On September 20, 1992, CBS 60 Minutes aired a segment on the violence of the industry-backed Wise Use Movement, focusing on the threats, intimidation, and assaults against parents and community groups in the US who raised concerns about water and air pollution. Caught on film were movement provocateurs Chuck Cushman and Skip Richards, as well as movement propagandist Ron Arnold -- all based in Washington State -- and interestingly, David Macintosh, White House staff representing President Bush at a national Wise Use gathering. On behalf of President George H.W. Bush, Macintosh congratulated them for the role they were playing in shaping US policy. As Mr. Macintosh put it, “This is an important movement—one that reflects the American people’s desire to have sensible government.” Part of the footage of Clean Water, Clean Air was shot in Whatcom County, Washington where the April 6, 2013 Anti-Indian Conference organized by Skip Richards was held.
In the Pacific Northwest, the threats in the early 1990s were coming from folks stirred up by the real estate development industry against environmental protection and Indian treaties. In the Fall of 1994, the Committee for Environmental Justice (a militia front group) was hosted by Building Industry Association contract field agent Skip Richards at the Laurel Grange. Days after the Laurel Grange militia revival, there was a cross-burning and shotgun attack at a nearby migrant workers’ camp.
In January 1995, Whatcom County Council member Marlene Dawson -- wife of a realtor on the Lummi Indian Reservation -- urged U.S. Senator Slade Gorton to “drastically cut Lummi funding” on behalf of her and other white fee land owners. The Fee Land Owners Association (FLOA), in which Marlene was active, had been at odds with the tribe over the sovereignty of Lummi Nation to manage water resources within its own jurisdiction. To the white developers, this interfered with their ability to make easy money at the expense of the tribe.
This situation played out on numerous Indian reservations throughout the state, especially those with waterfront. Puget Sound was notorious for battles between tribes and developers. United Property Owners of Washington (UPOW), which has since become One Nation United (ONU), was the umbrella lobbying and litigation organization for the whites. Former U.S. Representative Jack Metcalf from Langley on Whidbey Island (whose father was a Silver Shirt Nazi-sympathizer during World War II) served on UPOW’s board.
Senator Gorton made a name for himself in the 1970s as the Washington State Attorney General who led the fight to deprive Washington Indian tribes of their fishing rights guaranteed under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot. In 1974 Lummi and Samish Indians had their boats rammed and were shot at while fishing salmon. As a U.S. Senator in 1995, Gorton took the action of threatening to deprive the Lummis of funds used to support such needs as health services for their elders and the Head Start program for their children.
After an armed stand-off on the reservation between Lummi Police and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputies at the site of a Lummi Nation well, Anti-Indian organizers stepped up their activities. Several Indian youth were harassed and assaulted in the nearby Ferndale School District, and placard-carrying contingents from FLOA, stirred up by Skip Richards’ and his new partner Kris Heintz’ propaganda equating property-rights with civil rights, became regulars at County Council meetings.
In May 1995, Ben Hinckle, who’d opened for Chuck Cushman at a Wise Use Rome Grange revival, hosted an open-to-the-public Citizens for Liberty meeting at Squalicum Harbor Center. Citizens for Liberty -- an amalgam of adherents of the John Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, and other racist /anti-Semitic organizations -- was waxing as a militia recruiting group, drawing interest from less stable members of Fee Land Owners Association and other property-rights fanatics. The new political climate boastfully created by the Building Industry Association, had clearly signaled it was time for these dormant Minutemen to prepare for action.
In September 1995, Bellingham’s KGMI radio talk-show host, Jeff Kent, led Fee Land Owners Association representatives Jeff McKay and Linnea Smith in an hour-long diatribe against the Lummis. When U.S. Senator Gorton stepped up his attack against Native sovereignty, Washington Environmental Council and the Washington Association of Churches joined the Lummis in condemning this unconscionable act of revenge for losing the fish wars in federal court as a younger man.
