On the surface, Jim Ramm seems like a typical blue-collar Portlander. The 40-year-old industrial manufacturer believes in his First Amendment rights, has some problems with President Bush and questions the war in Iraq.
However, Ramm's citizenship in the People's Republic of Portland ends there: Next month, he will help canvass Multnomah Village and adjoining neighborhoods with racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic literature.
Ramm, a Tualatin resident, is the national director of the Tualatin Valley Skins and, in some ways, the new face of intolerance. He and his fellow supremacists are self-described "ghost skins." They don't shave their heads, commit crimes or duck-step around town in boots and braces. While their identities remain murky, their goals are crystal-clear.
"We seek to enlighten the public on racial truths the media, schools and government are afraid to promote," says Ramm.
To perform this duty, he and an unknown number of like-minded Aryans are staging a "flyer outreach contest" Jan. 8 in Gabriel Park. Sometime after 1 pm, they will disperse through the surrounding Hayhurst, Maplewood and Multnomah neighborhoods armed with hate-promoting handbills. These are rubber-banded around rocks, stuffed into plastic baggies and lobbed onto the lawns and driveways of pre-assigned targets.
Ramm says judges will be manning a police scanner and the team who generates the most complaints wins 1,000 white-power songs, two racist DVDs and a 17-inch swastika.
According to the TVS website, the contest is a perfectly legal opportunity to "just say NO to the Oregon cesspool of Niggers, Spics, Kikes, Faggots, Ragheads, Chinks, Gooks, Roaches & leftist communist swine."
Aside from spreading hate, flyer campaigns serve as an initiation rite. Prospective members must complete at least two of these "Mass Exposure Events" before acceptance. Though an accurate headcount proves difficult due to Ghost Skin anonymity, leafleting has occurred over the last year in Tigard, Hillsboro, Eugene, and Olympia and Longview, Wash.
"It's a recruiting activity," explains S. Rowan Wolf, a Portland Community College sociologist who specializes in issues of race, class and gender. She isn't familiar with the specifics of Ramm's group but says recruitment efforts elsewhere have been tied to rhetoric surrounding immigration reform and border protection.
Wolf also credits the Web with helping spread the message of hate. "The Internet is really reaching out to provide legitimacy," she says.
News of any organized racist activity gets attention in the Rose City, where 16 years ago a trio of skinheads beat an Ethiopian student to death in Southeast Portland ("Skinhead Revisited," WW, Sept. 10, 2003). Back then, however, young racists took pains to stand out--through their appearance and actions--rather than blend in. Ramm's group, by contrast, specifically eschews violence. New members sign a document that instantly voids their association should they commit any crime.
Nevertheless, Portland police plan to keep a watchful eye on the events, especially as the Southwest area is home to the Mittleman Jewish Community Center and to many of Portland's Jewish and Muslim residents.
"We're going to monitor the situation," says Central Precinct Commander Dave Benson, who hopes to avoid a violent clash between racists and counter-demonstrators.
Protest ideas on the Portland Independent Media website (portland.indymedia.org) range from stealing flyers and chucking eggs to physical confrontation. "That could be a flashpoint," says Benson.
The city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement has stepped in to try to defuse the situation, organizing a concurrent Unity Rally to be held a mile away from Gabriel Park, at the Multnomah Center on Southwest Capitol Highway. Aside from being a safer alternative, the rally will feature speakers, music and children's activities. Organizers hope to send the message that hate is not welcome in Portland.
"They are the epitome of the types of things we don't need in this town," says Emily Gottfried of the American Jewish Committee--one of 19 different neighborhood groups and congregations sponsoring the event. Even the Portland Trail Blazers are helping out, having made a $1,000 contribution toward the printing of signs reading "Neighbors Together Against Hate." (A version of the signs also can be downloaded at www.swni.org.)
"We think we'll be bursting out the doors," says Gottfried.
Ramm is equally confident in his group's power to draw budding racists.
"We're not going, " he says, "we're growing."