Back in June, I opened my mailbox to find an innocuous looking letter from Houston. It was addressed by hand, in neat printing, to “Julie Muhlstein,” with my north Everett home address.
I have a sister-in-law in Sugar Land, Texas, a half-hour from Houston. A former Herald photographer works for The Houston Chronicle. Opening the envelope, I expected a note from someone I know. What I found was nothing less than a shocker.
It was a sturdy little card with “Patriot Front” and “bloodandsoil.org” on one side, and on the other side, “Patriotism With Teeth.”
Patriot Front is a Texas-based neo-Nazi organization. The white supremacist group uses the phrase “blood and soil” — reflecting Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic “blut und boden” philosophy. The phrase was chanted by white nationalists at last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
I know why I got that ugly card, with its logo of a fasces — a symbol used in Fascist Italy, a bundle with an ax blade emerging. It arrived the month after I wrote a Herald column about Patriot Front fliers showing up at Everett Community College. At the time, a sign on campus advertised an event hosted by the Muslim Student Association.
Patriot Front fliers were also found in May attached to north Everett residents’ yard signs that welcome diversity.
My unwelcome mail had the return address — 4635 Southwest Fwy., Houston — of a large, multi-tenant office complex. Hate groups, with their online reach, can connect with most anyone anywhere. The postmark said Houston, but those Patriot Front fliers were in my Everett neighborhood.
I wasn’t going to write about that mail — it’s just a card, after all. And I belong to no racial, ethnic or religious minority, although with my last name and my late husband’s paternal ancestry, one might mistakenly assume I’m Jewish.
What changed my mind, what had me digging through clutter to find that Patriot Front card, was our recent news.
We learned early this week that Dakota Reed, whose online name is borrowed from a Nazi death camp commandant, was arrested last Friday and that the FBI and county sheriff’s detectives seized 12 firearms, ammo and handwritten notes “associated with white supremacy.” The 20-year-old Monroe-area man is accused of making threats to carry out mass killings — his social media posts mentioned shooting Jews and shooting up a school — and of violating the state’s hate crime law.
And early Saturday, an African-American DJ was doing his job when he was attacked at the Rec Room Bar & Grill, north of Lynnwood. According to police reports and court papers, he was beaten, stomped on and called a racial slur. After seven men and a woman were booked into the county jail, the sheriff’s office described the accused Monday as “self-professed members of a neo-Nazi skinhead group.”
One of the alleged attackers, 34-year-old Travis Condor, runs a hate music record label, American Defense Records, and was photographed at the 2017 rally in Charlottesville, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Rec Room Bar attack happened on the 34-year mark of the day neo-Nazi Robert Jay Mathews was killed during an FBI siege on Whidbey Island. Mathews headed The Order, a white supremacist group linked to the 1984 assassination of Alan Berg, a Jewish radio talk show host in Denver. Condor, according to news reports, had praised Mathews.
In another recent incident, two Glacier Peak High School students were disciplined for allegedly using cellphones to create derogatory Wi-Fi hotspot names, including some that contained a swastika. It happened during a Nov. 29 school assembly, and prompted school leaders to send parents a message saying the names contained “highly offensive, discriminatory, divisive, inappropriate and, in some cases, racially motivated messages.”
It’s true that hate speech can come under the umbrella of free speech. People have the right to say what they believe — or even to mail a message of hate to my house.
Yet I’m with Janice Greene, president of the Snohomish County branch of the NAACP, who said after the attack on the DJ that it’s important for the whole community to stand up against hate. “None of us can turn our head and look away,” Greene told The Herald.
We should take pride in the diverse crowd that turned out for the Nov. 1 vigil on the Snohomish County campus, where people paid homage to 11 victims of a gunman’s attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue.
A member of my book club, who is Jewish, shared at our meeting Wednesday night that she’s wary now when she worships at her synagogue. What a shame, what a crime that is.
Six months after getting a card that says “Patriotism With Teeth,” I’m still angry. Hate isn’t patriotism.
When a violent hate crime occurs, here or anywhere, what we should see is justice with teeth.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.