Why does the Southern Poverty Law Center say 3 of 4 hate groups in Portland are black separatists?

A dive into the thorny issues surrounding hate groups in one of the whitest big cities in the US — which a leading black scholar says points to white liberal institutions

Poor for a Minute
12 min readJan 25, 2018
LOVE GROUP: Natazar Ha Ahsh (right) of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge and a soldier, David, on the second floor of the Multnomah County Central Library. (Photo by Emily Joan Greene for Willamette Week.)

Despite being one of America’s whitest big cities — with 72 percent white people and just 6 percent black people — three of four hate groups operating in Portland are “black separatist,” the nation’s top watchdog on extremism says.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Map” tracks 917 groups with extreme ideologies. The three black separatist groups listed in Portland are the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK), Black Riders Liberation Party (BRLP) and Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ (ICGJC). (I covered the fourth, a label hawking neo-Nazi music, Soleilmoon Recordings, for Willamette Week in 2017.)

Why is Portland a breeding ground for black extremism on a par with Atlanta, St. Louis or Newark, each more than 50 percent African-American?

“We stand behind the listing,” says Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. Beirich says white supremacy “impacts the world a billion times more” than black separatism, and allows that black separatists “exist in response to America’s horrific legacy of white supremacy.”

Nonetheless, the SPLC’s job, Beirich explains, is to expose groups that demonize whole populations. “We call out hate where we see it and we aren’t going to give a pass to anti-Semitism or anti-white thinking in these groups,” she says.

Portlanders are skeptical, to say the least.

“That’s ludicrous,” says Jo Ann Hardesty, head of Portland’s NAACP and a candidate for the City Council. “I challenge this premise, that 75 percent of the hate groups operating in Portland are black. Just do the math.”

“It’s a bit of a stretch, because [black separatists] don’t actually do anything about it,” says Randy Blazak, a local sociologist who directs the Hate Crime Research Network. “They don’t do anything to oppress white people, like the KKK do [to oppress black people].”

“I think that the framing of that, that shifts responsibility to black folks is part and parcel of a wave of white liberal racism that is rooted in the myth of the level playing field and the myth of being post-race in America,” says author and educator Walidah Imarisha, who has studied and taught Oregon’s black history.

What’s clear: hate crimes are on the rise here. Federal statistics and independent investigations suggest Oregon is seeing a sharp rise in hate crimes — up 60 percent in the FBI’s 2016 statistics, the most recent available.

Portland is 72 percent white, 6 percent black. Portland police statistics since 2015 show few bias crimes are committed by black people: four of 36 suspects for 34 bias crimes are black.

So, is the listing accurate? Do these three groups represent a threat? WW set out to try to pull back the curtain on these mysterious groups.

Despite differences, the groups share: a belief system that vilifies others based on things like skin color, gender, sexual orientation and/or faith; a rank-based military structure; unusual dress codes; a small local following; male leadership; few or no actual programs on the ground here.

Only the ISUPK agreed to an interview. But much can be gleaned about the Black Riders and ICGJC’s local chapters online.

Natazar Ha Ahsh, an “Officer of 5000” in the ISUPK, came down from Seattle to meet WW at the central library shortly before Christmas — a holiday he views as a white racist lie. He brought the group’s only Portlander: a new soldier named David, who videotaped. The ISUPK has a soldier apiece in Salem and Eugene.

Ha Ahsh was dressed in what he calls “warlike apparel,” including lion headband, fringes and ribbon of blue. Unlike the fire-and-brimstone streetcorner “camps” the ISUPK puts on YouTube, which have included violence, the interview was calm.

“The only way to make change is to actually separate,” Ha Ahsh said. “What we are doing is building up our nation. We’re teaching our nation to regain their nationality, their ethnicity, their culture, and to separate from the system that has been systematically, for lack of better words, destroying us.”

Ha Ahsh says the ways in which the ISUPK promotes self-defense and seeks a separate reality for blacks does not constitute hate.

“We’re a love group, so to speak; we love our nation,” Ha Ahsh said. “But the nation that opposes us loving each other will label us a hate group.”

