Friday, October 05, 2012

Why Did The Seattle Times Endorse A Right-Wing Extremist?

A 1995 militia meeting in Maltby, Wash., organized by the SnoCoPRA.

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Our "liberal media" here in Seattle is something else -- particularly the Republican-owned Seattle Times, which is astute enough to include a few liberal voices on its editorial page and among its columnists. Our TV stations are pure mush. And don't get me started on the subject of local talk radio.

The worst, though, has to be the Times. Because, those handful of liberals notwithstanding, its editorial content (especially its editorials) is relentlessly right-wing. This was embodied in their endorsement yesterday of Republican John Koster in Washington's new 1st Congressional District.
Indeed, their rationale was enough to make you laugh out loud:
We disagree with Koster on social issues, but in Congress right now, his fiscal viewpoint and elected experience are what’s needed.

Koster’s reputation and performance as the practical conservative who can articulate and act on those views and find common ground is needed and welcome.
Actually, Koster's "reputation and performance" make irrevocably clear that he is a Tea Party fanatic, a fiscal extremist who, in his six years in the state's Legislature, voted against five of six budgets. It's entirely predictable what he'll do if elected to the House: Sign up with the Tea Party caucus and immediately link arms with the bloc that has refused to pass any kind of jobs bill or face up to the problem of unemployment, simply because doing so would ensure a difficult re-election for President Obama, and who already tried to drive the American economy over the cliff with their brinkmanship on the debt ceiling.

And that's just on the fiscal side of things. Koster is so extreme on so many other issues -- particularly on abortion and education -- that the notion of him "finding common ground" with Democrats on anything is endlessly risible.

What the Times didn't tell its readers, though, is that Koster has a long history of far-right extremism -- not merely with the Tea Party, but back in the 1990s, with the far-right Patriot/militia movement.

The Times' softball profile of Koster
made an oblique mention of this fact -- so we know that they have to be perfectly aware of all this:
His record also shows a steady streak of conservatism: He voted against five of six budgets and introduced legislation to allow a group of people in northern Snohomish County to secede and form a new county, "Freedom County."
Actually, it runs much, much deeper than that.

John Koster played a significant role in helping promote far-right "Patriot" movement property-rights organizing in the Puget Sound region in the 1990s – organizing that in many cases involved recruiting militias, extremist "sovereign citizen" schemes, and efforts at secession. Koster's role was important: As a state legislator, he introduced bills that promoted and legitimized the far-right agenda of these groups, particularly their efforts at forming new counties, carved out by "secession" from larger urban counties in western Washington.

Beginning in 1990, the Puget Sound region saw the sudden creation of a well-organized network of Wise Use "property rights" front groups. The majority of this activity revolved around opposition to the Growth Management Act, passed by the Washington Legislature that year. Accordingly, many of the groups behind this network were business interests opposed to the act, but who were willing to have their money help fund far-right organizing.

A classic front group in this case was the Snohomish County Property Rights Alliance (SNOCO PRA). Like all front groups, it faced both ways: on one side, it was funded by the Building Industry Association of Washington (in Whatcom County, the Chamber of Commerce joined in, too) and a collection of timber and developer interests. On the other side were the far-right Christian Patriots, conspiracy-prone extremists, often with John Birch Society backgrounds, who rapidly infiltrated the key groups in Snohomish and Whatcom counties, including the SNOCO PRA. In the middle were mostly retired property owners with "nest-egg" investments.

In 1991, the key regional "property rights" organizer and BIAW official, Jim Klauser, discovered previous abortive attempts by far-right/JBS "property rights" activists ("Liberty County") in Pierce County to exploit a technicality in the Washington Constitution: the formation of new counties is sketched out, but the Legislature has never passed clarifying laws spelling out the procedures. Klauser, with the help of Wise Use guru Ron Arnold, began helping organize localized secession efforts.

By 1992, numerous property rights front groups had set up county secession front groups and were using the secession petitions for illegally pre-qualifying new voter registrations and collecting voter lists, which were used by property-rights candidates in local elections. In 1993, they were able to influence county government elections in King, Snohomish, Thurston, and Whatcom counties. (More here and .)

In King, Ted Cowan was a leading spokesman for the Cedar County Committee. Up in Snohomish, two proposed counties were being formed. The Skykomish County Committee was represented by Arne Hansen, while the north half of the county was rallying around the flamboyant John Stokes and his Freedom County Committee.

