul de Armond, had been gathering hate posters he found pinned up on telephone polls. We had not, yet, determined their source but our suspicions focused on the skinheads across the street. De Armond described them in his pamphlet, “1995 to Now: Bellingham’s York Neighborhood Fights Back”.
“The house had become a mini-hotel for other racists passing through the area. There were loud drunken parties that spilled onto the sidewalk, vandalism featuring hate slogans, displays of swastikas and Confederate flags and swaggering attempts at intimidation and obnoxious behavior.”
On the evening of November 3, 1995, their behavior went from obnoxious anti-social to an outright attack. From inside my house I heard yelling, breaking glass, and a speeding car. I immediately called 9-1-1. Three Western students had parked in front of the skinheads’ house to attend a party a block away. When they returned to their vehicle the skinheads attacked them – one a black student, one Asian. One student suffered a broken cheekbone after being attacked with a beer bottle. They ran back to their party and gathered reinforcements.
An hour-long street battle between students and skinheads at the corner of Potter and Grant ended with a carload of fleeing skinheads driving through the crowd hitting one person. Luckily, no one was killed. The driver was later arrested in Oregon for felony hit and run.
Charged with malicious harassment and assault were Jason G. LaRue (age 22 at the time) and Banner Dawson (age 20 at the time). The Nov. 14, 1995, Bellingham Herald reported that in their rental house “Bellingham police found a large cache of racist flags, white supremacist literature, posters and stickers while serving a search warrant on the home of two men suspected in a hate crime.”
The Herald reported that, “the York Neighborhood Association denounced the attack and asked city officials to ‘respond to the fullest extent’ to stop racism in the neighborhood. ‘The right of all people to live from fear is something that we will work strongly to uphold,’ the association said. ‘Our neighborhood must be a safe place for everyone.’”
Following the attack the neighborhood participated in a march and rally of more than 200 Western students, faculty, and community members through the neighborhood carrying signs that read: “Just say No to Hitler wannabe’s,” “No one is free when others are oppressed,” and “Zero tolerance for hate crimes.”
I hung a banner across my front fence that I have saved to this day. It reads: “York Neighborhood is a Hate-Free Zone.” That is a slogan at the heart of what York stands for, today. Racists, skinheads, neo-Nazis are not welcome here. I witnessed what these groups are capable of in front of my house 22 years ago. The nation witnessed their violent attacks in Charlottsville, Virginia, last weekend.
We must be clear. These hate groups are not exercising “free speech.” They are intent on violence, terror, and intimidation. We must be united against them.