On March 4, approximately 250 people gathered on a riverbank in Lake Oswego for a rally to show support for President Donald Trump. Among them was a celebrity Klansman and neo-Nazi from Mississippi.
Steven Shane Howard has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the "imperial wizard" of the North Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a hate group based in Tupelo. He gained national notice last year after signing a deal to star in an A&E documentary series called Generation KKK. (It never aired.)
Last year, Howard traveled to Vancouver, Wash.—a relocation that he and the Anti-Defamation League both described as an effort to expand the KKK into the Pacific Northwest. Howard now tells WW that's not true: He says he moved to Vancouver to get away from the Klan.
Howard's arrival coincides with a rise in racist and anti-Semitic hate incidents across the Portland area this month. Nobody is suggesting he was involved in any of those incidents, but his public appearance and those events are symptoms of the same problem: an emboldening of white supremacists.
On the night of March 11, during the Jewish holiday of Purim, swastikas were spray-painted on several cars, trees, fences and homes in Southeast Portland's Richmond neighborhood. A neo-Nazi group has been recruiting students at Portland State University, and on March 6, the Mittleman Jewish Community Center in Southwest Portland received a bomb threat. And a group of self-proclaimed "national socialists"—that is, Nazis—were eighty-sixed from a Northwest Portland bar March 12, but refused to leave and peppered staff with anti-gay slurs.
None of that activity appears linked to Howard's arrival. A number of experts say it's correlated with Trump's election. In any case, the spate of would-be Nazis raises dark memories of a Portland where racist skinhead gangs and white supremacist groups terrorized immigrants and minorities well into the 1990s.
"We've been a little busy lately," Randy Blazak, chairman of the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crime, says drily. Blazak likens post-election hate crimes to a "contagion," driven by "knucklehead" copycats rather than card-carrying Nazis.
"It's not an organized movement response," he says. "It's more opportunists who feel they now have a certain amount of permission to act out on those beliefs."
That was little comfort to Ilan Moskowitz, an employee at Lucky Labrador Beer Hall on Northwest Quimby Street, where since at least March 5 someone has been leaving cards that read, "White?" and listed web links for hate site the Daily Stormer, a new group called PDX Stormers, the website 4chan, and the Trump campaign.
On March 12, Moskowitz says he overheard a conversation at a table of 10 white patrons that led him to confront them about the fliers.
One young man in a Make America Great Again hat said, giggling, "No, you've got it all wrong, we're a black power group," according to Moskowitz. The group then started chanting "black power" and raising their fists. When staff attempted to kick out those patrons, at first they refused to leave. On their way out, one man played bagpipes he had brought and another declared, "I called my Nazi friends," after dancing around the manager and repeatedly calling him anti-gay slurs.
Concerned patrons called police. Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson says two officers responded to a call regarding "10 people refusing to leave, shoving staff" but do not appear to have filed an incident report.
Moskowitz, who is Jewish, didn't think before confronting a group that outnumbered the bar staff 2-to-1 that night. "My whole life, I hear about this shit," he says. "My grandfather survived two prison camps. I'll tell you what was going through my head: 'This is how Hitler got started. In a beer hall.'"
Howard, the alleged Klansman, made his local debut at Lake Oswego's George Rogers Park, near the west bank of the Willamette River.
At the "March 4 Trump," Howard was filmed wearing a jacket adorned with a large Mississippi state flag (which includes the Confederate battle flag) while standing near another man who was screaming about "[n-word]s and Jews" disrupting the event.
Southern Poverty Law Center spokeswoman Rebecca Sturtevant tells WW that the center's Klan analyst is "fairly certain" the man in the video is Howard—his neck tattoo, which includes the number 14, matches Howard's.
Reached by WW via Facebook Messenger on March 13, Howard confirmed being at the Lake Oswego event "for political ideas." But he said he was no longer a member of the Klan.
"Fuck the kkk," Howard wrote. "I moved here to get away from the klan and that lifestyle." That contradicts a Facebook post Howard made last May, saying he was traveling to Washington state to start "the Washington knights of the Ku klux klan [sic]."
It also runs counter to a report by the SPLC, the nation's leading watchdog of hate groups. It reported last week that Howard planned to travel to rural Georgia to protest the prison sentences of two white supremacists who were part of a group driving trucks that directed threats at a black 8-year-old's birthday party. (He never showed up.)
Howard declined to speak in person. He also threatened to sue if WW ran an article about him. "If u run a story," he wrote, "u will regret it."