Wednesday, March 26, 2014

‘Patriot’ Leader Among Apparent Victims of Washington Mudslide

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Among the dozens of apparent victims in Saturday’s tragic mudslide near rural Oso, Wash. – the current official death toll is 16, with over 100 people still missing and unaccounted for – was a man familiar to reporters who covered Snohomish County politics in the 1990s: Thom Satterlee.

Satterlee, 65, and his wife, Marcy, 61, were among the people listed as missing after Saturday’s massive landslide, which wiped out an entire neighborhood next to the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River in central Snohomish County. His granddaughter, Delaney Webb, 20, and her fiancĂ©e, Alan Bejvl, 21, were also in the residence at the time of the slide. Satterlee’s home was in the middle of its path, and it remains unclear, as body-recovery efforts continue, whether the family will ever be found.

Thom Satterlee (credit: Everett Herald)
Thom Satterlee during his 'Freedom County' campaign
Thom Satterlee (credit: Everett Herald)
Thom Satterlee became a well-known public figure in the county during the 1990s, after becoming outraged by the passage of the state’s Growth Management Act in 1990. He became involved in the nascent antigovernment “Patriot” movement, which was organizing militias in the region at the time, but Satterlee chose to apply the ideology to local politics: He organized county “secession” efforts that would allow rural districts to break away from dominance by their urban neighbors.

In Snohomish County, the effort was dubbed “Freedom County.” The secessionists were led primarily by three people: David Guadalupe, who had previously been involved with the far-right American Land Rights Association; John Stokes of Camano Island, a onetime real-estate agent who had run afoul of state wetlands laws, and who eventually moved to Montana and became involved in broadcasting Patriot propaganda on the radio there; and Satterlee, who had declared himself a “sovereign citizen” and Christian Patriot. Sovereign citizens generally claim that they are immune to most federal criminal and tax laws.

Their efforts were stifled at the state level by legislators unpersuaded by their arguments. 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.

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.”

Satterlee was a “common law” proponent who tried 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.

Eventually, Satterlee’s activities attracted the attention of the FBI, especially after he and his cohorts began threatening to arrest the legitimately elected sheriff, Rick Bart, if he wandered into their territory. They even appointed their own sheriff – a former federal agent himself who now subscribed to sovereign-citizen beliefs and went by the nom de plume Fnu Lnu – but then gradually their activities ceased.

Satterlee was found guilty in 2002 of illegal law practice. He remained active in far-right Patriot politics in the ensuing years, and he and Marcy signed on to a “Liberty Action Committee” forum in 2007.

The Everett Herald noted that during the Freedom County battles, Satterlee had lived in a home farther up the North Fork Stillaguamish, but that he and Marcy had moved into the home on Steelhead Drive about five years ago.

Geologists have said that they had long warned that the Oso hillside was unstable and might unleash a catastrophic slide. Yet county officials continued to issue permits there, even after a 2006 slide in the area acted as a harbinger of the horror to come. Logging was also permitted in the area above the slide.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Long-Running Conspiracist Fears Still Fuel Anti-Wolf Sentiments in Mountain States

Wyoming hunters with Klan-style hoods show off their kill.
[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

To say that there is deep local antipathy to federal wolf recovery efforts in many of the Mountain West states where biologists are attempting to revive the endangered species would be an understatement. Sentiment against the big canine predators in places like Idaho and Montana, especially among cattlemen, often borders on sheer rage.

That has translated, politically, into a situation where lawmakers in Idaho recently approved $400,000 in funding to kill as many as 500 of the state’s estimated population of 650 wolves, leaving as few as ten breeding pairs. The bill was promptly signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter, who has made loathing of wolves a centerpiece of his political image.

Much of the antipathy is predicated on old-fashioned fear about wolves, particularly given their predilection for preying on livestock and family pets in areas where humans inhabit their range, not to mention the potential threat they represent to human life. But there is also a political element, particularly in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, that is fueled by far-right antigovernment paranoia and conspiracy theories.

Wolf recovery efforts are frequently depicted as the imposition of the “New World Order” on residents of the rural areas where the creatures roam. A number of far-right outlets, including the John Birch Society’s magazine and the conspiracist website World Net Daily, have run pieces describing how wolf recovery is a key component of a plot by radical environmentalists on behalf of the United Nations to destroy private property rights in America. In the Mountain West, holding such views is not uncommon.

It was while I was covering a Tea Party event in western Montana, in fact, that I first encountered this melding of conspiracy theory paranoia about wolves and far-right political dogma. Several speakers at the event described how wolf-recovery efforts in the region were part of a United Nations-derived plot to control their lives and destroy their property and gun rights, and a booth at the event handed out literature describing the conspiracy.

When militias were first organizing in Idaho and Montana in the early to mid-1990s, much of the anti-government sentiment that drove recruitment revolved around resentment for the just-instituted wolf recovery efforts.

“It was seen as direct government intervention into their way of life and telling them what they had to put up with and what they couldn’t shoot,” recalls Amaroq Weiss, Wolf Recovery Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental organization that has filed numerous lawsuits over the years to prevent the wolf hunts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. “So this goes way back. The wolf has always been a surrogate for hatred for the federal government in the areas where the reintroductions took place.”

Sure enough, the conspiracy theorists who fueled the Patriot movement’s militia organizing in the 1990s also used wolf recovery as a recruitment tool. Bob Fletcher of the Militia of Montana was fond of telling audiences in the 1990s that the wolves’ reintroduction was a predicate to the elimination of private property rights, the culmination of which would be the construction of concentration camps in the Northwest woods to incarcerate formerly gun-owning Americans.

The John Birch Society’s house organ, The New American, published an article in 2001 more or less outlining this same conspiracy: “Simply put, the ‘wolf recovery’ program is a form of environmental terrorism. Thus while the U.S. government is working through the UN to fight a war against terrorism abroad, it is collaborating with UN-linked environmental radicals to wage an eco-terrorist campaign against rural property owners here at home.”

Likewise, World Net Daily’s conspiracy peddler in chief Joseph Farah chimed in: “Just because your particular ox is not being gored by these wolves, your turn is coming. Believe me. If western ranchers don’t have any property rights, guess what? Neither do you – no matter where you live. And they’ll be gunning for you soon enough.”

Even an ostensibly “mainstream” organization like Idaho For Wildlife recently featured an anti-wolf recovery screed about the United Nations and the New World Order.

The embodiment of the extreme nature of these sentiments came this winter when a group of men wearing Klan-like hoods posed with the corpse of a freshly killed wolf and an American flag and then posted it on Facebook. The page that published the picture belonged to a couple of Wyoming outfitters, who later explained that they were harkening back to Western vigilantism: “Trying to make a statement!…Frontier Justice! Wyoming hunters are fed up!”