Bomb shows Don Logan depth of racial hatred

by Richard Ruelas – Nov. 22, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

He had wanted to believe that whoever mailed him the package bomb did so for a reason other than his skin color. But Don Logan couldn’t believe that anymore, not after what he was told by investigators.

It was more than five years after the bombing, and he was driving to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to hear more details about the two White supremacists charged in the crime.

“It just hit me like a ton of bricks,” Logan said. Could it be possible that two men targeted him solely because he was Black? “This don’t make sense to me.”

As the thought rolled around his head, he began to cry. It was only the second time he’d cried since the explosion crippled his hand, burned his arms and hurled chunks of metal deep into his forearm.

Logan had tried to keep his cool since the bombing in his city of Scottsdale office, even making jokes about it when asked to give lunchtime speeches and seminars. He didn’t want to assume the bombing was racially motivated. Authorities had told him they were exploring many possible leads.

But investigators had called him that June morning to tell him about the arrests of Daniel and Dennis Mahon, two avowed White supremacists.

“I was fighting mad,” he said. “How did this happen?”

Logan, now 54, was an unlikely target. He was not an activist. Not a firebrand. For much of his life, Logan shied away from joining Black organizations or doing anything else that would highlight his skin color. He wanted to be Don Logan, not that Black guy named Don Logan.

Yet, it was his skin color that authorities believe made him a target.

Something about that package

Scottsdale’s Office of Diversity and Dialogue is housed with the human-resources department in a nondescript one-story office building near City Hall. On Feb. 26, 2004, the employee who delivered mail dropped off a cardboard box addressed to the office’s director, Logan.

Logan walked out to his secretary’s desk to get scissors.

While doing so, he said, he got a strange feeling about the package. He shook the parcel, listening for rattling. Then he stood to the side, leaned the box away from him and cut the packing tape. He felt heat and saw smoke.

The seconds following the explosion are a blur. Logan remembers running down a hallway, feeling the hot sting of metal shards embedded in his forearm. He looked down and saw blood. Then he was outside, staring up at the sky, wondering what had happened.

Investigators later told Logan that if he hadn’t held the parcel at the irregular angle, the 2-inch-wide hole that was bored into his receptionist’s counter would have been in his chest. They also told him that he was a novelty; they had never spoken with someone who opened a mail bomb and survived.

His wife, mother and sons joined him at the hospital. His room became a stew of emotions: sadness, frustration, anger.

His mother, Doris Logan, went outside for some fresh air. She sat on a bench and prayed. “God, whoever this is,” she said, “please help them because they are hurting.”

A week later, Don Logan was released from the hospital. At home, he broke down in tears. He thought about how close he came to dying. He couldn’t fathom why he was picked as the recipient of one of the rarest crimes: a mail bomb.

Sheltered as a child

Logan, born and raised in south Phoenix, was named after the tap dancer Donald O’Connor, one of his mother’s favorite actors.

His mother grew up in Harris, a segregated town in southwestern Oklahoma, and moved with her family to a still-segregated Phoenix in 1953.

Many of those racial barriers had melted away by the time she met her husband and had two children. She didn’t want her boys growing up with chips on their shoulder. She didn’t dwell on her own encounters with discrimination.

“I always told my kids, if you live in your past, you’ll never see your future,” she said.

She tried to show her kids possible futures by taking them on trips outside south Phoenix.

When the kids wanted fast food, Doris and her husband would drive them to a McDonald’s on Camelback Road. They would shop for Western wear in downtown Scottsdale. She would drive them through Paradise Valley and along the mountainside homes.

She would tell them, “You can have that, too, if you educate yourself and work hard.”

Doris Logan now wonders whether she gave her children too much optimism. Her son did educate himself and work hard. Still, it appears he was bombed for the color of his skin.

“It made me think maybe I was a little bit naive,” she said.

She now tells her grandchildren, who live in predominately White areas of Mesa and Gilbert, to be careful.

“It’s still good to love people, still good to trust people,” she tells them. “Just always be aware.”

Color in Scottsdale

Don Logan attended South Mountain High School and Phoenix College before graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in business administration. He applied for an opening at the city of Scottsdale and started as a traffic engineer in 1979.

He was one of the few African-Americans working, or living, in the city. The city had statistically been one of the least diverse in the nation.

Logan spent much of the next two decades working his way up through various city jobs. He had become the chief of staff for the city manager by the time an issue involving the city’s police department brought racial tensions to the breaking point.

An officer who had been fired claimed rampant discrimination in the department. Among his claims was that police referred to affluent parts of north Scottsdale as a “no (N-word) zone.”

As early as 1994, city officials had wanted to start a diversity office, something that had become a growing municipal trend. This incident gave it new urgency.

It was unspoken, but Logan knew he was being asked to lead the group because he was Black. “For the first time in my whole career, people are going to look at my skin color first before they look at what I bring to the table,” Logan said. “I was apprehensive about that.”

