Exposed: The Northwest’s white supremacy problem

James Sapp example of Oregon, Washington white supremacist violence

James Todd Sapp, accused of shooting Vancouver Officer Dustin Goudschall during a traffic stop, made his first court appearance on July 1, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
James Todd Sapp, accused of shooting Vancouver Officer Dustin Goudschall during a traffic stop, made his first court appearance on July 1, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN 6) — A hail of gunfire, an officer down.

Shot seven times, Vancouver police officer Dustin Goudschaal lay on the street struggling for his life as a passerby did her best to bandage a gunshot wound to the 32-year-old’s neck.

Only moments earlier, Goudschaal had stopped a Dodge pickup that was flagged for a stolen license plate. Goudschaal wasn’t even at the truck’s driver door when a man arched a black semi-automatic handgun out the window and fired.

Sapp's-path-map
Investigators say James Sapp shot a police officer and a passenger, assaulted several others and crashed two stolen vehicles in less than 20 minutes.

The shooting was only the beginning of the violence that took place on Vancouver’s streets June 30. James Sapp — now identified as the Dodge driver and charged with Goudschaal’s attempted murder — admittedly drove away after the officer fell to the ground.

MORE: Vancouver cop out of the hospital

Sapp, 48, crashed the truck into a tree four blocks away. Probable cause court records, documenting testimony from multiple witnesses and victims, depict Sapp’s next movements as a frenzied, ever-escalating getaway attempt, though his own retelling often places him outside any blame.

According to the affidavit, Sapp shot at his passenger, punched a woman twice in the face in an attempt to steal her car, assaulted an 88-year-old man in another carjacking attempt, and hurt two others as he sped away.

Minutes later, Sapp had crashed that vehicle as well. By 11:55 a.m. — just 17 minutes after the first 911 officer-shot call was placed — Sapp was found “hiding behind metal dumpsters.”

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More than a gram of heroin, 3.5 grams of methamphetamine and 38.7 grams of marijuana were also found near the dumpster and in Sapp’s pocket, court documents state.

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Who is James Sapp?

Sapp appeared in court three times since that day, the latest being Tuesday, when he entered a not guilty plea for the Goudschaal shooting and the later-added drug charges.

Known as “Cotton” on the streets, Sapp admits he’s been a heroin user for the past six years, documents state. With a shaved, balding head and scraggly beard, the heavily tattooed, 230-pound Sapp is an intimidating presence.

But it’s the group he claims to be affiliated with that’s most troubling. Sapp, who has a large tattoo of a swastika and the words “White Pride” inked across his lower back, told a Clark County jail deputy in 2008 “he is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood” and that “he would not be housed with anyone of color.”

Three years earlier, Sapp allegedly told Gresham police “he is an active member of the Aryan Brotherhood” and that he “kept in touch with his brothers behind bars.”

According to Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate group watchdog, “Aryan Brotherhood members make up less than one-tenth of one percent of the nation’s prison inmate population, yet the white power gang is responsible for 18% of all prison murders.”

Former member: Aryan Brotherhood all about crime

Only one other man involved in white supremacist activity in the Portland area has been linked to the AB in recent years, according to Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office officials. That man — 35-year-old Justin Dodson — killed himself last June when law enforcement tried to arrest him on drug and gun charges.

A four-leaf clover tattoo consistently seen among members of the Aryan Brotherhood. James Sapp has no known tattoo. (policemag.com)
A three-leaf clover tattoo consistently seen among members of the Aryan Brotherhood. James Sapp has no known tattoo. (policemag.com)

Whether Sapp is an actual member of the infamous white supremacist organization is up for debate, but Randy Blazak, a Portland State University sociology professor, says his alleged actions are in line with the gang’s tactics.

“There’s this thing called ‘doing the dirt’ while you’re in prison. You’re protected by the Brotherhood, but for that, you have to pay a price,” Blazak said in an attempt to explain a possible motive. “It’s called ‘credit.’ Sometimes that price is paid inside, but sometimes it’s paid outside. You have to kill somebody.”

Far From Just the Brotherhood

Even if Sapp has no affiliation with the AB, he still may well be an active gang member.

