Michael Ormsby, the recently appointed U.S. Attorney General for Eastern Washington, stared intently across a thickly carpeted courtroom this afternoon at a rangy, unshaven man who was compulsively drinking water from a small paper cup at a table opposite.
Ormsby seemed fascinated. The man, 36-year-old Kevin William Harpham, had been arrested in rural Stevens County earlier Wednesday in what may be the highest-profile domestic terrorism case in Spokane in decades.
Harpham, according to a federal criminal complaint, is the man who placed what the FBI calls a “potentially very lethal” bomb in a backpack along the route of Spokane’s Martin Luther King unity march Jan. 17.
The bomb, which was rigged
for remote detonation, did not explode but still sent shock waves through the
mostly white city, which has some history with violent white supremacist groups.
The FBI won't say whether the bomb malfunctioned and did not explode, or whether the bomber abandoned his plan because police were able to reroute the march.
The potential was enough that Harpham’s afternoon arraignment drew 30 people to the small gallery in the seventh-floor courtroom in Spokane’s downtown federal building.
Harpham, a fit, big-shouldered man in a black sweatshirt and blue jeans, did not spend much time looking around. He drank cup after cup of water and conferred with white-haired and mustached Roger Peven, head of the regional Federal Defenders.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno called Harpham to the podium to hear the charges against him. He walked there easily despite leg chains, and stood facing Imbrogno with a federal defender at each elbow.
As the magistrate went down the list of required questions, Harpham responded in single-word answers.
Imbrogno: “Do you know you are not required to make a statement at this time?”
Imbrogno: “Do you have any illness or other problem …” the court needs to know about?
Harpham: (a pause) “No.”
Across the front row of gallery seats, pencils and pens from a line of courtroom sketch artists and reporters swirled and scribbled onto pads and notebooks.
Then Imbrogno’s reading of the two charges hung in the room:
Count 1: attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction, which can carry a sentence of life in prison
Count 2: possessing an improvised explosive device, which carries a maximum term of 10 years
WMD. IED. The acronyms of insurgency and terrror spoken aloud in Spokane.
Harpham stood unmoving.
Imbrogno: “Do you have any questions?”
Peven waived a bail hearing. The magistrate said the next federal grand jury convenes March 22 and will consider whether to indict Harpham on the charges. She set his next court appearance for March 23.
The U.S. marshals guided Harpham out a side door. He is being held at the Spokane County Jail.
The whole affair took seven minutes.
As they strolled back to
their offices, Ormsby and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Harrington traded
shoulder punches and smiles with some longtime court observers who turned out to
watch the arraignment.
Even with an arrest, federal officials remain tight-lipped. Frank Harrill, the senior FBI agent in Spokane was unable to say Wednesday if there are additional suspects or what clues eventually led agents to a single-wide trailer outside Addy, Wash., where Harpham was arrested around 8 am.
Heidi Beirich, director of research for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white supremacist groups, tells The Inlander that Harpham joined the National Alliance in 2004. She called the National Alliance one of the most dangerous neo-Nazi groups in America. Its founder, William Pierce, authored "The Turner Diaries," a novel about a future race war, which Timothy McVeigh used as a template to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City.
But after Pierce died in 2002, the leadership of the National Alliance splintered into feuding factions and "by the time Harpham joined it was already in decline," Beirich says.
The center also has evidence that Harpham had been in the military, serving in an artillery unit at Fort Lewis in the mid-1990s. Beirich notes that the center has compiled a report showing evidence of a ring of 200-plus skinheads who were stationed at Fort Lewis at that time in an apparent attempt to gain weapons training.
The Inlander also spoke with Kettle Falls School District Superintendent Greg Goodnight, who says he taught freshman-year science to Harpham. Citing the unreliability of 20-year-old memories, Goodnight would not say more about Harpham, other than that he did not graduate from Kettle Falls High.
Back in Spokane, in front of the courthouse and under a sky spitting rain, Peven was unable to say much to the arc of reporters around him. He had not seen the probable cause warrant, which is still sealed. He did not know much about Harpham and only spent enough time with him to go over the afternoon’s process.
Is this one of your biggest cases, he was asked?
“Well, it’s making the walk back to my office a lot longer,” Peven replied.
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