Community fears a cult will follow
GREENBANK, Washington––Residents of Greenbank, Washington, the Whidbey Island convenience-store-and-post-office hamlet where ANIMALS 24-7 gets mail, awakened on November 21, 2020 to a 36-year-old recurring nightmare.
Again a fortified house owned by a survivalist of far-right beliefs from Phoenix, Arizona, with Idaho connections, had been found in the woods nearby.
Again the occupant had practically no local profile. If he walked his dogs at the Greenbank Farm off-leash area, almost across Highway 20, if he even had dogs, no one knew them. If he volunteered or donated to the Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation, the island shelter eight miles north, his name did not appear among the public thank-yous.
Robert Jay Mathews of The Order
The last time a fortified house was found locally, though, on December 8, 1984, the survivalist was Robert Jay Mathews, 31, founder of The Order, a skinhead gang of neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan affiliations.
Mathews, previously convicted of tax evasion, was wanted in multiple states for offenses including two murders, half a dozen armed robberies, and bombing a synagogue.
Mathews died of smoke inhalation in the smoldering ruins of his rented home just south of Lake Hancock, a Navy air force target range from 1943 to 1971, still Navy property.
Mathews first fired more than 1,000 rounds from various weapons during a 35-hour standoff against FBI agents that ended when a flare shot from a helicopter hit a box of hand grenades reputedly stashed in his living room.
At least 21 of Mathews’ followers later did prison time for related offenses. Two of them, at last word, were still behind bars.
W.R. “Ford” Smith II of PetSmart fame
On November 21, 2020, the survivalist turned out to be Wilburn Radford “Ford” Smith II, 68, the founding chief executive of PetSmart, a company which has no stores on Whidbey Island.
Though Smith’s tenure with PetSmart extended only from 1986 to 1990, preceding roles as past chair of three other companies, and on the boards of several others, he is still prominently mentioned in the PetSmart official history.
Smith, together with Jim and Janice Dougherty, presided over transforming Pet Food Supermarket, a single store located in Las Vegas, Nevada, into the PetSmart chain of today.
All three left, however, years before PetSmart added in-store veterinary clinics, spun off the PetSmart Charities affiliate that manages the Luv-A-Pet adoption boutiques in many stores, and grew to include more than 1,650 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Backed Trump ally in Congress
Smith, post-PetSmart, seems to be––apparently deliberately––quite obscure. His other companies are identified by “plain vanilla” names, sometimes only numbers, offering little clue as to what they might actually be doing, or have done.
Identifying Smith as a Microsoft engineer, which does not seem consonant with being a marketing expert, MyLife says his income is $60,000 to $69,000 per year, not nearly enough to fund the upkeep on the estate that is now up for sale, and claims he drives a 2007 vintage Ford F-350 pickup truck.
Among the few evident hints to how Smith views the world are public records indicating that he donated $5,600 to the 2020 campaign to re-elect Congressional Representative James D. Jordan of Ohio, a Republican, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and among the most fiercely partisan allies of President Donald Trump.
While Jordan won in 2020, Trump was defeated, leaving Jordan’s political future in question.
Jordan was also a central figure in a sexual abuse scandal involving the Ohio State University wrestling program, for which he was an assistant coach from 1987 to 1995.
A second hint about Smith’s outlook is an online video showing him shuffling through a karate drill with instructor Won Kuk Kim of Jungyae Moosul Martial Arts in Woodinville, Washington, a northern Seattle suburb.
Testifies Smith on the Jungyae Moosul Martial Arts web site, as an “executive student,” along with his three sons and his wife, “Having suffered a decade-long bout with a genetic disease before studying with Master Kim, I was badly ‘crippled up’ and living with very marginal fitness.”
Thanks to Won Kuk Kim, Smith says, “I have recovered a meaningful range of motion I had thought lost forever. I am no longer an easy mark for ill-intentioned people.”
Smith, according to Island County records, pays his property taxes––upward of $8,000 a year––in a timely manner. He seems to have had no trouble of note with his neighbors.
But he has now put his fortified compound up for sale.
Pet pumas & wolves
Greenbank residents tend not to be much concerned about the eccentricities of neighbors. Mentions of a reclusive woods-dweller known for keeping pet pumas within half a mile of the post office tend to bring just a shrug. After all, another reclusive woods-dweller formerly kept pet wolves only a little farther away, closer to Highway 20, to the south.
Visiting orcas––”killer whales”––along with grey whales, seals, and sea lions, tend to be considered community pets.
Now, though, there is concern about who, or what, might follow Smith, who is apparently ready to sell all, including supply caches, vehicles, boats, and an empty state-of-the-art chicken coop to anyone ready to drop $6 million.
Will the next occupants be another armed, paranoid, far-right militia like The Order, whose funding came from violent crime? Or will they be a quasi-religious cult? Or pit bull-pushing New Agers, like the Best Friends Animal Society?
“Bullet-resistant walls” & a “safe room”
Most of Greenbank would probably happily settle for just an aging punk rocker or heavy metal star, who might patronize the local marijuana store, hide from paparazzi, and not shoot anything at anyone.