Blazak says lesser-known white supremacist gangs are on the rise across the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s a growing issue … It’s the notion that whites have the numbers,” he said. “They think it’s the white bastion.”

Blazak even points out a movement that gained steam in the 1980s among white nationalists called the “Northwest Territorial Imperative.” Under the concept, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and the western part of Montana would form a new colony known as the “White Homeland.”

The SPLC supports the professor’s claim, listing nine hate groups in Oregon and 10 in Washington, of which the large majority are classified as “Racist Skinhead,” “White Nationalist,” or “Neo-Nazi.”

Operation White Christmas

Operation White Christmas infographic

The gangs have shown a proclivity to pop up around the Portland metro, and in the past year the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has come down hard on them.

Operation White Christmas, as the now-high-profile effort has been dubbed, began last summer and has netted some substantial arrests.

“The overall success has been huge,” said Josh Zwick, MCSO’s lead case detective for the crackdown. “We got some very nasty people off the streets.”

MCSO officials say the operation came about after “a huge amount of violent crime” in and around East Portland.

Since OWC’s first bust, more than 80 people that investigators say are tied to white supremacist gangs have been arrested, 48 of whom are currently undergoing federal prosecution, according to Zwick.

Twenty-seven OWC-related warrants have been served in that time, Zwick says. Among the items seized: more than nine pounds of methamphetamine; 90 guns; 50 grams of heroin; $78,000; three bulletproof vests; a stolen RV; four vehicles; a violin and other high-end musical instruments; credit cards; social security cards; driver’s license templates; motorcycle parts and about 30 rare coins stolen from Oregon State University’s Horner Collection.

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Multiple explosives were also recovered and then disposed.

Most of the arrests are connected to a handful of gangs in the Portland area: the European Kindred (EK); Rude Krude Brood; Irish Pride; All Ona Bitch (ONA); Insane Peckerwood Syndicate (IPS) and Fat Bitch Killers (FBK).

Zwick says White Christmas has almost entirely dismantled the gangs’ primary leadership in Multnomah County, but stops short of saying the operation is complete. Every time we think it’s over, it’s not, he says.

‘A Racism of Convenience’

Zwick and Blazak agree these gangs are about more than racial hatred — it’s a business fostered from fear, and one that starts in prison.

As Blazak explains it, gangs like EK, the Brood and ONA are formed in prisons across the region as a form of protection, something he calls “a racism of convenience.”

Multnomah County Racial Divide 2012

“Racism’s a weapon, a tool,” said Blazak, who further suggested many white supremacist gang members are actually of mixed ancestry.

But what starts as an act of survival quickly shifts to a life of crime once released, Blazak says. “It looks more like organized crime than the KKK,” he said.

And once in a supremacist gang, getting out is not an easy feat.

These guys come out of prison as convicted felons with swastika tattoos, Zwick said. “They’re not friendly people. [Being a gang member] is all they know, that’s what they keep doing.”

Down the Rabbit Hole

Blazak blames the rise in white supremacist crime on poor prison policy dating back two decades. The “War on Drugs,” pursued heavily in the 1980s and 1990s, inflated incarceration rates and led to the creation of many of the gangs causing issues for law enforcement today, Blazak says.

And while white supremacist gangs are far from the only perpetrators of violent crime in Multnomah County — county officials recently released a report identifying 133 known gangs active in the area — the sociology professor doesn’t think white supremacists attempting to re-enter society have been given the proper resources.

Lt. Steve Alexander, spokesman for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, says he recognizes a cycle of violence and imprisonment as well, but says prisoners are given every opportunity to leave their past behind.

According to Alexander, the goal is to weaken gangs “from the inside.”

Sapp’s history with law enforcement indicates he’s more than familiar with the cycle. Having been convicted of drugs charges four times and once more for riot with a deadly weapon, Sapp now faces his most daunting allegations yet.

Thursday, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office announced Sapp had tried to kill himself from his jail cell. Deputies were said to have intervened and rushed him to a local hospital, but medical personnel were unable to save him. He was pronounced dead at 12:45 p.m. Friday.

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