But he thought he could provide a cool-headed perspective that could get people talking about race relations.

Logan became the first director of Scottsdale’s Office of Diversity and Dialogue in 1998.

Within two years, his low-key, non-confrontational style drew criticism. His office was being called “window dressing” by activists who thought he didn’t do enough. Logan maintained he wanted to promote conversation and understanding, not controversy.

Threatening call

When Logan made news, it was mainly to promote events. A Sept. 25, 2003, article printed in the Scottsdale edition of The Arizona Republic was typical of Logan’s press. He touted a Hispanic heritage celebration to be held that weekend with food booths, music, and arts and crafts for the kids.

The next day, there was a message on the office voice mail complaining about the Hispanic celebration.

“The White Aryan Resistance is growing in Scottsdale,” the caller said, according to court documents. “There’s a few White people who are standing up.”

Logan’s office didn’t take it as a threat. But it did call Scottsdale police, which made a copy of the tape.

“That’s basically the last we heard of it,” Logan said.

Prosecutors believe the caller was Dennis Mahon, using his brother Daniel’s phone. Four months later, according to the indictment, Dennis Mahon sent the package bomb to Logan.

While Logan was hospitalized, his e-mail account was flooded with supportive messages, most from strangers.

“It kept me calibrated to the fact there are more good people in the world than there are bad,” Logan said.

Logan could have retired or taken a different job with the city. Instead, he was back to the diversity office about a month after the bombing. He parked in the same spot and went to work in the same office, where shrapnel was still embedded in the walls.

Because most mail bombs are sent for highly personal reasons, federal investigators asked Logan about enemies.

Then they started to pry, looking for affairs or whether he owed money – any reasons someone might have a grudge.

Logan thought the bombing wasn’t personal and that the motive might have been his skin color. But he didn’t talk about it publicly, or even convince himself he was on the right track.

“I wanted it not to be,” he said. “I took that as a default position, but I still would want to see proof.”

‘Purely about hate’

That proof, for Logan, came after a lengthy and extensive federal investigation, one that began with the message complaining about the Hispanic heritage celebration.

Dennis Mahon was a noted White supremacist who had bragged about building pipe bombs and blowing up transformers from 1982 to 1987, court records show. In May 2001, Mahon publicly announced he was moving to Arizona. Prosecutors said that at the time of the Logan bombing, Dennis and Daniel Mahon were living in a Tempe trailer park. They moved out shortly afterward.

On June 25, federal agents arrested the Mahons at their home in rural Illinois.

The court documents Logan saw in the office of the U.S. Attorney that afternoon indicated the possible motive: racism. Quotes taken from wiretapped conversations were sprinkled with epithets and suggested the bomb was planted to teach Logan a lesson.

Logan, swayed by the documents, was convinced he was targeted because of what he represented.

“And it’s about hate, purely about hate,” Logan said.

Logan knows that blatant racists represent a small sliver of the populations. Still, he feels a bit hardened. He has realized the world was not as colorblind as he was brought up to believe.

The bombers didn’t know about his long career as an administrator in a mostly White city, or that he lived in a mostly White suburb of Phoenix, or that he had friends of many races. They didn’t know he wasn’t strident or militant.

“When it’s all said and done, I’m still Black,” he said.

Increase in tension

Logan regrets not being more involved with the African-American community before he was professionally obligated to be as Scottsdale’s diversity director.

“Before I took on that role, there was less of a focus on me being Black, to myself,” he said. “I should have stepped outside of that box, beyond the white picket fence. Knowing where my allegiance was and where my allies were.”

Logan worries about what he sees as increasing racial tensions. There’s racist graffiti sprayed on cars in Fountain Hills. There’s a preacher in Tempe wishing death for President Barack Obama. There are parents preventing their children from seeing a televised presidential address.

Logan sees connections between those actions and the legacy of slavery, connections he might have tried to overlook before the bombing.

“There are going to be people who continue to say, ‘Get over it.’ Well, we can’t get over it because (stuff) like this keeps happening,” he said.

Facing the bomber

Logan retired from Scottsdale in 2007 and is working part-time as a diversity consultant in Glendale. He has vowed to attend every hearing about the case. The Mahons have been ordered held until the trial, which might not occur until mid-2010.

Logan was asked to speak at an early court hearing.

He was apprehensive about how he would react in court. Whether there was some deep-seated anger that would boil over when he saw his accused bomber. Instead, when he first saw Daniel Mahon, looking pale and weak in the most faded of jailhouse stripes, he felt sorry for him.

Logan had written down a statement, but he didn’t use it.

“I need you to know, Judge, that I’m speaking from the heart,” Logan said. “I’ve waited 5 1/2 years for this moment. I’ve waited to look this coward in the face” – here, he pointed toward Daniel Mahon – “to tell him that I refuse to be intimidated by what he did.”

Mahon looked downward. It appeared that he was shaking.

Reach the reporter at richard.ruelas@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8473.

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