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Tacoma Residents Work To Counter White Nationalist Activity

Courtesy of Henry Waymack Design
Tacoma artist Henry Waymack designed a poster to counter those distributed by a white nationalist group

Tacoma resident Halley Knigge was in her kitchen Sunday when she checked Facebook and saw friends posting about flyers stuck to utility poles around the city. 

"Keep America American," many of the flyers read. They included the phone number of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tip hotline and urged residents to report people they suspect of being in the country illegally.

They also included the web address of the Texas-based group Patriot Front, which seeks to preserve what its leaders call America's "pan-European identity." The group's web address contains the phrase "blood and soil," a slogan used by the Nazis. 

Knigge said she found herself in a state of "mom rage," thinking, "This can’t happen in my city."

Then she searched YouTube for instructions on how to remove wheat paste. 

Knigge took down as many as 50 flyers that day. She alerted neighbors, who set to work as well, armed with sponges and scraping tools. 

"I go back and forth on, 'Do we even want to call attention to the fact that these posters are out there?'" Knigge said. "But then I think about how important I think it is to send a message, not just to this group but to our community: We're not just going to lie here and let these groups come in and stir up hate." 

The Patriot Front flyers are the latest in a string of white nationalist incidents residents have described and documented across the South Sound region. Similar flyers were seen last year in Gig Harbor. Banners with phrases like "white lives matter" have been seen hanging from overpasses in Tacoma and Gig Harbor.

Knigge is one of the leaders of Tacoma Against Nazis, a group that formed in mid-June to respond to such incidents. Its first action was to organize a rally against a Tacoma tattoo shop whose owner and employees, activists say, have displayed symbols associated with white supremacist groups in public and on social media.

"It's always been present," said Tacoma City Council Member Justin Camarata, who participated in the rally. "We're just in a political moment now where they feel emboldened." 

Camarata also helped take down flyers, which were concentrated in his City Council district. They were seen in or near downtown Tacoma, the University of Washington Tacoma, the Tacoma Dome area, and the Port of Tacoma. 

A Tacoma police spokeswoman said the department does not keep records on such incidents because they are not crimes.

It's unclear whether the city was targeted for any particular reason. Tacoma, with a population that is 40 percent non-white, is more diverse than larger Pacific Northwest cities such as Seattle, Portland, and Spokane.

It's also home to the Pacific Northwest's only detention center for immigrants facing deportation, which has made the city the site of recent protests against the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy.

Whatever the reason for the activity, residents say they're not willing to let white nationalists operate openly.

Tacoma artist Henry Waymack posted a design for a flyer on Facebook on Monday and invited his followers to "share, distribute, print, and post."

It read like an alternate version of the Patriot Front flyer, with the words "Keep America open." Below, it listed web addresses for organizations that support immigrants. 

"This flyer is my response," Waymack wrote on Facebook. "I created this (and other designs to come) because I believe that as artists we have a moral obligation to use our gifts and expertise to bring awareness to and fight oppression and evil wherever it surfaces." 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.