The Snohomish County Property Rights Alliance (SNOCO PRA) began running a savage campaign against the critical areas ordinance, the county and particularly two county councilmen, Peter Hurley and Ross Kane. Their referendum on the land use ordinance had been the object of lengthy litigation and still hadn't made it to the polls. Using colorful single sheet tabloids, SNOCO PRA warned "NOW URBAN AND SUBURBAN DWELLERS ARE UNDER ATTACK!", "TAXPAYER RAPE!" and "YOUR PROPERTY RIGHTS ARE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES."

By 1994, SNOCO PRA organizers like Ben Sams were holding Christian Patriot meetings in places like Maltby and Snohomish, all of which were focused on organizing militias. Militia-movement leaders like John Trochmann and Bob Fletcher appeared at these meetings and ran through their lengthy conspiracy theories, including the claim that environmentalists' efforts to create a North Cascades Biosystem was actually part of a covert United Nations plot to round up gun owners and place them in concentration camps.

In the intervening time, many of the developers who originally financed these groups peeled away,
and the remaining Christian Patriot elements took them over wholly, notably in Snohomish/"Freedom
County" and Clark/"River County". They continued to focus their efforts on forming militias and creating new counties by secession; all of these new counties, in the organizers' plans, were predicated around far-right "Posse Comitatus" principles in which the county sheriff becomes the law of the land and the federal and state governments are powerless entities.

By 1996, the leaders of the would-be counties of Cedar, Skykomish, Freedom and Pioneer together had collected 44,650 valid signatures. At that time, they thought the state constitution required the Legislature to create a new county if petitions were signed by half the number of voters who went to the polls the previous November. All four groups achieved that goal. When nothing happened, Cedar County proponents headed to the Supreme Court.

This is where John Koster came in. As a Republican state representative from the Sultan/Monroe area, Koster in 1997 introduced bills to create Skykomish, Freedom and Pioneer counties. The Freedom and Pioneer County bills died in committee.

Koster was more successful with his Skykomish County bill, House Bill 1660. It provided for the process to create Skykomish County pending a ballot question for the affected area. The proposal set forth that the existing superior court of Snohomish County would also serve Skykomish County. Opponents of the bill (and the new county) attempted to amend the bill to require a vote from the entirety of the counties affected (Snohomish and King Counties). The bill passed the House, but failed to emerge from committee in the state Senate.

The Freedom County secessionists were led primarily by three people: David Guadalupe, who had previously been involved with the far-right American Land Rights Association; Thom Satterlee, a "sovereign citizen" and Christian Patriot whose writings at times indicated he subscribed to racist "Christian Identity" beliefs; and John Stokes of Camano Island, a onetime real-estate agent who had run afoul of state wetlands laws.

Satterlee and Stokes in April 1997 filed a complaint with the United Nations against Washington for violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights because the state would not create Freedom County: "the right of self-determination and self-government ... are being denied by the state of Washington," the complaint alleged. However, the U.N. informed them that it could not help.

Stokes later moved to Montana and began making problems there, again of the far-right-wing variety, much of it militia-oriented. (See here for more on this.)

A Superior Court decision ruled that Freedom County did not exist. When Guadalupe and Satterlee appealed to the State Supreme Court, the court commissoner wrote: "Having studied the pleadings filed by Mr. Guadualupe and Mr. Satterlee, which are in the main legally incoherent despite a heavy
larding of pseudo-legal rhetoric, I find no basis to grant a stay."

In February 1998, the state Supreme Court ruled that signatures from half the registered voters of the affected area are required to propose a new county, shelving many county secession movements in the state. Prior to the ruling, Washington county secession movements had interpreted the law to require signatures from only half of those who voted in the most recent election. Arguing that voter registration rolls are always out of date, Skykomish County movement leaders attacked the court's ruling as creating an "unreachable standard".

Koster was quoted in the press expressing his disappointment with the ruling, adding that it was time for the Legislature to step in and clarify exactly how new counties can form. "It isn't going to happen this year, not in a short session, but it needs to happen,'' he said.

By the fall of 1998, Freedom County seemed to be the only secession movement county to still be active. Satterlee told a reporter that he didn't want to be portrayed as "whacked out, anti-govenment extremists. We could make a mistake and try to create anarchy, and throw the Sheriff's Office out. But that's not going to benefit the residents of Freedom County, or Snohomish County."

Many of the county-secession organizers had Patriot movement backgrounds. Thom Satterlee is a "common law" proponent who tries to give "legal advice" to similarly ideologically inclined people. For instance, he repeatedly tried to give advice to a tax protester named Floyd Ryan at a hearing in July 1997, prompting the judge to order him to sit down. In a 1995 election he was involved in, he identified himself as 46 years of age, but gave his only occupation as "consultant." Satterlee at one point tried to pay his taxes with checks backed by pseudo-legal "liens" filed against a federal judge in Seattle over his handling of a conspiracy and weapons case against a group of western Washington militiamen.