In November 1995, Citizens for Liberty sponsored a talk by Ron Arnold, the hate-mongering Wise Use propagandist from the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue. Arnold, target="_blank">Merchant of Fear Alan Gottlieb’s partner, is a not so subtle master of violent rhetoric, who covers himself by claiming his calls to “kill the bastards” (environmentalists) are metaphorical. In December 1991, Arnold had met with Building Industry Association officials Art Castle and Jim Klauser to discuss formation of the Washington Property Rights Network in order to fund and organize an astroturf rebellion.
Shortly after, in May 1992, Castle, Richards and real estate developer Bill Geyer incorporated CLUE -- a property rights group -- that promptly paid Chuck Cushman $1,000 to incite heckler-filled crowds to storm Whatcom County Council meetings. In June, the Whatcom County Republican Central Committee endorsed their efforts, and a year later Castle and Geyer started Keystone Forum Political Action Committee that captured seven out of eight local council positions in elections that November. In March 1994, Chuck Cushman returned to help with the militia recruiting drive.
Movement entrepreneurs Arnold and Cushman -- national players who mobilize ruffians to carry the banner for industry -- generate violence toward Indians and environmentalists from coast to coast. According to former Western States Center researcher Jonn Lunsford, crimes including “animal mutilation, property damage, death threats, arson, assault and battery, bombings, and attempted murder” follow in their wake. In May 1988, Cushman was the featured speaker at Protect America’s Rights and Resource’s national convention in Wisconsin, held to oppose honoring Indian treaties. Shortly after his 1988 appearance, Indian fishermen there were assaulted and shot at by sports fishermen.
On November 11, 1995 (Veterans Day), a group calling itself the Washington State Militia met at the Rome Grange just outside Bellingham. As it turns out, they had already scheduled John Trochman to come speak in the near future at the Lakeway Inn in Bellingham. At the time, John Trochman was the leader of the Militia of Montana, a heavily armed outfit that wasn’t above robbing banks, storming county jails to bust out their buddies, and engaging in shoot-outs with state police when pulled over for traffic infractions.
After intervention by church and human rights leaders in Bellingham and Seattle, the management of the Bellingham Lakeway Inn, cancelled the Trochman reservation, forcing the militia recruiters to relocate their event to Mt. Vernon, thirty miles south. With this advance warning, human rights activists in Skagit County merged with those from Whatcom County in protest on the day of the big event.
Eric Ward of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment was terrified with, “the idea of militias being able to utilize the electoral force of Wise Use groups” to legitimize racist based policies regionally and nationally. In Whatcom, Snohomish, and Chelan Counties, this epidemic was in full swing.
July 1996 brought several surprises to Whatcom County, not the least of which was a press conference by the U.S. Department of Justice, announcing the bust of eight local individuals for involvement in bomb-making and illegal modification of firearms into fully-automatic weapons—machine guns.
In August 1996, after four and a half years of cover-up by the Bellingham Herald, the Wise Use/militia connection was finally revealed in the Portland Oregonian. This was soon followed by an article in the Anacortes American, the first coverage by a paper inside the Washington State legislative district Skip Richards hoped to represent.
In October, trailing distantly in the polls, candidate Richards chose to play the race card in the general election, insinuating in his campaign literature that the Indians (presumably through guarding their treaty rights) were undermining all that the white people had struggled to build in Whatcom County. His associate Bill Geyer’s County Executive campaign also flopped, in spite of the Herald’s refusal to connect him to Wise Use. The third member of the local trio who’d initiated the faux property-rights rebellion (as well as a key figure in the Washington Property Rights Network that subverted elections in 14 counties) -- Building Industry Association executive Art Castle -- relocated to the Kitsap Peninsula.
On January 15, 1997, the trial of eight Washington State Militia members began in federal court in Seattle. One of their secretly recorded conversations, introduced as evidence, included a discussion about a route through the heavily wooded Whatcom Falls Park to the rear of the home of Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Chair Damani Johnson. Some of the defendants were set free due to a juror’s inability to follow the judge’s instructions; others went to prison for four years. Bellingham Herald crime reporter, Cathy Logg -- who courageously covered the arrests and had her home and computer broken into -- eventually moved away from Whatcom County.