Ha Ahsh was unable to name a single on-the-ground ISUPK program in Portland. He cited online classes and G.E.D. programs and future food and clothing drives, and presented the militancy as about discipline and respect.

“We’re not going to take up arms against the state, we’re not going to take up arms against anybody,” Ha Ahsh said. He works a full-time job, owns a home and has a family — under a different name. “We’re here to gather our people.”

The ISUPK can include Native Americans and Latinos — if they have the right patrimonial bloodlines — and sees itself as the “real Jews” who are prophesized to inherit a kingdom that will replace the current, poisonous white kingdom. ISUPK adherents refer to white people as “Esau,” “Edomites” or the “Devil.”

“We don’t call white people the devil because they’re white,” Ha Ahsh said. “We’re basing this on a well-documented history of the acts committed against us on this earth. … The word ‘devil’ simply means deceiver.”

At times, ISUPK beliefs sound like white nationalism: “Integration has brought forth murder,” Ha Ahsh said.

“That’s the truth,” Ha Ahsh continued. “Because, let me hit you with this, just to bring in the Asian camp: they’re separate. They are. They have their own vicinity, they follow their own culture, they even have their own streets.”

Not exactly. In Portland’s Chinatown, Asians are a statistical minority of residents.

Still, Ha Ahsh’s group seeks an Afrotown of sorts, a separate space of self-defense, healing and self-esteem for black people reminiscent of Black Wall Street.

What about Portland’s Soul District, a plan to remake part of North and Northeast Portland into a locus of black-owned businesses? Fine, Ha Ahsh responds — it it’s “righteous” businesses, not including marijuana dispensaries or strip clubs.


Image courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Where the ISUPK cite the Bible, the Black Riders Liberation Party evolved from the New Black Panther Party. According to its Facebook page the BRLP offers classes and free food programs and develop truces between street gangs.

The group’s YouTube videos include weaponry, calls to arms and anti-police rhetoric. “A pig is a pig, that’s what I said,” BRLP soldiers chant. “The only good pig is a pig that’s dead.”

“Oink oink! Bang bang!”

It’s not clear what, if anything, the BRLP is doing in Portland; one Instagram video shows a dozen locals — some in militant attire — chanting “Power!” with raised fist. Emails to “Wolverine Shakur,” a.k.a. General T.A.C.O. (Taking All Capitalists Out) led to Sister Lala in Los Angeles, who requested emailed questions, then never responded.

Jeelani Shareef, head of its Portland chapter, has been in the news for his role in protests. He gained fame for deescalating Michael Strickland after he pulled a loaded gun, then was criticized for his call to violence: “You pull your pistol out and you bust that!” Shareef declined to be interviewed through intermediaries.

Shareef told the Portland Mercury he disagrees with Micah Johnson’s shooting five police officers and wounding nine in Dallas. He said the BRLP has “a few” people here. Like Ha Ahsh, he emphasized that military training is self-defense. “We’re not trying to build a militia army to go do anything to anybody.”

The group’s national leader, King Samir Shabazz, currently incarcerated, has been videotaped saying, “You want freedom? You gonna have to kill some crackers. You gonna have to kill some of they babies.”

The ICGJC is the longest-listed of the three groups, first put on the SPLC’s map in Portland and nationally in 2008. The local chapter features a radio show hosted by a “Bishop Yawasapga” whose broadcasts target white people, Jewish people, the gay community, and women. “Menstruous women shall bring forth monsters,” is the title of one broadcast.

“The natural born enemies of God and Israelites,” Yawasapga says in a December broadcast, are “Esaw, Edomites, Caucasoids, Caucasians, KKK, neo-Nazis, Jewish … need I say more?”

The group does hold semi-regular local events, in a community room at McCoy Village, a publicly-subsidized affordable housing complex on NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. (ICGJC Portland did not respond to emails or calls.)

Told a hate group was holding events in its community room, staff at the complex were mystified.

“There’s a hate group that has events here?” asked Claire McIlwain, a resident services coordinator for owner Catholic Charities. McIlwain said the community room is primarily for resident use and staff typically don’t ask about use.

