Resisting Neonazis in Cottage Grove

In Cottage Grove, a banner in an empty storefront that used to house a local museum announces a new business: Wolfclan Armory. The store, previously located in the neighboring community of Creswell, sells knives and survivalist gear, but more importantly has been used as a gathering place for neonazis across the I-5 corridor. It is owned and ran by the Laskey family, including Jake Laskey, who is said to lead the American Front, a long-standing neonazi skinhead gang. While most towns would welcome new businesses to occupy previously shuttered storefronts, the banner announcing Wolfclan Armory’s arrival rang alarm bells for folks in Cottage Grove. Shocked after doing their own research and looking at Wolfclan Armory’s social media, locals jumped into action, gathering and organizing in classrooms, businesses, and living rooms to assess and plan next steps.

Political Research Associates reports: “Over several decades, members of the American Front have been involved in assaults, murders, drive-by shootings, and synagogue attacks.” Jake Laskey himself served a long federal prison sentence for attacking a synagogue in Eugene with his brother and soliciting murder. After his release, he returned to work at Wolfclan Armory until he was arrested again for and is currently in jail awaiting trial for stabbing someone. Read more about Jake Laskey and the American Front in the profile from Political Research Associates below.

Alarmed community members in Cottage Grove convened an invitation-only meeting to share information and discuss next steps in a secure space. The meeting drew over 40 people from across the community, including downtown business owners, teachers, students, and farmers speaking to the negative impact of having neonazis in downtown on community safety, business, tourism, and more. At the meeting, folks shared articles and research on the American Front, Wolfclan Armory, and the Laskey family’s relationships to white power gangs and the neonazi movement.

Students discussed how their peers could be excited to go to a knife store in town and, in such an economically devastated area with so little for teens to do, how easy it would be to exploit young folks desperately looking for community. Several people recounted the conversations they had with the Laskeys in their new location on Main Street, who insisted they had no connection to neonazis and that Jake was reformed since leaving prison. One of the terms of Jake’s parole was to refrain from engaging in white supremacist organizing, but unfortunately, there is much evidence to demonstrate that Jakehas continued to organize and recruit , and that the Wolfclan Armory has been a place where organizing and recruiting happened (see below). Everyone in the room agreed: this needs an immediate community response.

A shared plan of action came together: 1.) Call the building’s landlord, share that the community will support her to get Wolfclan Armory out of the building, 2.) Call the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce to cheerlead their support for the landlord and other businesses surveying the possible options for getting Wolfclan Armory out of town, and 3.) When folks are scared, it’s easy to shut down, isolate, and turn against each other, so folks left the meeting committed to share information and cut through the rumors with their neighbors, breaking that isolation. Everyone agreed that they want a community where everyone can feel safe and welcomed in town, and are committed to focus on what it will take to build safety for everyone in the community. They set the next meeting date and got to work!

Soon, the news was shared that the landlord does not want Wolfclan Armory in her building, but she signed a one year lease. The landlord later shared that she had a lawyer reviewing the lease to see if there was any way out of it. Community members continue to follow up with the landlord for updates on whether progress is being made.

While the landlord reviews her case with her lawyer, community members are canvassing Main Street to talk with business owners and share accurate information about Wolfclan Armory to minimize rumors and clarify their connections to white supremacist activity. The school district has notified the administrators of all of the local schools. Teachers and school board members are discussing ways to build curriculum that talks about the Holocaust (Jake Laskey has authored a book denying the Holocaust happened) and digests what happens when we “other” our neighbors. Folks are designing a poster to put in downtown business windows that upholds Cottage Grove’s aspirations to be a welcoming community for all.

The organizing in Cottage Grove is reminiscent of dozens of examples of how rural communities and small towns across Oregon have successfully mobilized to uphold their community’s values when predators, who have no stake in the community, have come to town. 1,500 people marched in Josephine County against the Aryan Nation in 1995, Grant County pushed out a splinter of the Aryan Nation in 2010, Harney County and the Burns Paiute Tribe pushed out the so-called Patriots in 2016, and in between there have been countless examples of communities countering bigotry and hate with a forward-looking vision of inclusion, welcoming, and safety for all.

Come meet Cottage Grove organizers at the Rural Caucus & Strategy Session on Saturday, May 19th in The Dalles, and check out the Political Research Associates’ profile on Jake Laskey and the American Front below.

