‘It’s absolutely a hate crime’: Police search for suspects after swastika images plaster Bellingham businesses

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Bellingham detectives believe a man whose image was captured on surveillance cameras wearing a mask resembling a human skull is a person of interest after several businesses and buildings were defaced with a sticker showing a swastika and the message, “We are everywhere.”

Police in Bellingham told KIRO 7 News they regard the act, which occurred overnight Friday to Saturday morning, as a “high priority” hate crime.

“Placing a swastika sticker or anything with a swastika on it is absolutely a hate crime, there are no ifs ands or buts about it,” said Sergeant Claudia Murphy with Bellingham police. "It is a hate crime pure and simple, and so that’s how we’re investigating it.''

Paul Hanson, who owns the Village Books and Paper Dreams businesses in the historic Fairhaven district of Bellingham, showed two store windows where the stickers were found Saturday morning.

"Good Samaritans came and took them off before we got here Saturday morning,'' he said.

Requesting community assistance to help identify a person of interest in an ongoing hate crime investigation. There...

Posted by Bellingham Police Department on Monday, October 12, 2020

In a place celebrating freedom of speech, Hanson says hate speech meant to instill fear has no place there.

“We stand for a place in this community were people can come with different ideas to have civil conversations. And a anonymous sticker to make people afraid is not ever a way to go," said Hanson.

Alexis Sortor, who manages Bellingham’s Brandywine Kitchen, says while they don’t believe they were directly targeted, they say the attack is personal.

“We are a black-owned business,” she said. “That definitely makes it even more important to us.”

All the businesses that were defaced reported having community support when the word spread about the hateful smear.

“While I was obviously very angry, I also felt a lot of community support,” Sortor said. “Someone came in today and left a really nice note for us, showing that love is stronger, I think.”

“The community comes together in times like these and really bolsters each other and supports each other,” Hanson said.

Bellingham police are urging people who see the stickers to report them before removing or even touching them.

“It’s exceedingly important that not only do we identify the person but that all people who have stickers put on their businesses or houses that they make that report to us,” Murphy said.

“This is not what Bellingham is,” Hanson said. “It’s not about fear and hate, it’s about constructive dialogue.”