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It Did Happen Here

 

“It’s a war against freedom-loving Americans (by) fascists who want to take it over…. A lot of peace-loving people in Olympia don’t see it that way. They don’t take it (nazism) seriously.”

Jeff Scott, a friend of the late Bob Buchanan, Jr., quoted in the Daily Olympian (Sept. 21, 1992)

In the late afternoon of August 9, 1992, Bob Buchanan, Jr. was hanging out in Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia, WA. He and his buddies talked, rode skateboards, and wondered what they would do that evening. For them, it was just another summer day in Olympia, a small city on the southern tip of Puget Sound and home to the state government. Maybe there was a good punk show that evening, or a party. Maybe they’d just go to a movie. Or hang out and drink.

As dusk approached, two more young men came into the park. Even though they were not regulars in town, a few of the youths recognized them. Part of the reason for this is the relatively close-knit street scene in the northwest. One can travel between Seattle, Olympia, and Portland, OR, and find friends in any of the towns. Hanging out on the streets or at one of the several small rock and roll clubs in the region.

These guys were a little different, though. They were nazi skinheads. In fact, one of them, Marvin (aka Mark) Gustaffson, distributed fascist literature nationwide through a mailbox registered under his name in Bainbridge Island, Washington. He was also the leader of an Aryan youth group sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Aryan Nation Church. Besides these dubious connections, it is believed he was trained by known fascist Tom Metzger and was well connected with the White Aryan Resistance (W.A.R.) The two were not complete newcomers to Olympia. The other nazi in this story, Gerard Rapali, was from the Olympia area and both had also been in and out of town the summer before. These two and a few other nazis were recruiting high school and street youth. Eventually they left. In part because of police harassment, but also because of harassment from another quarter — a small but determined group of anarchists and punks who were in touch with other anti-fascist youth groups in the area. Nonetheless, the nazis left their mark. One, who called himself Reich, was imprisoned for the assault and rape of a seventeen-year-old Asian-American woman. The others merely left their poison in the minds of some locals.

Some of his friends say Bob knew these two from before. Some also say Rapali and Bob used to hang out some together before Rapali threw his lot in with the nazis. Others dispute this, but do agree that he’d partied with nazi skinheads before, argued with them, and been beaten up. It seems the nazis didn’t like some of the stuff Bob had stenciled on his leather jacket. This included the names of anti-nazi thrash bands, peace signs, and most prominently, a nazi swastika in a circle with a line through it. It was clear Bob Buchanan, Jr. hated nazis.

ccording to the local daily, The Olympian, Bob’s dad had been a military policeman who met and married Bob’s mother in Thailand. The youth’s first brush with prejudice, according to his dad, occurred in that country when the Thais rejected Bob because of his mixed heritage. When the family moved back to the states, it broke up and Bob’s father took over raising Bob and his brother. They spent the first several years stateside in the logging towns of Kelso and Longview, not far from Olympia. Once in elementary school, Bob was so badly beaten by two white boys he was unable to walk for two days. This, claims his dad, put him “on the front end of racial discrimination.”

That evening, the youths in the park got to talking with the two nazis, Marvin Gustaffson and Gerard Rapali. As the conversation wandered and the skies darkened, some of Bob’s buddies left, not liking what they were hearing. Although Gustaffson and Rapali claimed they were not nazis, but members of SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) — an anti-racist youth group from Portland — the young men who left did not believe them. What they were claiming to be and what they were saying just didn’t jibe. Soon, there were only five or six local youths, including Bob, and the two nazis.

Olympia has a small downtown, perhaps a square mile. A tunnel runs underneath the southern portion from east to west. Occasionally a small freight train travels the tracks that run along the floor of the tunnel. More often, the dark space is the scene of teenage drinking parties and a temporary haven from the northwest rain for Olympia’s homeless. The only permanent residents are the hundreds of rats.

Scrawled all over the east end of the tunnel is a large amount of graffiti. In 1992, most of it was harmless pledges of love and street signatures. The rest though, the truly chilling, was a collection of nazi swastikas, death threats to non-whites, statements supporting apartheid, and a variety of references to the superiority of the aryan race.