“They’re not affiliated with us at all,” said Ashley Fuller, a Cascade Property Management staffer in the same office, of the ICGJC. (The ICGJC’s fliers say the same thing.) Fuller’s “never seen them as a hate group,” she said.


Beirich’s SPLC has documented a doubling in U.S. hate groups since 1999, while weathering fire from conservatives and progressives.

Critics have said its hate map doesn’t reflect propensity to violence.

In a Nov. 30 hearing before the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Scott Perry asked SPLC President Richard Cohen about not listing Antifa — which has been involved in documented violence here in Portland and nationally.

“Antifa is not a group that vilifies people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or the like,” Cohen responded.

From the other side of the political spectrum, Portland progressives criticize the SPLC on similar grounds.

Gregory McKelvey, cofounder of Portland’s Resistance, said it makes no sense that the SPLC lists groups with no track record of violence, while Patriot Prayer, at whose events Jeremy Christian was a known attendee, is not listed.

“If we’re saying [black separatists] make 75 percent of the hate groups, why do they not make 75 percent of the hate crimes?” McKelvey says. “I’m not sure what the threat level is, but they should be a low priority.”

Who commits hate crimes? National FBI statistics show 46 percent of 2016 hate crimes were perpetrated by white people, 26 percent by black people. But black Portlanders are 6.3 percent of the population, versus 13.3 percent in the U.S.

Again, Portland police statistics since 2015 show few bias crimes are committed by black people: four of 36 suspects for 34 bias crimes are black.

Blazak sees little threat from these three groups: “They basically meet in a little room off of MLK and talk about their little views and the white devil and these conspiracy theories and then they go home,” he said.

The ICGJC, ISUPK and BRLP are “focused internally,” Blazak said, “as opposed to the Klan being focused externally.”

“You have to also acknowledge what’s the level of power of these groups,” the NAACP’s Hardesty contends. “I’ve been here almost 30 years and I haven’t heard of any of the groups you mentioned. They’re certainly not doing anything publicly that is getting anybody’s attention.”

“Organizations of color do not have the power to enact their vision on this society,” Imarisha said. “White supremacist organizations do.”

The SPLC’s strongest connection to Portland remains the case of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw, killed by members of East Side White Pride in 1988. In a 1990 lawsuit, Berhanu v. Metzger, SPLC attorneys won a $12.5 million judgment against Tom and John Metzger of White Aryan Resistance (WAR).

The judgment decimated the finances of WAR. But the Krude Rude Brood and European Kindred are now seen as “rising threats” in Portland, which the SPLC highlights in an August cover story in its Intelligence Report magazine. Russell Courtier and Colleen Hunt, linked with EK, are currently on trial for allegedly killing Larnell Bruce, Jr. with their Jeep.

Imarisha looks at the SPLC’s hate map and sees these groups’ glaring absence.

“It’s not just Portland,” she says. “Even if you look at the rest of Oregon, it is not reflective of the number, the amount of white supremacist organizing that is happening. Why is that?”

The SPLC’s Beirich responds that “prison gangs” like the Brood and EK are “criminal enterprises” — not “propagandists.”

“We do not list prison gangs as hate groups because their goals are primarily criminal, not ideological,” Beirich noted. Their “white supremacy takes a back seat to their alliances to sell guns, drugs, etc.”

Imarisha sees the SPLC’s listing as part of a much bigger political agenda.

“White liberal institutions are mobilizing to shift the focus from this active and brutal white supremacy to so-called black extremism,” Imarisha says.

Blazak points to the rise of a cloaked online interactivity that supports actions by extremist individuals and requires no actual physical meetings.

“The more common model now is the Dylann Roof model, or Jeremy Christian model, where people are active online and engaging in online forums and are participating in the deep web, the conversations that happen sort of below normal channels.”

Is the SPLC Hate Map less relevant in the digital age? Beirich says the nonprofit is “seen as experts by the press” on the subject.

The SPLC has “repeatedly talked to tech companies” about modern hate groups’ online organizing, Beirich says. On its website, the SPLC details how Google’s algorithms helped “immerse” white supremacist mass murderer Roof in hate.