Jake Laskey and the American Front
By Spencer Sunshine, Political Research Associates

In the small Oregon town of Cottage Grove, just south of Eugene, a sign on an empty storefront that used to house a local museum announces a new business: Wolfclan Armory. While most towns would welcome the new blood, instead protests have already begun. The store, which sells knives and survivalist gear, is owned by the Laskey family and wants to move from the smaller Creswell, Oregon so they can grow their business. But there’s a hitch: the Laskey clan which runs the shop includes Jacob “Jake” Laskey, who is said to lead the American Front, a long-standing neonazi skinhead gang. Over several decades, members of the American Front have been involved in assaults, murders, drive-by shootings, and synagogue attacks. Laskey himself served a long federal prison sentence for a synagogue attack and soliciting murder, and is currently in jail awaiting new charges.

THE AMERICAN FRONT’S FIRST FOUR LEADERS: 1984—2012

The revived American Front is now in its fifth incarnation. It was started in 1984 in San Francisco by Bob Heick, and became one of the first U.S. national neonazi skinhead organizations. The American Front held White Workers Day marches in San Francisco in 1988 and 1990, and worked closely with Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance.

Heick moved to Portland, Oregon in 1990, where, in November 1988, Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw was murdered by White Aryan Resistance-affiliated neonazi skinheads. A major racist leader moving there was not taken well, and he soon retired from his position. By the mid-1990s, James Porrazzo replaced him. Porrazzo drove the American Front into serious Third Position politics; a strain of fascism that is anti-capitalist and seeks racial separatism instead of supremacy, meaning they seek alliances with people of color who are also racial separatists. Porrazzo went so far as to praise Al-Qaeda. After 9/11, this made the the American Front the focus of federal attention, and Porrazzo went quiet for many years.

By 2005 he was replaced by a third leader, David Lynch, who steered the organization back to more traditional neonazi skinhead politics, working with similar groups like Volksfront and the Hammerskins. Under Lynch’s leadership, American Front supported imprisoned members of The Order, a notorious early-1980s underground racist group that engaged in assassinations and robberies.

Lynch’s March 2011 unsolved murder set off a leadership feud. Porrazzo came back and tried to take the organization over again before forming his own group, New Resistance. Marcus Faella, the leader of the Florida chapter, became the American Front’s new leader until he and thirteen other members were arrested in 2012 and accused of plotting to start a race war. In November 2014, Faella was sentenced to only six months in jail for conducting paramilitary training, but his leadership role ended. Faella’s appeal lawyer was Augustus Invictus, a Far Right activist who was one of the scheduled speakers at the fascist-led “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, which ended with the murder of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer.

American Front members have served time in prison for a variety of crimes over the years. In 1990, seven American Front members, including then-Florida chapter leader Richard Myers, tried to kill a member who they found out was secretly Jewish; Myers was sentenced to ten years. The same year, in California, Michael Gilbert Ortiz received nine years after killing an anti-racist skinhead, while in Georgia Robert Quincy Smith was convicted for beating a teenager he thought betrayed him. In 1994, Mark Frank Kowaalski (aka Mark Stevenson) received over eleven years for bombing a Tacoma, Washington NAACP building. The same year a drive-by shooting at the Eugene, Oregon synagogue Temple Beth Israel ended in a prison sentence for Christopher Lord. In 1995, Mason Aldrich was convicted for desecrating a synagogue in Pennsylvania. In 1997 in Denver, Jeremiah Mark Barnum murdered a West African immigrant and paralyzed another person. In 1998, Porrazzo was given a one-year sentence for assaulting an anti-racist activist in Missouri. Robert Clyde was arrested in for making threats and a hate crime in Riverside, California in 2001. In 2006, David Lance Gardner was given almost nine years for an attack on a black man in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2010, Christopher Brooks was sentenced for synagogue vandalism in Norfolk, Virginia. And the same year, Kent McLellan and Richard Adam Stockdale were both sentenced in Florida for vandalism and battery, respectively.

JAKE LASKEY AND THE FIFTH GENERATION OF THE AMERICAN FRONT

In October 2015 Jake Laskey was released from federal prison in Oregon. Laskey had been a member of the Volksfront, originally an Oregon neonazi prison gang that developed members on the outside. Laskey was the group’s Prisoner Affairs Coordinator, and as such was in touch with Volksfront member Kurtis Monschke, who was arrested for murder in Washington state (and was eventually was sentenced to life without parole). Volksfront also was active in supporting Kenneth Mieske, who murdered Seraw. Laskey represented Volksfront at events like Idaho’s 2003 Aryan Nations World Congress, and bragged that he had “personally invited” now-deceased Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler to his last public talk.

