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Episodes

× 1: Setting the Scene - Portland OR 2: The Murder of Mulugeta Seraw 3: Building Community Defense 4: The Minneapolis Baldies and Anti Racist Action 5: They Thought We Were Everywhere: the Portland ARA 6: House Defense 7: A Research Capacity: The Work of the CHD 8: SHARPer Times 9: The Story of Jon Bair 10: Less Booted, More Suited 11: Nothing is Final Bonus Episodes

Episode Seven Transcript

Episode Seven: A RESEARCH CAPACITY: The Work of the CHD


CELINA

This podcast contains lots of swearing and violence, occasional use of the N word, and other content that some people may find disturbing or offensive.

JASON

Someone would call us up and say: “hey, my friend works at this Pizza Hut, and this fucking nazi works there, and he's always fucking with her.” And so we would go to the Pizza Hut. We would wait there and when they get off work, we’d follow them home and then follow them to another home and we'd stake that place out, and we just start making connections. All of a sudden, we had this network scribbled out on a notepad that had like, 20 different addresses on it with the major, major hitters on their side. All the youth of Hitler guys, Aryan front, American Front. We had all these people's names and addresses, just from following people around, because we were patient. Our Friday nights would be: okay four of us get together and we’d go sit out in front of a house, drink a couple beers and talk shit and listen to music and: “someone's coming, here they go. Okay, let's follow them to the next house.” And then, when they're going to try and meet up somewhere, we can dismantle their car, so they can't get there and make it really difficult for them to organize.

MIC

This is Jason from Portland’s chapter of Anti Racist Action

JASON

The week before they were all supposed to go to Aryan Nations, we’d just grab a bunch of Jolly Ranchers and go from house, to house, to house putting them in the gas tanks so that they all had car trouble and they all had to pay a mechanic's bill so that they, they didn't have as much income to take off for the weekend. We were willing to do a lot of things that a lot of the other groups would not do. Or they didn't wanna risk the physical scenario, much less getting caught and having to answer to the police. We were totally willing to do this, and we'll do it, so you don't have to. I'm a white male. I'm gonna make myself a target. We made some risky endeavors to get information that was not available. These friendships that were made early on, led to, of course, Jonathan calling me up and being like: “hey, man, I gotta go dig through some trash and I would really like to have a couple people with me.” “You got it. Let's go.” We had intel on everybody. It was crazy, because we just were a little obsessed. But we knew it had to be done.

CELINA

In our last episode, we looked at the house defense work of the Coalition for Human Dignity, where activists discreetly supported Portlanders targeted by white nationalist violence. In this episode, we offer another example of the coalition’s dedication to using a diversity of tactics in the fight to drive white nationalist organizing out of Portland.

MIC

We’ll hear about the far less public side of the Coalition for Human Dignity–digging through trash, following known racist skinheads and sabotaging vehicles. The CHD also sent undercover agents to White nationalist meetings and gatherings on delicate and dangerous mission. A wall of secrecy existed between the community-based activities of the Coalition and their intelligence work. Who are the people who masterminded and took these risks? What did they do with the information they gathered? I’m Mic Crenshaw

CELINA

And I’m Celina Flores, your hosts for It Did Happen Here - Episode Seven - A Research Capacity. By the early 1990s the Coalition for Human Dignity had shrunk in size, but sharpened its focus. Within the broad coalition, a core group of anti-racists who publicly confronted neo-nazis in pickets and marches; who organized house defenses; and nurtured ties to street-level anti-racist groups like Anti Racist Action and SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice. Early on, the CHD identified intelligence gathering as a key part of its mission to expel white power racists from the city. They collected reports from citizens who observed neo-nazi activity in workplaces and neighborhoods, they worked closely with the Homophobic Violence Documentation Project hotline run by the Lesbian Community Project to identify and address hate crimes, and they collected intelligence on the hundreds of neo-nazi and far-right groups organizing throughout the Pacific Northwest.

MIC

A key figure in this intelligence work was Jonathan Mozzochi. We’ve heard from him throughout the series. Mozzochi was a fixture of the Coalition for Human Dignity; stories place him on the street confronting cops and racists, helping with trainings, organizing large protests– but his passion was digging into the white power movement to learn who they were, where they would be and how to take them down. Jonathan was a Lewis and Clark student involved in Central American solidarity and socialist politics. His highly principled anti-fascism and detail-oriented approach to fighting the right comes through in his speech, and it’s clear that he has the temperament to organize an intelligence operation from the ground up. Jonathan Mozzochi’s comrades and allies speak with great respect of his commitment to the fight against fascism; right wing websites to this day post about him with deep hatred.

