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caption: Protesters sprayed Seattle Police with silly string moments before attempting to break the line on August 13, 2017.
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Protesters sprayed Seattle Police with silly string moments before attempting to break the line on August 13, 2017.
Credit: File: Daniel Berman for KUOW

Why are there so many white supremacists in the Pacific Northwest?

The Northwest has a long history of white supremacist groups, dating back to Klan activity in the 1920s and the rise of the Aryan Nations in the 1970s.

What makes them so different in modern times? Dave Neiwert, author of the book "Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in Trump's America," says these groups are targeting mainstream liberals.

He spoke with Bill Radke on KUOW's The Record about white supremacists in Washington state and the nation.

Bill Radke interviews Dave Neiwert on 'The Record,' Wednesday, December 20, 2018.

Interview Highlights

A dream of an all-white ethnostate in the Northwest

White supremacist hate groups overall – the Northwest has about the same level of presence as you would find in most other places in the country. The Northwest has a real history of it.

Stuff had been bubbling around for a long time, but it wasn’t until the Aryan Nations moved to Northern Idaho from Southern California in the mid-70s that we really saw dedicated effort to try to get white supremacists to move to the Northwest to create an all-white homeland.

That vision has never gone away. And now we have groups like Greg Johnson’s Counter Currents, who are based here in Seattle, and they want to create an all-white ethnostate and they’re very keen on using the Northwest as their starting ground.

On the difference between Western and Eastern Washington groups

The actual hate groups might be more common over here. What you usually have on the other side of the “Cascade curtain” is patriot militia groups when it comes to right-wing extremism.

That’s the sort of right-wing extremism that bubbles up in these rural areas. But in urban areas is where we’re actually getting most of the white supremacists. It’s profoundly frightening.

On the latest targets of their hate

They do talk about killing blacks, immigrants and Muslims a lot – and of course those are usually the primary victims of hate crimes. But lately I would say the number one people that they talk about killing are mainstream liberals. They want to have a civil war. And they’re very heavily armed.

Part of why I’m concerned is I’m afraid if Trump loses in 2020 – which I actually think is highly likely – that they’re not going to accept that.

So I’m concerned that there’s going to be some real serious violence.

How they're recruiting

One thing is to understand that it’s targeting young people in ways that we’ve never seen before, particularly online and particularly the video gaming community. They’re penetrating these young white males very heavily through that community.

So I really urge parents to be extremely watchful; understand that it’s very easy for children to go down these rabbit holes because they’re deliberately making these appeals to young teenage boys. And not surprisingly, it’s also where we’re starting to see the violence breaking out.

I’m working now on a project where we’re trying to really come to grips with when people go down these rabbit holes, how do you pull them out?

If you try to convince them that their conspiracy theories are wrong, you become part of the conspiracy.

Ultimately a lot of what has to happen is that it has to be from people that you’re emotionally close to, who can work in gut level narratives, because logical narratives don’t work. And it has to be done with empathy and it has to be done very slowly and painfully.

If you want to undertake such a thing – it’s not always worth it, because it doesn’t always work. If it becomes impossible. You just have to make the decision to cut them out of your life. But if you’re really dedicated to trying to keep them in your life, all you have to do is basic, normal human stuff, like listen.

Don’t try to counter everything they say for a while. Let them talk to you and explain stuff, and then you just start slowly coming and saying, “Well, what about this?”

Produced for the web by Kara McDermott