Laskey had been arrested for a hate crime in Jacksonville, Florida in 2000 after he and two others attacked a black man following a neonazi skinhead festival. (Laskey only received probation.) In 2002—along with four others, including his brother Gabriel—Laskey threw rocks etched with swastikas at Temple Beth Israel, the same Eugene synagogue that had been the 1994 drive-by shooting’s target. Because Laskey also threatened to kill a witness and disrupt a grand jury, in April 2007 he was sentenced to eleven years. Gabriel Laskey, who was also affiliated with Volksfront and today works at Wolfclan, got off with six months work release and five years of probation.

According to the anti-racist monitoring group One People’s Project, Laskey was referring to himself as an American Front member by 2010, while still in prison. As soon as he was released, warnings were circulated that he was intent on rebuilding the American Front. Laskey is the author of a number of self-published books, including The Grey Book, which is described on Amazon as the program and constitution of the American Front. At a winter 2016 meeting (which featured Invictus as a speaker), they relaunched the group with a new structure and strategy. Since Laskey was publicly identified with the meeting, the Amazon book description says he “was immediately warned by his federal Probation Officer that he will go back to prison if he continues to be involved in such activities or go out of state as they were against conditions of his probation. He has since had to distance himself from any political activities until he successfully completes probation in 2019.”

This explains Laskey’s continual refusal to identify himself as a member of the American Front, or any of its related organizations, which include Greystorm Productions, the American Nationalist Front, and the American Patriots Brigade (APB). Laskey is also the author of the constitution of the APB, which is described as “the official Support Club and only ally of the American Front.” In one of Laskey’s many rambling YouTube videos, he says “I’m not a member of this AF [American Front]. I retired,” and in another, “I am not a white supremacist… I am an anti-antifa supremacist.” He says the store will sell products to anyone: “We at Wolfclan Armory do not discriminate against anyone’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or anything of the like.”

Nonetheless, in addition to his self-published books—which include the Holocaust Denial work Questioning the Hoax of the Six Million—he clearly indicates that none of his beliefs have changed. His tattoos include the American Front logo on the back of his neck; “White Power” on the right side of his face; a swastika, as well as “14” and “88” on his fingers (which are alphanumeric code for the “Fourteen Words” and “Heil Hitler”); and on his neck, “2yt4u” (pronounced “too white for you”). He specifically refuses to denounce or apologize for his “past” beliefs and actions. In 2015, his Twitter banner had an American Front logo, and a December 2015 tweet said “American Front is officially coming back!” The American Front twitter account frequently retweets Wolfclan. In a group picture from June 2017, Laskey is wearing an American Front patch. More recently, Laskey has advocated support for  William Planer, a member of the fascist Traditionalist Worker Party who was arrested for his part in a 2016 Sacramento, California confrontation which ended with multiple stabbings of anti-racist activists.

In another video, Laskey says “I’m not a Nazi”—while wearing a Black Sun patch while speaking in front of a huge Black Sun flag. The Black Sun is a symbol directly associated with Nazism; it taken from a design in German Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler’s castle. This is a clear visual message to Laskey’s viewers, which communicates what his actual beliefs are, despite his words. This all appears to be a ruse to skirt the rules of his probation.

Other members of the American Front and the APB are less shy about their political work, however. They include Matthew Combs, whose wife Bethany Sherman runs a marijuana testing business in Eugene, Oregon, which created a scandal after he was outed as a member of these groups, and Sherman as a participant in the same circles. Members, including Combs, have taken part in a pro-Holocaust Denial demonstration in front of “Genocide” Jimmy Marr’s house in Springfield, Oregon; Marr is well-known for driving a swastika-emblazoned truck around Oregon’s I-5 corridor.

In January 2018 Laskey was arrested for a knife attack on another alleged American Front member, and remains in jail after being denied a bail reduction in February 2018. He has not been declared in violation of the terms of his probation for associating with White supremacists, or for being arrested again—at least not as of yet. His mother, Jeanette Laskey, who also works at Wolfclan with her husband, defends the new store by saying that neither of them are racist. (The store flies Confederate flags and sells Islamophobic  paraphernalia, such as a “proud American infidel” cap with the words “raised on bacon and bullets.”) However, leaks from a regional Discord server, an online service used by White Nationalists for group discussions, show that racist activists are using Wolfclan for meetups. A new Wolfclan Armory on Cottage Grove’s Main Street will potentially become a center and focal point for western Oregon neonazis.

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