By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A white supremacist was sentenced to 32 years in prison on Tuesday for planting a shrapnel bomb along the parade route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration nearly a year ago in Washington state.
The sentence was the maximum penalty that Kevin Harpham, 37, a former U.S. soldier, could have received for the guilty plea he entered in September to federal weapons and hate-crime charges in connection with the failed bombing attempt.
After release, Harpham will spend the rest of his life under court supervision, the Justice Department said.
The sentencing in U.S. District Court in Spokane, Washington, came after Harpham attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, but the judge denied his request.
Harpham was arrested at his Colville, Washington, home on March 9, about two months after the bomb he planted in a backpack was found unattended on a sidewalk bench in downtown Spokane by three city workers.
The device, with wires visible, had been left along the route of a January 17 parade through the eastern Washington city planned for the national holiday commemorating the birth of the slain civil rights leader.
The workers who discovered it notified authorities about 30 minutes before the march had been set to begin, and the event, attended by about 2,000 people, was quickly rerouted while bomb disposal technicians were summoned and safely neutralized the device. No one was hurt, but the bomb was capable of causing serious injury or death had it exploded, the FBI said.
The shrapnel bomb, described as an "IED" (improvised explosive device) in court documents, consisted of a steel pipe packed with gunpowder and fishing weights coated with an anticoagulant chemical used in some rat poisons.
The device was rigged to be detonated by remote control using a car alarm key fob.
A camera seized during a search of Harpham's home contained deleted digital photographs of the parade, including some Harpham took of himself, according to the documents outlining his plea deal, under which two charges were dismissed.
Investigators also found racist messages and comments from Harpham, written under the pseudonym "Joe Snuffy," posted on the white supremacist website Vanguard News Network Forum.
Harpham "has told others about his racist beliefs and is a white supremacist and white separatist," the documents say.
Harpham, who served at the Fort Lewis Army base near Tacoma, Washington, from 1996 to early 1999 as a fire-support specialist, was identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights group, as having been a member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in late 2004.
Harpham's case illustrates the presence of "a very dangerous radical right" element within the United States, said law center director Mark Potok.
"Many Americans feel the only real threats come from Muslims outside this country," Potok told Reuters. "But this case shows that there's a very real threat from neo-Nazi white supremacists."
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)