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

The Coalition for Human Dignity maintained something called The Shop.

CELINA

The Shop was the name for the coalition’s intelligence headquarters, located in industrial North Portland.

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

...which was a, an office that housed 30 filing cabinets full of primary and secondary sources on far right groups in our area of responsibility, which we took to be the Pacific Northwest. We had a very specialized library of more than 500 volumes. We had hundreds of videotapes and audiotapes. And then we had databases full of license plates, from when we would send people to events to write down the license plates, and then we'd have to run them through the Oregon DMV. This would take time, and it was very labor intensive. One of the contrasts with some of the anti-fascist, fight-the-right groups today, is that a lot of that information can be got by online activists. That was not available back then. There were, at that time, hundreds of small papers throughout the region that would include in them letters to the editor, stories by beat reporters, so on and so forth. And if you wanted to get those stories, you had to subscribe to a clipping service, which would take, you know, keywords like: white supremacist, or anti-immigration. So, the service would have someone cut up a whole bunch of clippings, put them into a pack of them and mail them to us. And once we would get them weeks later, we would index them and then put them into a database, so that we could monitor them and begin to understand what it was they were doing. So my point here is that, that's, that's a lot of volunteers, a lot of labor, and it was a very different information environment. So in order for us to be competent, we had to have funding, we had to have support, we had to have people with basic library science skills. So that's what we did, so this work was carried out by myself and, and a few other people, and the late Stew Albert, who was a somewhat famous yippie from the 60’s, who was instrumental in the Coalition for Human Dignity, he was on our board, and training and helping people like me develop these skills with intelligence gathering. He died a few years ago, we miss him, I, I miss him terribly! But he was a wonderful link also to the 1960’s radicalism and what was then our contemporary, the contemporary left.

MIC

Another key figure in developing the coalition’s intelligence work was Leonard Zeskind, author and research director at the Coalition's parent institution the Center for Democratic Renewal. Zeskind is referred to here, by Jonathan, as Lenny:

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

It was Lenny's style of organizing a research-driven, local unit. That's primarily his idea. Lenny has a better grasp of all of this, I think, than virtually anyone, really anywhere.

CELINA

And here's Leonard:

LEONARD ZESKIND

This work takes time and energy and it takes the ability to, if you're developing an informational organization, it takes months, it doesn't take days, it'd take months and sometimes years to develop good information. The CHD was willing to do it.

MIC

What Zeskind champions is a belief in a community’s ability to organize locally- that anyone can be trained to fight against the right, and that community defense is strongest when it originates from a local base. National watchdog organizations like the Anti Defamation League or the Southern Poverty Law Center used the top-down, centralized power structure, where local groups were guided by a national headquarters. The CHD’s intelligence work, on the other hand, worked on building intelligence and community strength from the grass roots of the communities themselves.

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

We argued that research should be local, and should be carried out in local communities, by local people. Local communities have it within their power to monitor their own races, with local people who know best what's going on in their communities. In order to knit together all of that research and all of that monitoring, we became a regional source to do that. And that meant training and working with hundreds of people in different communities who were tracking all of these groups.

CELINA

Here is Steven Gardiner, the Coalition’s intermittent executive director that we met in episode 3.

STEVEN GARDINER

Three or four people working full-time can't do all of this research, so we trained community researchers, one or two people in each town where there was some kind of activity happening. This ended up being a whole bunch of trainings around the northwest, basically overviewing the picture of the far right in the Pacific Northwest, what kinds of activities were happening, what communities could do to respond. We were always big believers in informing your community who might target your community, what kinds of ideas, what kinds of ideologies, what kinds of tactics before there was a high profile hate crime or march that made the press or something like that.

MIC

Again, Jonathon Mozzochi

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

Because the far right was a social movement, and by that we meant, it wasn't part of the state. Most of these people were organizing outside of government. They were in citizen’s groups, grassroots, far rights organizations. Because they were organized in that fashion, it gave us a unique opportunity. We did training sessions to develop skills to research the far right. And some of that research involved infiltrating them; sending people to meetings. We called this broadly, having a research capacity, or an intelligence capacity.

