2018-07-08 04:55:51 UTC
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Want to Meet America’s Worst Racists? Come to the Northwest
Confederate sympathizers have nothing on the ‘Northwest Front.’
By CASEY MICHEL July 07, 2015
Much of the national debate over racism in the aftermath of last month’s mass murder in Charleston, S.C., has focused on the South and its strange and sometimes jarring nostalgia for the Confederacy. And yet tucked away in the Pacific Northwest of the United States is a vicious group that most people have never heard of but the nation’s most virulent online racists know well (among them, accused South Carolina murderer Dylann Roof, who wrote about the group in his now-infamous “manifesto”).
The group is called the Northwest Front and its final solution to the race "problem," if you will, is to expel non-white people from the Pacific Northwest and to establish a mono-racial republic there.
Racism knows no region, it’s safe to say. While the Pacific Northwest can abstain from the debate on the removal of traitorous colors from the Capitol grounds—Oregon was the last state in the Union before the Civil War’s outbreak, after all—the region bears a racial legacy tinted by an ignorance, a decades-old vision of minority-free lands, as stark as any in the United States.
To be sure, the Northwest Front represents a fringe campaign, a minority of a minority seeking to expunge the Pacific Northwest of any color but white. According to Harold Covington, the group’s leader, the union of Washington State, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana would be “kind of like the white version of Israel. I don’t see why the Jews are the only people on Earth that get their own country and everyone else has to be diverse.” Covington knows precisely what he’s gone in for: “Of course it’s racism. What’s wrong with racism? It’s the purist form of patriotism.”
Numbers on the Northwest Front are hard to come by—the group does without formal membership—but the Southern Poverty Law Center maintains Northwest Front as one of the foremost white nationalist groups in the region. The group’s reach has as much to do with its push as it does with its leader, Covington. While no direct connection between Roof and Covington has yet emerged, aside from Roof’s broadsides about Northwest Front, circumstance and parallel motivations twin the two.
In 1972, while a member of the U.S. Army, Covington wormed his way into his first neo-Nazi organization. He soon found himself in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (a nation whose colors Roof, coincidentally, didn’t hesitate to sport). While there, Covington managed to start both the Rhodesian White People’s Party and the South African Friends of the Movement. But Covington quickly outstayed his welcome, and his screeching anti-Semitism soon saw him deported from one of the most racist regimes extant.
Not long thereafter, however, Covington set his sights more domestically—and tapped into a vein of racial stratification long overlooked within the U.S. For Covington, the Pacific Northwest could prove the well-spring for the white supremacists’ dreams. An independent ethnie. A Rhodesia regained.
But don’t think Covington’s claims—that he can flip the vertiginous Northwest into an autarkic ethno-state—are novel. Rather, Covington tapped into a racist longing that has long festered in this part of the country, a tide of American history that’s never been properly addressed. From its earliest American outset, the Pacific Northwest was long meant to be a land for the white caste. “Whites Only” writ large.
Look at Oregon, for instance. As Walidah Imarisha of Portland State University’s Black Studies Department told me, “Oregon was founded as a state, as a territory, as a white homeland. Folks who answered that call wanted to build their perfect white society.” And not in the same vein of a three-fifths-clause South, where black Americans would be tolerated, if in servitude. Oregon would be different. While the state remained in the Union—and actually proved pivotal to Abraham Lincoln’s nomination on the Republican ticket—Oregon’s founders mentioned racial unity in the state's original documents. To wit, the 1850 Oregon Donation Land Act allowed free land to whites alone. And during an 1857 vote on the constitution’s formulation, some 83 percent of participants voted to prohibit “free negroes” from living or working in the state. Chief Justice George Williams, who later served as attorney general for President Ulysses Grant, summed the sentiment, lobbying voters to “consecrate Oregon to the use of the white man, and exclude the negro, Chinaman, and every race of that character.” According to one researcher, Oregon was “the only state ever admitted with a black exclusion clause in its constitution.” There’s a reason, growing up in Portland, that my seventh-grade teacher informed us Oregon was often considered the most racist state west of the Mississippi.