In early January, 1992, an African-American man was attacked by a group of white youths wielding an aluminum baseball bat as he crossed the tracks about 200 feet from the east end of the tunnel. As the attackers beat him, they yelled racist epithets.

It was to this tunnel where Bob, his friends, and the two nazis repaired to that August night. The youths, who liked to drink, decided to go there with Gustaffson and Rapali after they offered to buy a few six packs of a local favorite, Rainier Ale. Bob never returned.

According to police, the youths drank beer for a few hours and talked. As the beer took effect, the nazis began accusing Bob, who had recently shaved his 10-inch spikes, of being a nazi. This angered Bob, who argued with Gustaffson and Rapali, vehemently denying their drunken charges. When the first bunch of beer was gone, the nazis insisted on buying more. After they left on their errand, the rest of the youths, except for Bob, also left, not planning to return. They later recounted that they didn’t like the direction the night was taking. With good reason.

When the nazis returned with the beer, they resumed drinking with Bob. Sometime in the next hour or so, another argument about nazis began. In the course of that argument, according to Rapali’s statements to police, Rapali distracted Bob while Gustaffson disarmed him. First, Gustaffson asked for Buchanan’s mace and emptied the can. Then he asked for Bob’s knife, which Gustaffson quickly grabbed. While Rapali continued talking, Gustaffson snuck up behind Bob and cut his throat. The two nazis then took turns beating and stabbing him. Bob escaped twice from the attack. The second time, however, he collapsed at the east end of the tunnel. It was at this time that one of the fascist youths found a metal pole with a chunk of concrete attached to it. They two then took turns beating Bob Buchanan, Jr. to death.

Leaving Buchanan for dead, Gustaffson and Rapali left the tunnel. Apparently remembering the evidence they had left behind, though, they went back to the tunnel and “cleaned up.” After retrieving Rapali’s hat and looking in vain for the knife they had used, the two nazis left Olympia and went back to a nearby campsite where they were staying. Here, they burned all of their clothes except for their shoes, which were covered with Buchanan’s blood. Having completed this task, the nazis headed southeast in a car.

Later that evening, they got in an argument with some other customers at a Grand Mound, WA. AM-PM Mini-Mart. The store’s surveillance camera recorded Gustaffson’s part of the argument. It then recorded him going out to his car, removing a weapon from the parked vehicle, loading and brandishing it, and then emptying it into a moving vehicle that contained the other party in the argument. The shots killed Roger Hamrick, who was sleeping in the back seat and had no part in the confrontation in the mini-mart. It was this murder for which Rapali and Gustaffson were originally arrested.

Bob Buchanan’s body was found later that morning when the engineer of a train traveling through the tunnel spotted something on the tracks. He disembarked from the train, saw the body, and called the police.

At first, police were hesitant to talk about the murder. Certain elements of the community, however, were not about to let it be forgotten. After a couple stories by one of the reporters on The Olympian’s staff raised more questions regarding the circumstances of Bob’s death, police admitted that the prime suspects were nazi skinheads. They also admitted that they believed it might have been a crime of hate.

Bob’s friends wouldn’t, in fact, couldn’t, let the murder go unnoticed. Some of the local businesses owned by Asians and Asian Americans hung memorials to Buchanan. A few days after the murder, twenty or so of Bob’s friends gathered at the east end of the tunnel in the early hours of the evening. They held lit candles and flowers. Some drank beer. They talked about Bob and some recited poetry and songs. As those who were drinking finished their beers, they stacked the cans in a tribute to their fallen friend. By the time they left, a monument of cans, flowers, and incense stood in the shadows of the place where Bob had last lived. Graffiti appeared on walls around town. “What about Bob?” it asked. Other writings insisted, “No Nazis!”

In the weeks that followed, a group formed to oppose racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia (Unity in the Community:Stop Hate Crimes Now!). Made up of people of color, Asian Americans, gays and lesbians, Jews, and their supporters, it eventually received vocal and monetary support from many cultural, religious, and civil rights organizations, as well as virtually all-countywide officials and elected bodies. A rally against hate crimes was held November 7, 1992, attracting several hundred people from around the northwest. The two nazis eventually pled guilty in late 1992. Unfortunately, their doctrine of hate continues to thrive.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

 

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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