Sharon Pietila, a general promoter of "county secession," spoke at a Washington State Militia meeting in 1995; coincidentally, she was a neighbor of since-jailed militiaman John I. Pitner, involved in various bombmaking activities.

Other attempts at forming counties during the period 1993-98 in Washington state include "Cedar County" from King County (Ted Cowan, a longtime Wise Use advocate and leader of the Washington Property Rights Alliance; Lois Gustafson, Gordon Cox, Warren Iverson, Ted Callas); "River County" from Clark County (David Darby, former head of the Clark County chapter of the United States Militia Association, Joe Ahrend, head of the Clark County Militia [who blamed the OK city bombing on the US govt], Ed Uselmann, a tree farmer, Robert Skip Leuschner, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, Rudy Ebert, Peter Brennan, Richard Van Lieu, Marshall Adams); Pioneer County from Whatcom County; Skykomish County from Snohomish County (Arnie Hansen, a real estate broker); "Pioneer County" from Skagit County; "Independence County" from Whatcom County (Doug Howard, Sharon Pietala); and "Liberty County" from Grant County (also, reportedly, "Puget Sound," "West Seattle," and "Vashon" for Vashon Island).

Typical ideas of the groups may be seen from the proposal for River County, which claimed that no outside law enforcement would be allowed to talk to a county citizen without the sheriff's permission and similar Posse Comitatus/militia/common law court ideas.

The secessionists continued to lose their fights in court as well. On Jan. 28, 2000, Supreme Court Commissioner Geoff Crooks tossed out their last effort: "Once again, David Peter Guadalupe and Thom Satterlee invite this court to step through the looking glass into the strange world of Freedom County. On behalf of the court, I decline," Crooks wrote.

In 2000, the secessionists had their last gasp. On Oct. 23, Satterlee and Guadalupe gathered a group of followers and announced they were swearing in a new sheriff, a coroner, and an auditor for Freedom County, claiming that the signatures they had gathered were enough to create the county.

The sheriff gave his name as "Fnu Lnu," which is law-enforcement lingo for "first name unknown, last name unknown." His real name was Robert Victor Bender, a 57-year-old former FBI agent from the Seattle area who was hired by organizers to provide law enforcement for the would-be county, such as it is. When he tried to introduce himself to then-Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart, he was tossed out of the sheriff's office.

"Without a doubt, most of the people in this county think Mr. Satterlee and his group are a bunch of
wackos," says Sheriff Bart. "They have no credibility."

Afterward, the secessionists faded away due to a lack of interest and the fact that their neighbors had largely grown to fear them. There were no further activities in Snohomish County of any note.

However, Koster remained active. He was elected a commissioner to the very Snohomish County he had worked to help his constituents secede from in 2001. But he evidently remained fond of the Patriot movement, which by 2009 re-emerged, particularly in rural areas where it had flourished in the 1990s, as the Tea Party movement. He told a group of Tea Partiers: "The Tea Party Movement, the Patriot Movement to me is one of the most exciting things to happen to this country for a long time."


Here is a useful timeline of the secession movement, compiled by the Everett Herald staff.
History of 'Freedom County'

