A letter laced with threats against bankers was mailed to The Spokesman-Review from Portland the same day authorities arrested three men accused of the Spokane Valley bombings and bank heists.
The one-page letter arrived at the newspaper’s downtown office Thursday.
It was postmarked in Portland on Tuesday - the day federal agents foiled a robbery attempt at a U.S. Bank branch there and tailed the would-be bandits to Union Gap, Wash., where they were arrested.
The North Idaho trio - Charles H. Barbee, 44, Robert S. Berry, 42, and Jay Merrill, about 50 - were charged Wednesday with the three bombings and two U.S. Bank branch robberies in the Valley during the past six months.
They are being held without bond in the Spokane County Jail.
“That’s interesting, isn’t it?” FBI Agent Mike Byrne said after hearing about the letter. “I wonder who was in Portland on Tuesday?”
The return address on the envelope says, “Out of Sion, New Jerusalem, Kingdom of YAH” language commonly used by white separatists and supremacists.
Barbee, Berry and Merrill are known to have ties to that movement.
The postage stamp, which features a depiction of the U.S. flag, was affixed upside down. Flying a flag upside down is universally considered a signal of distress.
The letter, apparently computer-generated, is similar to two others either mailed to or left at the newspaper’s offices since the first bombing-robbery in April.
It contains references to the Old Testament and rails against “usury,” the practice of lending money and charging exorbitant interest. In the Old Testament, usury violates God’s law.
On April 1, masked men detonated a bomb outside The Spokesman-Review Valley office and robbed and bombed the U.S. Bank branch at Sprague and Mullan. They left several copies of a note at the newspaper office and the bank.
That letter contained references to usury and “Yahweh,” a Hebrew term for God.
During his court appearance Wednesday, Merrill declined a public defender, saying, “Yahweh is my defense.”
On July 12, a bomb exploded at the Planned Parenthood clinic on South Pines in the Valley. Minutes later, the same U.S. Bank branch was robbed. No letters were left during those attacks.
No one was was injured in any of the explosions.
Last month, a threatening note demanding the removal of a $115,000 reward in the unsolved cases was sent to the newspaper and U.S. Bank officials.
That correspondence also referred to “Yahweh” and threatened retaliation if the reward wasn’t rescinded. The Washington Bankers Association responded by increasing the reward to $130,000.
The letter received Thursday apparently was meant as another warning to U.S. Bank.
It begins, “To: the USurer Bank” and continues:
“If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.”
The letter goes on to say bankers who practice usury will be punished.
“They shall spoil those who spoiled them, and rob them that robbed them, saith YAHVAH Elohim,” the letter states. “Yea, I will gather you, and blow upon you in the fire of my wrath, and ye shall be melted in the midst thereof.”
A U.S. Bank spokeswoman said no bank branches reported receiving a copy of the letter as of Thursday afternoon.
“I talked to our security people, and they have no knowledge of anything concerning such a letter,” said Cindy Duryee of the bank’s Seattle headquarters.
Dick Beyl, assistant manager for the bank corporation, read a copy of the note faxed to him by the Spokesman-Review.
Beyl, speaking from U.S. Bank headquarters in Portland, said the letter made no sense to him.
“I’m no theologian, but I don’t know what it means. I’m not even sure a theologian would,” he said. “They do talk in tongues, don’t they?”
According to a notation on the letter, copies of the note also were mailed to The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, two anti-government newsletters and “Slick Willie & Bitch Hillie,” apparent references to President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The Spokesman-Review turned its original copy of the letter over to the FBI.
Special Agent Ernest Herbert, who was called to Spokane from his home office in Salt Lake City a week ago to work on the bombing-robbery case, put the letter and envelope into plastic bags.
Herbert said they likely would be sent to FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., for analysis.
Evidence experts will check the letter for fingerprints, he said.
They also are likely to analyze the type style to determine if the computer printer that apparently generated the letter was one seized during raids on the three suspects’ homes and offices Wednesday, Herbert said.