CELINA

What did infiltration look like at the Coalition for Human Dignity? For some, it meant going deep undercover into far-right groups; other infiltration tactics were simpler. One person trained as an infiltrator and field researcher was Devin Burghart, a young college student from rural eastern Washington, who today investigates right wing fascism at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.

DEVIN BURGHART

I became involved while I was going to school up at Western Washington University. Jonathan Mozzochi and Steven Gardiner came to do a presentation where I was going to school and they mentioned the fact that the organization had internships. I immediately jumped at the chance. I was super excited. I was very much intrigued and wanting to do something that can push back against the rise of hatred and bigotry. So I immediately signed up and got involved. From the very beginning they put me to work going to militia meetings and Klan rallies and other types of events around the region to try to gather the really important investigative research that the organization has become known for. I had the privilege of being one of the first interns of the organization brought in as they moved from that exclusively grassroots organizing efforts that took off after the Seraw killings, to taking on more of that role in the investigative and research side of things. CHD employed pretty much all of the investigative reporting techniques at our fingertips. And that includes the ability to, to infiltrate and go undercover at, at events to find out what far right organizations are doing, to get beyond the public face of these organizations put forward to find out what their real intentions are, and what their real agendas are behind the scenes. The only way to do that is to infiltrate and go undercover. So, the internship program helped train and equip me with some of the skills to be able to do some of that initial work. Not the deep undercover work that's sometimes required, but the ability to go to public meetings and events and submit reports and write-ups about what was happening at those events to give a better sense for not only our organization, but other community organizations around the region, about what was happening so they could get prepared for the next wave of activity rather than always having to worry about what had just happened.

MIC

What type of events did neo-nazis hang out at? Steven Gardiner describes;

STEVEN GARDINER

We sent people to rallies, or we went to rallies, if it was a public event, or places where we knew that were not necessarily nazi space, but where we expected to find them. And that would be punk shows, gun shows, and what became to be called Preparedness Expos, where survivalists gathered together to trade hints and buy mineral supplements and bayonets. People who would go to events for us, they had clean identities. They were not someone who had been published. This was a pre-internet time. So, if you have a P.O. box, and you're not an author or something like that, people could be pretty anonymous going to meetings and finding out what is going on directly from, from nazis or from Christian patriots. There were probably another 20 to 30 people who were closely involved with us doing that from, from time to time.

CELINA

At this point, the Coalition for Human Dignity was a busy, active organization. When Steven talks about 20 people who operated in the capacity that Devin describes, that means 20 reports to file, 20 people to track that they got safely home, 20 people who maintained a ‘clean’ identity. That’s a lot, especially when we consider that intelligence was just one branch of the organization. Remember too, the coalition supported people in deep undercover who infiltrated nationally organized neo nazi-groups. People continue to maintain silence about that work, so there’s not a lot we can tell you about it. Coalition activist Abby Layton describes how her work in the CHD was supported by the intelligence:

ABBY

When we first started out, we actually had these beautiful young people who volunteered to infiltrate. There were quite a few of these brave young people--anti-racist skinheads--who infiltrated into these groups, especially Tom Metzger’s group, and some of the later groups that formed from Tom Metzger’s activities here. So we had direct access the minute that there was any information it would, it came to us.

MIC

The Rev. Cecil Charles Prescod was one of the CHD board members back in the 1990s; he’s an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a brother in the Order of Corpus Christi, and is currently the Director of Faith Formation at Ainsworth United Church of Christ in Portland. Here he describes how CHD’s intelligence work supported community defense:

CECIL PRESCOD

One of the strengths of the Coalition for Human Dignity was the research which was very, very good, and at the time was, was rare in terms of finding accurate information, rather than ‘those are Nazis, we hate them,’ and come to an understanding, their background, who all the different players and individuals, their individual history, how they connect, where there are differences among those groups. And also where could you possibly find weak spots? If there were tensions between individuals? How do you work that, to defuse their power and their influence? It just occurred to me that was probably a tactic that was used in terms of knowing who, who these people were, and how to respond to their fears and to their hopes and how to attack them differently.