Wrote Seattle Times business reporter Katherine Khashimova Long, in the article revealing the existence of Smith’s compound to the community, “The 59-acre property, just north of Lake Hancock on Whidbey’s western coast, spans three densely wooded parcels. The residence has bullet-resistant walls, a safe room and an underground escape tunnel to the woods. A massive concrete tank holds 17,000 gallons of propane.”
[The realtor’s video actually shows a bank of conventional steel tanks.]
“In the 9,000-square-foot shop,” Long continued, “three shipping containers are stocked with emergency supplies that can be supplemented by the huge adjacent working farm,” if, that is, the occupants of the compound have farming skills.
“Toilet paper is hard to find. But there’s a lot of it there,” listing agent Forbes Hansen told Long, showing off a stash apparently sufficient to stock the Oak Harbor Naval Air Station, 25 miles north.
“The property listing doesn’t include an address,” Long mentioned, though multiple addresses for the several entrances are easily found along Twisted Tree Lane and a couple of other side roads, “and Hansen said he plans to ‘find a buyer for this place and then terminate its existence from the internet.’”
That will not be easily done, given that now practically everyone within the statewide Seattle Times circulation radius knows all about it, making it something of a tourist attraction.
Spoiler alert: there is nothing very interesting to see, other than aging board fencing, an oil-stained driveway, algae on a steel roof, and various other hints that the occupants have had increasing difficulty keeping up with maintenance.
Buildings with bullet-resistant walls, a safe room, and an underground escape tunnel to the woods, in short, tend to look very much like any others. The architecture, in the emerging era of “zero energy” luxury homes that power themselves and plug-in electric cars too, is distinctly dated.
There is, however, a somewhat scenic beachfront, accessible to anyone ambitious enough to walk two miles of shoreline south from Ledgewood Beach Community Park, past the remnant signs of the March 27, 2013 Ledgewood/Bonair landslide, which wrecked a road and one home, left four other homes uninhabitable, and made unwarranted global headlines on a slow news day.
The Smith compound was “built to withstand a worst-case scenario,” Hansen told Long, though another big landslide could certainly take out some of the amenities.
Stocked after financial crisis
Continued Long, “Construction started in the early 2000s,” probably after the high-tech stock collapse of early 2001, if not after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
At that time Smith owned another home locally, on Oceanside Drive at Lagoon Point, less than a mile as the bullets flew from the scene of the Mathews shootout. The Smith compound is about two miles north, on the other side of Lake Hancock.
“Smith only began stockpiling in earnest after the 2008 global financial crisis,” Hansen told Long.
Finished Long, “Smith is moving to Idaho to be closer to family, and plans to build a similar facility there.”
The new facility, unlike the one now up for sale, may be genuinely state-of-the-art, meaning “zero energy,” among other popular upscale concepts.
But the fundamental conceit of all such projects is the notion that any member of a complex society can survive totally independent of the health of that society as a whole.
Both Robert Jay Mathews and W.R. “Ford” Smith II collected every penny that ever came their way from the general good health of the U.S. economy.
Otherwise there would have been no armored cars and banks for Mathews to rob, no infrastructure to supply his ammunition, and no economic success enjoyed by others to fuel the bizarre belief he sold to his followers that the U.S. government exists––at that time headed by right-winger Ronald Reagan, a good friend of Saudi oil sheiks––to convey money from ne’er-do-wells like themselves to “the Jews.”
Had the U.S. not been among the most stable, prosperous societies in world history, multi-millions of pet-keeping Americans would not have made Smith wealthy enough to be able to build a $6 million survivalist compound, just in case someone other than stock market and real estate manipulators might want to take some of his money away from him.
Illusion of safety
Meanwhile, none of Smith’s fortifications and supply caches could protect him and his family from just about any real disaster, not even COVID-19 sheltering-at-home, lasting longer than a routine electrical blackout.
To begin with, the Smith estate––according to the real estate information––requires the help of two full-time caretakers, just to keep all the accoutrements of survivalism in working shape.
The caretakers are well paid, but ANIMALS 24-7 cannot help but be reminded of the pre-Civil War plantation owners of the Deep South, who imagined themselves invulnerable because they had slaves to help them through any hardship.
Pit bulls & pyramids
ANIMALS 24-7 is also reminded that the local rumor mill at one time, while the Michael Vick case was in the headlines, suggested that one of the closest neighbors to the Smith compound might be raising pit bulls for dogfighting.
There was in fact a beat-up old house surrounded by trees and ramshackle fencing, behind which several pit bulls ran amok, until the pit bulls and the occupants of the house all abruptly disappeared.
Most likely those pit bulls were just the occupants’ idea of protecting themselves against whatever they found threatening: yuppies moving in next door, someone trying to steal their drug stash, or perhaps a visit from the Island County Sheriff’s Department.
In truth, the surest way to be safe is to be a good neighbor, and contributor to the community, focused on making society healthier and stronger, with friendly dogs, if any.
Spending one’s life preparing for the apocalypse, as opposed to simply being prepared for routine eventualities, is much like playing Pharaoh, wasting one’s days constructing a tomb.
The cats who sleepily watched the pyramids pile up amid their sandbox had better sense.