Here are some of the significant events in the history of the proposed Freedom County:
1993 -- Backers begin circulating petitions to carve out a new county from most of north Snohomish County.
1994 -- Supporters announce in January that they have collected more than 12,000 signatures, sufficient, they claim, to form Freedom County.
1995 -- Freedom County presents the signatures to the Legislature in April. Thom Satterlee and David Guadalupe later claim they were "elected" Freedom County commissioners on the bus trip to Olympia .
September 1995 -- Thom Satterlee runs for the Snohomish County charter review commission. He also mounts a referendum challenge to a newly enacted county ethics ordinance, an action that goes nowhere but puts the law on hold during much of the election season.
December 1995 -- Satterlee loses his charter commission bid. He joins other disgruntled candidates in a lawsuit alleging that Snohomish County elections officials used computers to manipulate vote results. A Snohomish County judge tosses out the complaint.
January 1996 -- Satterlee claims the Snohomish County auditor mishandled petitions from Freedom County after being asked by the state to check the validity of the signatures. The auditor found more than 2,400 signatures were from people who weren't registered to vote, or had signed twice, or did not live within the boundaries of the proposed new county.
May 1996 -- David Guadalupe writes Snohomish County officials, challenging the display of gold-fringed U.S. flags in county courtrooms. Guadalupe says he believes the country is under martial law and that fringe flags are symbols of tyranny. Guadalupe's letter to county officials warns they must address him as "David Peter, Guadalupe," because to do otherwise is to use his "nom de guerre (war name)" and "that is grounds for an action for slander."
June 1996 -- State officials and Satterlee spar over whether the people who signed the Freedom County petitions should be counted even if they are not registered to vote. Satterlee maintains the state Constitution places no voter registration requirement on "electors." Auditors admit they overlooked about 900 signatures that should have been counted, but not for the reason raised by Satterlee.
April 1997 -- Satterlee and another Freedom County backer asks the United Nations to launch an investigation, alleging backers of the proposed new county have had their rights trampled upon by state and federal officials who refuse to assist them in creating their secessionist county. They allege violation of international treaties, and want the U.N. to impose sanctions, including a possible economic boycott.
June 1997 -- U.S. Secret Service agents confiscate "public wealth rebate notes" that Satterlee attempted to redeem at a local bank, in part to fund Freedom County. The notes, which have a purported face value of $38 million, supposedly get their value from liens filed by anti-government activists against federal officials.
July 1997 -- Satterlee comes to the aid of a critic of the Internal Revenue Service who has barraged Sheriff Rick Bart and others with self-generated criminal complaints and arrest warrants. He joins the man in court hearings, and also affixes his personal seal on documents the man has filed, calling for a grand jury investigation. Satterlee's seal features his name under the words "Bishop of the Way" And "Yoshua's Talmadin." Satterlee declines to explain the seal, except to say that he is a bishop in a Judeo-Christian religion, which he wouldn't further identify.
November 1997 -- A Snohomish County judge dismisses a lawsuit brought on behalf of Freedom County by Satterlee and Guadalupe. The pair claimed Snohomish County owed them $125,000 for work they'd done representing constituents in their breakaway group. They also sought a legal claim to all public and private property in Snohomish County. The judge rules that Freedom County does not exist.
December 1997 -- The state Supreme Court refuses to hear a lawsuit brought by Satterlee and Guadalupe attempting to overturn the Snohomish County judge's ruling. "Having studied the pleadings field by Mr. Guadalupe and Mr. Satterlee, which are in the main legally incoherent despite a heavy larding of pseudo-legal rhetoric, I find no basis to grant a stay," a Supreme Court commissioner wrote. A federal case brought by the pair also is tossed out.
February 1998 -- The state Supreme Court rules in the case of Cedar County, a secessionist government proposed for King County. The state's highest court holds that simply gathering signatures and presenting them to legislators does not bring a county into existence. The court also finds that only the signatures of registered voters can be counted when reviewing petitions to form a new county. The ruling means that Freedom County not only doesn't exist, but backers were roughly 5,700 signatures short of the required number when they presented them to lawmakers in 1995.
April 1999 -- The state Court of Appeals rules that Freedom County does not exist.
September 1999 -- Satterlee sends warning notices to Gov. Gary Locke, Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel and others, threatening a forceful attempt to seize their homes if they don't recognize Freedom County. The state attorney general warns him in writing that threats against public officials could result in felony charges.
January 2000 -- The state Supreme Court dismisses another case brought by Satterlee and Guadalupe. "Once again, David Peter Guadalupe and Thom Satterlee invite this court to step through the looking glass into the strange world of Freedom County. On behalf of the court, I decline," a commissioner writes. Justice Richard Sanders, however, files a dissenting opinion saying that the case should be heard because legal questions remain to be resolved in creating new counties.
August 2000 -- Freedom County backers begin holding public meetings, asserting that the time has come for them to begin taking action as a government. Satterlee sends letters to Snohomish County, claiming that it no longer has authority over land-use, planning and building issues in much of its north end. Satterlee says Freedom County is taking applications to fill the offices of sheriff, auditor, etc.
Oct. 23, 2000 -- A King County man who calls himself Fnu Lnu takes an oath to serve as Freedom County sheriff. Two other Snohomish County men take similar oaths to serve as coroner and auditor.
Oct. 24, 2000 -- Fnu Lnu meets with Sheriff Rick Bart and presents him with a notice asserting his authority. He says federal agents are no longer allowed to seize property for back taxes within Freedom County's alleged boundaries. Bart tells Lnu that Freedom County doesn't exist, Lnu has no authority, and that he will arrest him if he attempts to act as a law officer.