CELINA

Again, Devin Burghart

DEVIN BURGHART

It was intense, you always have to be alert and concerned about your security and security of others. But it was also enlightening because it really helped dispel a lot of the mythology that I think a lot of us have around neo-nazis and far right activists in general, it helps both show the human face of the other side and also introduces you, introduced me to how they interact with one another, how there is factions and schisms, how they look at the opposition, how their paranoia impacts all of their activity. All of those kinds of things really illuminating to see but was really I think, at the core is you really saw it once you get behind the scenes, how much race and racism and anti-semitism really were at the core driving a lot of this stuff, even though when they were talking to the public, they tried to often cover up or downplay that stuff. And then I think what was really most informative was seeing the impact that you could have of exposing what was going on behind the scenes to the larger public and being able to use that information to make a difference on what those organizations were going to do and how they were going to try to impact local communities. And that's always an uphill battle. It requires a lot of really hard work to have the data to show, “look. Here's the details.” We can tell you exactly what's happening, how many people are doing it, what's going on, what to look for, how you prepare for it.

MIC

Imagine the work: activists attended meetings where they sat among the white nationalists, took notes, wrote down who was present, collected license plates, made relationships, then wrote up and submitted reports. These reports were then analyzed for commonalities.

CELINA

The Coalition for Human Dignity’s research arm eroded the denial and propaganda offered by the mainstream news sources. It was the CHD’s goal to prove that the speeches of the white nationalists concealed a far more violent threat to peace and public safety than anyone–public or private citizen–wanted to know existed. The surveillance Devin and others provided offered a clearer proof of intent to harm. Again, here’s Jonathan Mozzochi:

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

We did a program of infiltration focused on the Oregon Citizens Alliance.

MIC

The Oregon Citizens Alliance was a fundamentalist, anti-choice Christian group rooted in homophobia that in the early 1990s dominated Oregon Republican party politics. The OCA represented itself as a mainstream organization within acceptable politics while legislatively dismantling human rights of queer Oregonians. The Coalition for Human Dignity toiled for years against the Oregon Citizens Alliance.

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

You know, the Oregon Citizens Alliance, in the late 80’s, they had already successfully overturned a governor's order banning discrimination in public employment. They had already succeeded in doing that, by the time that they made this ballot measure statewide that would have banned LGBTQ rights within public employment. And you got to understand that that, you know, on the left, among many liberals and progressives, the Christian right was often treated as something that was from the past, that we had overcome, not politically relevant, that they were just dismissed as an irrelevant political force. Back then we were like, "no, no, no, that's not that's not the case." This, these movements have always been with us. They will always be with us. And they always must be fought. So with the Oregon Citizens Alliance, which was becoming more politically powerful, we managed to secure their whole donor lists, internal memos, and all kinds of information. But some of that was very, very important in getting a better picture of who their donors were, what their social class backgrounds were, demographics of their donors. Also, you get a sense of the culture within the political organization when you get to read their memos. We wanted to know what they were eating for breakfast. We wanted to know everything about them. You do, because that makes it easier to fight them.

CELINA

We’ve heard how the intelligence was used against white nationalist movements; what tactics did the CHD use locally, to expose and discourage individual racists? Here’s Steven Gardiner and anti-fascist activist M Treloar:

STEVEN GARDINER

The most effective things were direct interventions. Now, that included SHARP/ARA confrontation, but it also included, if they have a public event, to show up with many more people than they did, and confront them more rhetorically. That included outing them. This was a strategy to make them visible in the community. So to call up employers and say, “look, you know, you have a nazi working for you, doing customer service, who has visible swastika tattoos, do you really want that?” We had a known violent skinhead who was living in an apartment complex where there were vulnerable people. We would call up the landlord and say, “look, this is a person with a history of violence. Within the applicable fair housing laws, do you really want this person living in your space?” And usually what they would do is they would look at it and say, “huh, this person is having a party every weekend and trashing the walls with hammer blows. . . you know, maybe we have good cause to ask them to go elsewhere.” And so what happened with some of these tactics is it kept them from congregating in the city of Portland. Many of them were pushed out into the suburban areas where they were more diffuse. And where, especially at the time, was much whiter anyway, so there was less of an intimidation factor. Then, I think, in terms of dealing with the boneheads, having a broad set of people we could reach out to in the community, beyond the street level confrontation, to say, look, this is a real problem. It may not be that you're seeing them, but this is our city. We always tried to think, okay, who's going to be most vulnerable? And you know, how can we do whatever it takes to move these folks away from the most vulnerable communities?

