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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Conservatives who cross line to violence sound a lot like those who don’t

An all-too-familiar tale flew under the radar last week while everyone was talking about you-know-who: A disgruntled yahoo, devoted to his guns and apocalyptic anti-government views, went from talking about killing people to actually killing someone, police say.

James “Strat” Faire – a former militia trainer who believed that citizens need to rise in armed rebellion against the government – was arrested last week near Tonasket, Washington, on charges of murder and assault, along with his companion, Angelina M. Nobilis. Authorities say the pair was squatting in a home there, and a confrontation ensued when the owner, along with a couple of others, came to evict them. Faire allegedly pulled a gun and then drove over them in his pickup, killing one man and injuring a woman. Witnesses said he drove into the victims once, backed up, and did it again.

It’s the second time in the past month that a militia-connected, end-times gun worshipper has been arrested on suspicion of murder here. Roy H. Murry, an Iraq war hero and former political candidate who trained at a shooting range with the 63rd Lightfoot Militia, is charged with murdering three people and burning their bodies May 26.

At a time when there is an obsessive fear afoot about radical Islam, it’s worth remembering that we do a great job of growing our own violent threats right here: radicalized fundamentalist outsiders, faithful to firearms, devoted to a perverse version of history, steeped in cultural and religious bigotry, dreaming of revolution.

This particular threat doesn’t get much attention from the crowd that holds “seminars” about radical Islam, and part of the reason is clear: The political far right and the lunatic far right share a set of values and beliefs and language – heritage talk, liberty talk, gun-grabber talk, take-back-our- country talk – that can make them sound like allies.

The “not-quites” sound just like the “all-ins.”

Consider what is happening in conspiracy world after the arrest of Faire and Nobilis. Their fellow travelers are turning them into martyrs and pumping them up as victims of the government and media. The website – which calls itself the “conservative conscience of the Republican Party” – has taken up a vigorous defense of the pair, asserting they were framed.

The site describes Faire worshipfully as “a nationally known, high-impact, open-carrying, Christian Liberty activist who has been in the crosshairs of the corrupt police-state factions of the Federal Government for years. … He is the enemy of statists and holds the pedigree of extensive and illegal persecution by government.”

In other words, he’s another visitor from the planet of Randy Weaver and Leroy Schweitzer and the Montana Freemen and sovereign citizens and Cliven Bundy and … yes, politicians like Vito Barbieri and Matt Shea. Faire carries the particular DNA of our Western anti-government patriot, which is a spectrum running from those who mostly talk to those who do more, those who remove themselves from society, view taxes and zoning and environmental regulations as Orwellian conspiracies, and dream of the day that they can shoot at more than just targets.

Faire ran a shooting range and militia training site for years in Snohomish County, where he got into a wrangle over zoning regulations with the local government. This is often part of the pattern – the cries of “Tyranny!” often grow from a refusal to pay a tax or follow a law. According to several reports and his own videos and online postings, Faire was active several years ago in the Appleseed Project, a group whose goal is “teaching every American how to fire a bullet through a man-size target out to 500 yards.”

Bill Morlin, a retired Spokesman-Review reporter whose expertise on our region’s wingnuttery is unsurpassed, has reported on the Southern Poverty Law Center website this week that Faire was a Web administrator for a militia website. He also tracked down Murry’s connections to the Lightfoot Militia – a group that denounces violence in its mission statement and says its goal is to protect against anything it sees as a violation of the Constitution, as well as all tyranny, of course, “internal and external.”

Faire believes people have forgotten the proud heritage of the “American rifleman.” In a 2009 YouTube video Faire said the entire Bill of Rights has been abolished. Property rights – gone. Free speech – gone, via “Obama telling people to shut up and not talk.” All our rights, he says, have been replaced by the 12 planks of the Communist manifesto.

“It’s completely out of control, from city to state to federal to international law,” he told the New York Times in 2010. “The only thing to do now is to organize citizens into a militia to abolish this government.”

What do we call people like this? Put a turban on this guy, and we wouldn’t have any trouble. But when it comes to “militias” and “freedom communities” and “patriot” groups, we stop short. When it comes to “Christian Liberty,” we forget to note that these folks support a form of government as purely theocratic as Sharia law.

And when we’re talking about the threats from without, which are real but often exaggerated, we tend to forget about the threats from within: The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have counted 24 instances of domestic terrorism by “sovereign citizens” since 2010, and found that sovereign citizen violence was the top domestic terrorism concern in a survey of law enforcement officers at all levels.

And yet, whenever anyone tries to speak realistically about this, there is a loud chorus of resistance from the not-quites. Recall the recent example of a county deputy being caught on tape saying the sheriff’s department needs military-grade equipment because of the “constitutionalists” around here who stockpile weapons and have anti-government views.

I’m dubious about the need for that equipment – but not at all about that reasoning. But there was, and remains, an outcry among the “not-quites” who consider themselves constitutionalists. While the deputy was clearly referring to the Faires and Murrys out there, it was the not-quites who felt maligned.

Sometimes, apparently, even they can’t tell the difference.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@ Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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