Communities across the Puget Sound region respond to white nationalist fliers
Residents of communities from Olympia to Edmonds woke up Sunday to find fliers outside their homes promoting a white nationalist group.
The papers, in small plastic baggies filled with rocks to weigh them down, include an anti-communist message and information about the Texas-based group Patriot Front, which formed in the aftermath of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
Patriot Front, whose fliers have appeared periodically in Puget Sound communities since 2017, 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.
Neighborhoods responded quickly.
Justin Bishop said that by the time he saw the flier outside his West Seattle home, one of his neighbors was already going door to door, picking them up.
"He said that he was trying to just collect them all before anybody else saw them, which I thought was interesting," Bishop said. "You know, we have such a proactive community that someone else had already decided, 'Well, I’m just going to go around and pick all these up.'"
In Tacoma, dozens of fliers appeared in the city's racially and ethnically diverse East Side.
Hope Teague-Bowling said she came across one outside her home on her way to church Sunday. At first, she worried she and her husband were targeted. Then she saw the baggies scattered up and down her block.
She said the act left her feeling angry and protective.
"This neighborhood is a very diverse neighborhood," Teague-Bowling said. "A lot of my students in the school that I teach at live in that same neighborhood, and a lot of those students are students of color or immigrants, black and brown students."
Teague-Bowling said she and her husband began walking the neighborhood to collect the fliers. They came across a pair of runners doing the same, tossing the materials into garbage bags.
Members of local anti-racist activist groups then ripped up the fliers, poured water on them, and left them at the homes and businesses of people they believe are affiliated with white supremacist organizations.
When Patriot Front fliers appeared on utility poles in Tacoma last year, activists simply scraped them off and destroyed them. This time, they felt "it was worth responding back directly to the people who we suspect did this," said Halley Knigge, an organizer of the group Tacoma Against Nazis.
"The message was really, 'Hey, Tacoma doesn't want your garbage, so we're returning it back to you," Knigge said. "And the idea there is just to let them know, 'Hey, we know who you are. We're not impressed. We're watching you. We're here. This community isn't going to put up with this. You can't terrorize our community in the night.'"
Knigge said members of Tacoma Against Nazis, which formed last year, and the John Brown Gun Club, a left-wing organization that also promotes gun rights, left the fliers on four properties in Tacoma, Gig Harbor and Lakebay on Sunday night.
People associated with those properties, which include a Tacoma tattoo parlor, have displayed white nationalist views and symbols online, though there's no proof they distributed the recent round of fliers, Knigge said.
She said activists have debated whether to respond, fearing it might give attention to people distributing the fliers. In this case, she said, they opted to send a message.
"This debate has been going on for decades, and it turns out ignoring the problem of white supremacy is not the solution to white supremacy," Knigge said. "We have to shine a light on this. We have to show the community that these white supremacists are here in our midst, and we have to show these white supremacists that we see them and we're not going to put up with their behavior."
In Olympia, the fliers appeared in the South Capitol and Eastside neighborhoods. The group Showing Up for Racial Justice is planning a canvassing to educate residents about white supremacy next Sunday.