PORTLAND, Ore. — This week, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol will begin holding public hearings.
At the same time, organizations representing communities of color in Oregon have written a letter to President Joe Biden, asking him to combat white supremacy by investing in communities of color.
While white supremacy may not immediately invoke thoughts of the insurrection, experts say there is a connection.
Tony Defalco, head of the Latino Network, spoke to KGW about the letter his organization, along with six other nonprofits representing communities of color in Oregon, wrote to the president.
The letter asks the president to invest $100 million into the nonprofits to combat white supremacy and the effect it has on communities of color. Defalco said the investment is needed, especially in the wake of violence fueled by racism, like the shooting in Buffalo, New York where 10 people died. The suspect is facing murder and hate crime charges.
“These are times in which we're seeing increasing domestic violent extremist activity not just nationally, but here in Oregon,” said Defalco.
Defalco and others are ready for the federal government to act.
“We have a federal administration currently that has a stated commitment to stamping out white supremacy in this country, and we really have been ready for that action.”
Defalco said a report out of the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office ranks Oregon sixth in the country in violent extremist attacks.
“That has all of our communities on edge,” said Defalco.
“That report looked at sort of a 10-year period of extremism on all parts of the political spectrum, left wing, right wing,” said Randall Blazak, chair of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crime. “A lot of that was the summer of 2020. So there was a fairly evenly divide.”
Even so, Blazak said the Pacific Northwest does have an issue with white supremacy.
“Oregon has a really long history with white supremacy going back to the founding of the state. So, the [Ku Klux Klan] ran the state in the 1920s. We've had skinhead violence and now we have Proud Boy violence […] Oregon is seen as kind of the last bastion of white America,” Blazak said.
In the 1980s, he said there was even a movement to resettle white supremacists from the Southern part of the U.S. to the Pacific Northwest.
“So they [could] declare it their homeland because they thought they had the numbers here.”
That effort eventually fizzled out, but Blazak said it’s documented that the Pacific Northwest has a lot of people who support ideology connected to white supremacy and extremism.
“There was a study that was done after the January 6 riots in the Capitol that found that the highest internet search activity, that was asking ‘how do I overthrow the government’ or ‘how do I join the Proud Boys’ or ‘how do I join the right-wing movement,’ was coming from Oregon. We were the number-one state for people searching out how to overthrow the government,” said Blazak.
He said events in Oregon are believed to be tied to those in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6.
“The warmup for January 6 was in Salem, in December when they attacked the state Capitol in Salem. That was a precursor to January 6, and so here we are right at the center of it again,” Blazak said.
Additionally, he said there is a real connection between white supremacy and the insurrection
“January 6 wouldn't have happened if there hadn't been the kind of permission to blame COVID on Asians, and talk about immigration from the southern border as an invasion, and you know, all the kind of racist dog whistles that really ginned up the white supremacist movement and pushed more people into that funnel.”
Blazak said mainstream issues like immigration, gun rights or COVID can guide people toward "the funnel" and start looking into conspiracy theories related to white supremacy. Once they start believing in conspiracy theories, it can be a slippery slope.
“It becomes a hatred of the government and then it becomes a conspiracy theory that the government, you know, is controlled by other people,” said Blazak.
He said sometimes those conspiracy theories target groups of people.
“That conspiracy theory becomes an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory," Blazak said. "It is sort of stealth racism."
At the bottom of the funnel, he said, are the people who have bought into conspiracy theories masked as truth on the internet. Some may choose to engage in violence.
It can be easy to get sucked in without knowing it, as conspiracy theories are widely distributed through social media.
“We are seeing people who would never consider themselves to be neo-Nazis or white supremacists are now in this world where there's a lot of coded language,” he said.
That threat can look like different act of violence, some of which can impact communities of color. People can carry trauma from what they’ve seen happen to other people who look like them.
“There are people who are routinely reminded that they are unwanted and may be killed just because of the color of their skin, or their nation of origin, or their religion, or their sexual orientation. Those people walk around with that trauma.”
Bottom line, Blazak said there’s a history of white supremacy in Oregon and it’s a real problem.
“Oregon is at the center of a lot of this stuff. But the impact on the community is widespread and deep and it's why many people feel unsafe in Oregon,” said Blazak.
Blazak, who has studied and taught college courses on hate crimes and extremists, said there is a rise of authoritarianism around the world. He said while many of us believe our democracy is immune to it, it’s not guaranteed.
“That’s why those of us in my community, our hair's on fire,” said Blazak. “Because there is a real threat from these groups.”
“We're sort of at a precipice when it comes to an explosion of domestic terrorism from right-wing extremists.”
He said on Tuesday, there was a congressional hearing on the topic of domestic terrorism and the threat matrix is high.
“We’ve got a lot of agitated people with a lot of weaponry who feel like their America is about to disappear and their America is devoid of gay people and transgender people and brown people and Black people and Asian people and people who don’t think like them,” said Blazak.