by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The national conversation about right-wing extremism got very real and very local on the morning of April 25, when apparent neo-Nazis vandalized the offices of Washington Community Action Network (WCAN).
According to the Seattle Police report, WCAN workers left the building at about 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, and returned at 10:00 a.m. the next day to find their front window broken and two WCAN vehicles vandalized.
The tires of one car had been slashed. Insulating foam had been sprayed into the exhaust pipe of a van. Both vehicles had been spray painted with the words "RAHOWA 88."
"RAHOWA" is neo-Nazi shorthand for "racial holy war," and 88 stands for HH - H being the eighth letter of the alphabet - or "Heil Hitler."
Police officers responding to WCAN's complaint found a "steel ball projectile" at the scene, apparently the cause of the broken window, and "glass shards scattered around the room&."
WCAN describes itself as "the state's largest grassroots community organization," with more than 35,000 members.
WCAN is perhaps best known for their recent work for healthcare reform. Marcelas Owens, the 11-year-old who stood next to President Obama as he signed the healthcare bill, is a WCAN member and spokesperson.
The group is also helping to organize the May 1 immigrant rights march and rally.
Pro-immigrant and pro-healthcare signs are prominently displayed in their office windows.
WCAN Executive Director Will Pittz told SGN he could not be sure which issue drove the vandalism.
"It's really hard to know what it's related to," Pittz said. "We've been in the news a lot recently."
According to the police report, WCAN has been the target of "harassing phone calls and hate e-mail in the past."
Pittz confirmed, "Yes, we've gotten negative calls. Some pretty hostile stuff, but nothing that really threatened violence."
Pittz said the incident would not deter WCAN from carrying on its organizing work.
"We're going to take safety precautions so that all our staff and all our members are absolutely safe, but this is not going to stop us from working on all the social, racial, and economic justice issues we work on," Pittz insisted.
Seattle Police Department spokesperson Mark Jamieson confirmed that SPD is actively investigating the case, but he declined to say that the perpetrators are, in fact, neo-Nazis.
"I'd want to be cautious as far as making that leap," he told SGN. "That's not anything we have said."
"There was graffiti on a couple of cars that were registered to that address. It did have RAHOWA 88, and we are investigating," he continued. "But just because somebody posts graffiti doesn't mean somebody subscribes to that ideology."
Asked if SPD had a different theory of who the perpetrators might be, Jamieson replied simply "We don't know yet."
Robby Stern, vice-president of the WCAN Board of Directors and president of the Puget Sound Alliance of Retired Americans, praised the police response in a statement issued after the incident.
"We want to thank the Seattle Police Department, who were quick to respond, are taking this hate crime seriously, and are doing everything in their power to ensure public safety and law and order," he said.
Other progressive organizations rallied to WCAN's support as news of the vandalism made the rounds. To date, some 50 labor, community, and progressive religious organizations have signed statements of support.
"At times like this it is incumbent that we come together to show that this type of behavior will not be tolerated in Washington state. Equal Rights Washington applauds the work done by WCAN in support of immigrant rights and humane immigration reform," said Joshua Friedes, executive director of ERW.
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