M TRELOAR

Then the other thing we did that was a little bit more controversial within the group, was we said: they can't hold a job. If we find out that they have a job anywhere within 50 miles, we’ll show up and we’ll tell their coworkers. We did that several times. So, folks would call it and say, "so and so is nazi and he's working here," and we'd say, "okay, we'll investigate it," and it was not always true, but it was true often enough that we could say: okay, let's get together 50, 60 people and show up at the Olive Gardens, and we're going to picket there. And we would have their name, and if possible their photo on a flyer. And we would say: here's what they did. Public information, and we'd say this is what we know about this person, he's working here. We would leaflet the co-workers first. And then we would tell the manager, we're going to be here. Everybody who eats here and works here deserves to know you got a nazi in the backroom. And that drew people towards us, gave us credibility, and gave us a sense of, what we're doing matters, 'cause it did. Every time we did it, they lost their job, and I'm proud of that. It drove them out of where they were and made their lives more difficult. We would talk to them through secondary sources. We just put the word out. If you don't want this to happen, all you have to do is say: "I'm no longer part of this grouping." If you drop out of this grouping, we’ll leave you alone. If you stay part of this grouping, we're going to make your life hell wherever we find you. Some of them, it probably pushed them more so into the grouping, as in, “everybody hates me, therefore I'm gonna stick with my nazi brothers.” Many of them quit. There were 200, 300 nazi boneheads in the area at one point, and the ones who weren't, did not go to prison, drifted away. And they drifted away because their choices were: either form a new tightly knit grouping, or cease to be part of this so I can get on with my life. You can say there was a generational choice, but some of them, they hunkered down and eventually became Volksfront.

STEVEN GARDINER

We debriefed people who didn't want to be nazis anymore. So we spent a lot of time with anyone who wanted to come out. Asking them, you know, "why did they get in? And what kinds of activities were the groups involved in it, what are your biggest concerns," and so on. And again, when it came to ex-nazis, we were like, if you were once a nazi, it's not enough just to say, “I'm no longer a nazi.” You can't be neutral in this particular fight. It's not ethically tenable. If you're going to come out, you're going to come all the way out and tell what you know.

MIC

An thorn in the side of both the CHD in general and Jonathan Mozzochi in particular was Portland cop Loren Christensen, a Portland Police Bureau member and a high-level influencer within the state’s gang task force. Christenson was despised among Portland leftists, as he undercut the hard work of anti-fascist groups, including the CHD, by repeatedly associating anti-racist skinheads and punks with racist skins, muddling them all together as youth gang culture rather than as specific subcultural groups. Jonathan Mozzochi relates a personal triumph in his intelligence career:

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

One of the things I did personally, that the Coalition for Human Dignity is not responsible for, but that I did, is I managed to get a hold of Loren Christensen's unredacted internal intelligence reports. I managed to get those over a period of about, I think, six months or a year. And then we used that information to have a more effective means of fighting these racist groups. So these intelligence reports, so you understand, every time a cop came up upon a racist skinhead group and then interviewed them, or arrested them, or whatever, it would go into these summarized intelligence reports. The names, addresses, workplaces, social security numbers, it was just a wealth of data in them. I managed to get a constant, a steady stream of those reports. And then we used them to fight these guys. When I was stealing his reports, it also gave us a better way to contradict him in the press. When, when he was saying, “oh, this group, they're just a bunch of kids, they're nothing.” We were like, "well, actually, you know, they were all at an Aryan Nations compound last weekend, working with very professional neo-nazis. That doesn't sound like 'wayward youth.' That sounds pretty serious." So it helped us politically make our arguments also.

CELINA

Tending to and developing diverse relationships is another important part of the effort. Here’s Devin again:

DEVIN

It was, in fact, the research that told us that it was going to require a multiplicity of tactics, required direct action, required organizing to expose and confront white supremacists when they were rallying and holding public events, because that sent a message that the community wasn't going to remain silent and that Portland was no longer going to be a fertile recruiting ground for folks in the wake of white supremacists activity that they weren't alone, that they could face the fear together. But it was really important also to expose their activities in which white supremacists were targeting for new recruits. So in essence, trying to innoculate communities that were vulnerable to white supremacist recruitment to get them to draw a bright line to exclude white supremacists from their subculture, or from their organizing or from any of their other work. I think is really important is to get more people to take it seriously because back then, it was really hard. It was often dismissed as local street gang activity. It was dismissed as harmless graffiti. But by doing effective and long term research and organizing on it, you could show the larger community that this was in fact, politically motivated, that it was designed to harass and intimidate Jews and people of color, it was designed to bring about the kind of society that white supremacists have dreamed of. And you could also then expose people to the larger networks and organizations that were providing aid and support. T hat was effective in getting more people to take this stuff seriously, from city government to law enforcement to everyone else, removing it from simply the fight for the streets, to making it fight for the kind of heart and soul of the entire city.

