Northwest white-power types have been much more visible in the past few weeks, from the guy wearing a swastika armband at a Seattle ferry terminal two days after the Charleston shootings to the sudden and bizarre appearance of racist skinheads who showed up to fight with anti-police-brutality demonstrators in Olympia.
This doesn’t necessarily mean old-fashioned white-power groups are on the rise, according to Richard King, professor in critical culture, gender, and race studies at WSU.
In fact, traditional white-power groups may be fading—the latest numbers from the Southern Poverty Law Center, King says, indicate that their numbers have dropped in Washington state in recent years. “Of course, such counts can be misleading,” he adds. “The internet makes it possible for ideas to circulate and community to form in different ways than the past… Moreover, the unit of measurement that matters may have shifted (if Charleston, or Oklahoma City for that matter, are good examples), from the chapter (KKK) or compound (Aryan Nation) or gang (Aryan Brotherhood) to the lone actor.”
But framing the white-power question in terms of rhetorically dramatic but ultimately marginal groups like the Northwest Front masks a deeper problem, King says. “It suggests that racism is extraordinary—bad apples with bad ideas or bad feelings (hate) doing bad things—when in fact it is built into our society at a foundational level.”
“Even without organized groups, it is here,” he says. “It is online and it is in our communities.”