Hate groups have been hiding in plain site across the Pacific Northwest.
The Anti-Defamation League says 2018 was the fourth deadliest year on record for the number of people killed by domestic extremists since 1970.
There are several theories about why that has happened. But one explanation most experts seem to agree on is that the U. S. has been less focused on homegrown terrorists than ever before.
It can seem the signs of white supremacy are spreading across Western Washington like wildfire. Leaflets promoting hate have popped up in West Seattle, Tacoma, Gig Harbor, too.
It is a movement that Canadian Tony McAleer says has been emboldened in the United States.
"Absolutely," he said, "absolutely."
McAleer agreed to meet on a raw January day on this side of the U.S.- Canada border, a co-founder of the organization, LIfe After Hate, for former neo-Nazis. McAleer once regularly crossed into the Pacific Northwest to spread his white supremacist beliefs. He traces the rise of white nationalism to the US census taken at the start of the 21st century.
"That was the first time where the projected demographics for the future was projecting whites would be a minority in the country," said McAleer. "Out of that census was born the narrative of white genocide."
It was exquisitely timed. Just as alarm over the impending decline of whites in America began to spread, 9/11 happened. The deadliest foreign attack on American soil was planned and executed by the Islamist terrorist group, Al-Qaeda. The horrific images turned the nation's fears -- and many of its financial resources -- outward toward securing the homeland from Islamic terrorists.
All the while, white nationalists were flourishing, say experts, mostly unchecked.
"I've been trying to tell people that this is happening in America for the last 15 years," exclaimed freelance journalist Dave Neiwert. He has written the book: "Alt-America, the Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump."
"People don't want to believe that we have this ugly side to us in America," Neiwert said. "We don't want to believe that there are thousands of racists out there. But there are."
That denial, he says, was fueled by the Obama and Trump administrations. Both slashed Department of Homeland Security funding to monitor violent extremists in this country. Moreover, Neiwert says, the Patriot Act that Congress passed in the wake of 9/11, has penalties for international terrorism but not for domestic acts of terror.
"There is clearly a philosophy there that the homeland is facing a greater threat from Islamist radicals than it was from right wing radicals," Neiwert said. "But the reality was starkly different."
Just how different has been on frightening display: the deadly, 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; the 2018 mass murder inside a Pittsburgh synagogue.
And the Pacific Northwest is not immune.
"I would say we hear from at least a couple of people every week," said Miri Cypers, who runs the Seattle office of the Anti-Defamation League. "Our experts are really noticing a strong uptick in white supremacist propaganda and banners and leafleting in their activities, in their public events, in their rallies."
Last December, the long history of white supremacy in the Pacific Northwest came into sharp relief inside a Lynnwood nightclub. Eight people arrested for an attack on a black DJ. It happened on the 34th anniversary of the death of Robert Jay Mathews, founder of the white separatist group, 'The Order.' Based on Whidbey Island, it was there, during a violent confrontation with the FBI, that Mathews met a fiery end and instant martyrdom.
"There's a real grievance out there," says Tony McAleer.
He has renounced his white supremacist past. So what he sees today reminds him of the person he once was.
"What they're feeling is what they're feeling and they haven't had the ability to let it out," said McAleer. "And now everybody feels that it's time to let it all out."
Some of what they're feeling may come out in a Snohomish County courtroom. The Snohomish County prosecutor is still deciding whether to charge the eight alleged neo-Nazis arrested in Lynnwood.
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