MIC

The Coalition for Human Dignity struggled constantly to communicate the dual threat posed by Christian fundamentalists and white nationalists. No one, it seemed, would take seriously the intelligence, which consistently indicated that combined–these two right-wing movements could shake democracy to the core.

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

The Coalition for Human Dignity had two unique contributions. First was to recognize that, the vigilante far right, that the threat of an American-born fascism would come through the Christian right and the white supremacist movement. And while that doesn't sound provocative, or in any way controversial today, back then it actually was. Because most groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, and other mainstream, or liberal groups, really treated those two movements very differently. So, their focus tended to be on the white supremacist movement, the Ku Klux Klan, racist skinheads, militia groups, so on and so forth. Anti-LGBTQ stuff was not considered hate group activity. The racist anti-immigrant work was also not considered, broadly speaking, hate group activity. So, one of the things we argued very early on was that, actually you need to take a look at both of these political trends within the far right. When you look at them, it becomes very apparent that, in order to achieve any kind of broader equality, in order to move forward, we need to fight both of those political currents. So that's what we did. And if you look at the Coalition for Human Dignity’s research, you'll see very early on that we made a distinction between these two political currents, but also said that they had to be struggled against. Again, you really had organizations fighting one or the other, but not both.

CELINA

A major strength of the Coalition for Human Dignity was their willingness and resilience to experiment with their tactics. Steven Gardiner outlines the process:

STEVEN GARDINER

We'll try this, we'll try that, and to then say, "okay, we think this will work, but we're not going to do this on our own." We can do research on our own, but we weren't trying to be right. We were trying to have an impact. And so then we would go to community organizations, usually the most impacted, that might be the Jewish community, if this is a Holocaust denial situation. Or the Black community, if this is a situation with street intimidation. Or the queer community, if this was a OCA thing. We would say “we're thinking about doing this, what do you think?” Or “what would be helpful to you?” So we tried to do movement-facing partnerships to inform our activities. I don't, wouldn't say that we always succeeded. I mean, a lot of us was, were pretty young, back then, who were involved. There's a certain arrogance of youth that sometimes made us think that we were smarter than everyone else. And we certainly spent a lot of time figuring things out about the right reading their newsletters, and so in a certain sense, especially in a pre-internet time, we did know more about what was going on with the right that anyone else in the northwest, by virtue of having 14 filing cabinets full of their newsletters. That doesn't necessarily translate into, into winning. We won some fights and we lost others.

MIC

At the beginning of this episode, Jason referred to his involvement with the research as ‘a little obsessed.’ The mindset of the white nationalist became, for some, omnipresent in their actual lives - a virtual reality with hate at its core. This took a toll on the organizers, who lived with regular death threats and harassment, while media and local agencies downplayed the threat of racist violence. Steven Gardiner explains the intimate relationship coalition activists had with the far right world:

STEVEN GARDINER

Who would routinely call me up and threaten my life, threaten my family, not just me, this was other people in the organization as well, whoever they could get in touch with. That was the kind of organization we were in. We were constantly confronting, and being confronted by political vigilantes who we knew to be violent.

CELINA

Abby Layton gives us some more details:

ABBY

My friend Jonathan, who taught me to stand up for myself, received a rat in the mailbox. It had been shot through the head. It said, “this will happen to you if you do any more of your work.” I got letters and phone calls about twice a week, for several years. Also, I got copies of the newsletters, the neo-nazi newsletters that were sent out nationally. In those newsletters, my address and another one of my coworker’s addresses were on the newsletter, saying, “drop in, give her a visit. I'm sure she'd love to meet you.” I was willing to risk my life doing this. And I don't know that I've. . . You know, I'm not really a big risk taker. It was just really super important to me, the work. Like, after my daughter survived that attack, which she might not have, I was in shock for about a week. But then, after that I just sobbed. It was so scary to me. I've said over, and over again, to hold your own hand when you're scared, but I also I guess I want people to know that there's a great threat here. That these people really are dangerous. The work can be, can get very, very scary. It can get very life and death. And I want to encourage each person to find their own place in it. Like, you don't have to be on the lines. You don't have to, you know, you don't have to force yourself past where you feel at your edge. Just go to where your edge is. You know, that'll be enough.

