MLK parade organizers hoping for big turnout

Jan 14, 2012, 4:41 PM

Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – White supremacist Kevin Harpham planted a bomb along the route of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade here last year, hoping to strike a lethal blow against the unity and multiculturalism represented by the march.

That bomb was found and disabled before it could explode, and Harpham was sentenced last month to 32 years in federal prison. Now organizers of Monday’s MLK parade are calling for an extra-large turnout, to demonstrate opposition to Harpham and his extremist views.

“When a community has been wounded like we have, it’s a time to show strong solidarity,” said Ivan Bush, an organizer of the annual parade through downtown Spokane. “I’m certainly hoping this is by far the largest parade ever.”

One thing that will definitely be bigger is the police presence.

The Spokane Police Department announced this week that security enhancements will include a uniformed officer at every intersection on the parade route, a formal command post to monitor the event, and the bomb squad standing by downtown. Members of the department will also march in the parade.

Police said this week they have received no threats of violence against the parade, which has been held for two decades in this city of 200,000 with a small minority population.

But they will be ready. Police Lt. Joe Walker, who will oversee security, said the department expects to spend $12,000 to $15,000 for overtime pay.

“The annual MLK Day march is an opportunity for our citizens to speak out against hate,” the police department said in a press release. “We encourage each and every member of our community to attend.”

The FBI, whose investigation led to Harpham’s arrest, said it was “aware” of the parade. But Frank Harrill, agent in charge of the Spokane office, declined to say if they were taking any special steps.

Bush said the attempted bombing was an eye-opener for parade organizers, who did not think their family-friendly event was controversial.

“We thought this was something good for the community and the community would totally embrace it, and we found out differently,” Bush said.

Spokane Mayor David Condon is marching in the parade, and said the community must come together to combat racism.

“Though we celebrate Martin Luther King Day just one day a year, we are working to live out the principles he taught us every day,” Condon said.

Harpham, 37, admitted in court to building a pipe bomb filled with 128 fishing weights that had been coated with a rat poison that prevented bleeding wounds from coagulating. The bomb was left in a backpack along the parade route, and could be triggered with a remote car starter.

“If detonated at the proper time, the IED would have expelled fishing weights as shrapnel into the march participants as they passed by,” court documents said.

Harpham marched in the parade, along with some 2,000 other people, and used a digital camera to take pictures of black children and a man wearing a yarmulke.

But unknown to him, parade workers had discovered the bomb and police had quickly rerouted the parade to avoid it. Harpham never got close enough to trigger the device.

“We received a very large, very huge blessing,” Bush said.

Harpham was arrested at his rural home last March,

Federal prosecutors moved aggressively against Harpham, charging him with a hate crime. Officials for the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., closely followed the case.

Harpham ultimately pleaded guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, and the hate crime of placing the bomb in an effort to target minorities.

The plea deal called for a sentence of 27 to 32 years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Harrington argued at sentencing that a longer sentence was reasonable, given the region’s long history with white supremacist groups like Aryan Nations.

“Others with the twisted views the defendant has still reside in this area,” Harrington said. “This tells them there will be severe punishment imposed.”

Speaking for the first time at his sentencing, Harpham contended he placed the bomb as a “creative” way to protest the inclusive message of the parade.

“I was making a statement that there are people out there who don’t agree with these ideas,” Harpham said. He likened himself to a Christian protesting gay marriage, “but a bit more dangerous or extreme.”

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush expressed dismay at Harpham’s lack of remorse, and levied the maximum sentence.

“The offense was an attempt to intimidate the civilian population of this community, if not the country,” Quackenbush said.

“I hope in the next months or years you pause and reflect upon the fact that we are all inhabitants of one planet,” Quackenbush told Harpham. “We have disagreements, and it is not for you or I to decide who lives and who doesn’t live.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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MLK parade organizers hoping for big turnout