The SPLC’s updated hate map is due in February.


Why have black separatist groups found followers in Portland, one of the whitest big cities in the U.S.?

The question may be impossible to answer, but multiple displacements of Portland’s black community appears to be a good starting place.

“The African-American community in Portland gets displaced every 20 years as a matter of public policy,” Hardesty said.

The 2016 book “The Portland Black Panthers” (a free read online with a Multnomah County library card) details how earlier waves of displacement led to the organic rise of a local Black Panther chapter.

Oregon Senate leader Jackie Winters says the current wave of displacement, or gentrification, is more hurtful because there is no geographic reunification.

“[Now,] they’re so scattered you no longer have that kind of connection,” Sen. Winters told me in 2016. “What is occurring is those connectors, these are human connectors now, have been disrupted and displaced. With that, you lose part of that human spirit.”

Sen. Winters was talking about Vanport, not black separatists. But the anger and alienation she sees recurs in Cornelius Swart’s new documentary, “Priced Out.”

“I need to be somewhere where there’s enough brown folk that I can feel supported, and empowered,” protagonist Nikki Williams says. “I’m looking forward to getting the hell out of Portland, Oregon. It is so foreign now. I feel like an alien, living in a strange place. The black community has been obliterated.”

The Albina community’s critical mass of black people — always racially diverse — now has a lighter shade.

“They should rename it Albino,” Blazak quipped.

Whatever the case, Ha Ahsh admits recruiting is hardly a cakewalk for the ISUPK — echoing Shareef’s words that “a lot of people are still reluctant” to join the BRLP.

“The fact of the matter is, our people don’t want to separate from this system,” Ha Ahsh said. “They’re comfortable here. They’ve learned how to accept, for lack of a better word, the bullshit. And the bullshit has become the norm.”

Still, to those who label the ISUPK haters, Ha Ahsh has a question.

“What do you think black people should do in America?”


The three groups the SPLC lists for Portland

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s new Hate Map is due in February

  1. Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ

Hate speech: “The natural-born enemies of God and Israelites” are “Esaw, Edomites, Caucasoids, Caucasians, KKK, neo-Nazis, Jewish.”

When listed by SPLC: 2008 (Portland and nationally)

National leader: Jermaine Grant, aka Tazadaqyah

Local leader: Bishop Yawasapga hosts radio show, “The Truth PDX.”

Estimate of local numbers: Unknown

Media used to disseminate message: Facebook, Blogtalkradio.com, Twitter

Local geography: Holds events at McCoy Village on NE MLK.

2. Black Riders Liberation Party

Hate speech: “I hate the goddamn white man, woman and child, grandma, aunt, uncle, papa, Billy Bob and whoever else. I hate the very look of white people. I hate the sound of white people. Goddamnit, I hate the smell of white people.”

“You should be thankful we’re not running around here hanging crackers … yet.”

When listed by SPLC: 2013 nationally; 2016 in Portland

National leader: King Samir & General T.A.C.O. (Taking All Capitalists Out)

Local leader: Jeelani Shareef heads Portland chapter

Estimate of local numbers: Unknown

Media used to disseminate message: Facebook, YouTube

Local geography: Unknown

3. Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge

Examples of hate speech: Gen. Yahanna calls gay people “fags” and “monsters,” women “nasty whores” and says “the white man is the devil.” The group opposes interracial dating or marriage. Regarding the Las Vegas shooting, Gen. Yahanna said “For the most part, there wasn’t no Israelites up there. The Lord put the smack on [white people] for the evil they’ve been doing.”

When listed by SPLC: 2015 nationally; 2016 in Portland

National leader: John Lightborne, aka Gen. Yahanna

Local leader: Natazar Ha Ahsh

Estimate of local numbers: 1 in Portland; 3 in Oregon

Media used to disseminate message: YouTube, Blogtalkradio.com

Local geography: Unknown; focus is on Northeast Portland, Gresham

(A different version of this story was first published by Willamette Week)



Poor for a Minute

We are all poor due to the broken social safety net in the United States, the world’s richest nation. Portfolio, bio, contact: ThacherSchmid.com