MIC

For a small, poorly funded organization the CHD has left a powerful legacy; the work of the research activists lives on in many organizations who called on them for help, and in the lives of activists themselves. Throughout this podcast, we hear people referring to the work of the CHD as being hard work–but most of the CHD activists we interviewed about their experiences are fighting white supremacy and white nationalism today. When Devin Burghart encountered the Coalition for Human Dignity at that meeting at Western Washington University, he could not have predicted the impact it would have on his life.

DEVIN BURGHART

I've been working professionally on white nationalism for over 25 years now. I started at the Coalition for Human Dignity. And what's important about CHD is what an important role that small Portland- and Seattle-based organization played in helping shape the research capacity, and the desire to do that work in other organizations, groups like the Montana Human Rights Network, and the North Carolinians Against Racial and Religious Violence, and numerous other local groups were trained and supported by CHD back in those days. And it was CHD that after my working with them for about four years, CHD got a call from an affiliated organization in Chicago who was just starting up and they really wanted to add a research capacity. The group was called the Center for New Community. CHD gladly decided to volunteer me to go out there and work for a couple months to help them set up that organization and help them build their research capacity. And it was after doing that for a couple months, we decided that it would be best for me to stay on and help build up that organization. So in many ways the work that the Center for New Community did for over two decades, was in large part seeded and grown by the work that CHD and others were doing. And we couldn't have done it without their support and their training and the kind of vigilance that they provided on the ground. They really inspired that work and continues to inspire the work we do at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.

CELINA

Today, with Proud Boys shooting protesters, presidents displaying fascist behavior and speech, Christian fundamentalists gaining mainstream political power and threatening basic reproductive and other human rights, researching far-right hate groups is just as urgent as when boneheads chased Abby Layton’s daughter onto Mary Steiger’s porch. Again, Jonathan Mozzochi:

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

So today, groups are carrying that out through doxxing through deplatforming. And they're very effective, and they’re effective in ways that we really never could be. And I have a great deal of respect for that work. I would say one thing, it's not a criticism, what we call signals intelligence, or internet hacking, doing intelligence work online, is one form of research-driven politics. But the other form is human intelligence, where you actually have people go to their meetings. Where people befriend these folks, so that we can steal their membership list, so we can have a better idea of what the internal culture of their politics are with them, with their political organizations are. So we can have an understanding of where the funding comes from. So we can track and monitor, for instance, when they're supporting a Trump candidacy, you know, months before the guy is going to run for office. We need to have that information. And one of the ways that's very effective in doing that is developing people to go and do that. Contemporary fight-the-right groups are far more effective at signals intelligence in utilizing the internet, but perhaps not quite as good as we were developing people to infiltrate those groups. We need to do both.

MIC

And finally, a message to activists on the front lines today:

JONATHAN MOZZOCHI

If there's anything that I would tell contemporary activists, it's really, push the envelope, you're going to need to do this. Because if you don't, you're relying on other outfits to do that intelligence gathering for you. And if they do it, then it's going to be their political interpretation of what that stuff means. You don't want that. We need to have control of our own intelligence. We need to have control of our own research. And that's what we did. We didn't rely on outside groups to come in and tell us what the threat was that we were facing. We did the research and we knew what it was and therefore, we had a better means of constructing a counter force of organizing against it.

ERIN

Thanks for listening to Episode seven of It Did Happen Here: ‘A Research Capacity’. There are show notes with links, transcripts, and other relevant content at our website : ItDidHappenHerePodcast.com. You can also listen to the podcast on the KBOO website, and on Spotify, YouTube, and Apple podcasts. This episode, interviews were by Annette Newell, Claire Rischiotto, Ceina Flores, and Erin Yanke, and your hosts were Celina Flores and Mic Crenshaw. This podcast is produced by Celina, Mic, and me, Erin Yanke. Our next episode, “SHARPer Times” will be released January 8th. You'll hear about the role played by Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice in conjunction with Anti Racist Action and the Coalition for Human Dignity. Music in this episode is by Anitek from the Free Music Archive, and The Neo Boys. Thanks to the bands for the music, thanks to the participants for sharing their stories and experiences, thanks to the Marla Davis Fund, KBOO Community Radio, and to the rest of our production team: Moe Bowstern, Icky A, and Julie Perini. And thank you for listening.