The political rhetoric from the far right is breeding homegrown dangers, and local police agencies are no more militarized than they’ve ever been.
Those were the two main points from a speech Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich gave Monday night, which was hosted by the Republicans of Spokane County at Central Valley High School in Spokane Valley.
Before nearly 350 people, Knezovich said he wanted to speak bluntly on causes some of the audience members might sympathize with, such as gun control and individual rights, because he was concerned about the future of law enforcement.
Though he listed extremist groups from the left and right, and both apolitical and international, he pointed his discussion at right-wing militia and patriot groups, and at ideas disseminated on conservative talk radio and websites.
“It is sad how many people believe this stuff,” he said, referring to one specific theory that had President Barack Obama ordering the assassination of Tennessee cops. “It really is.”
Knezovich, a Republican, said heated rhetoric and conspiracy theories helped fuel the actions of white supremacist groups such as the Order, Aryan People Republic, Aryan Nations and Phineas Priesthood, as well as “lone wolf” domestic terrorists like Kevin Harpham and Anthony Garver.
“You need to figure what you’re going to do with this group of individuals that are giving you all a bad name,” he said.
Several of the sheriff’s detractors protested outside, claiming Knezovich is corrupt.
“We are members of this community who feel that Ozzie is the threat we face,” said Scott Maclay, president of the Rattlesnake Motorcycle Club.
Though Knezovich said the Constitution was the guiding document in law enforcement, he saved his harshest criticism for right-wing Constitutionalists, whose brand of strict interpretation of the Constitution leads them to flout many modern laws.
“We’ve become a nation of ‘We don’t have to,’ ” he said. “We don’t have to obey the laws. We don’t have to obey anything we don’t agree with.”
He read one nearly incomprehensible online rant from a Constitutionalist that railed against Jews, the Federal Reserve and the “war on white drugs” such as hydrocodone and original Coca-Cola, which had “adult formula cocaine.”
“Does anybody want to claim them in our club of Constitutionalists?” he said.
Though his talk – titled “The Threats We Face” – dealt primarily with combating ideas put forth by right-wing groups, he also spoke about Islamic militant groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State, or ISIS.
He spent just a fraction of the time on international threats during his prepared speech, but when he took questions, someone brought Knezovich back to ISIS, the most prominent group of Islamic militants currently operating in the Middle East.
“My agency has an active response plan for a direct ISIS threat,” he said, adding he could give no more detail. He said people who believe Islamic militants are not a threat to Spokane were “ostriches.”
Finally, Knezovich took aim at the criticism law enforcement agencies have faced with the militarized police response in Ferguson, Missouri, after an unarmed black man was shot by police and the city descended into demonstrations and riots.
Knezovich said police were largely restrained, but there were situations that called for heavy armor and artillery.
“There is a war on police,” he said.
To further make his point that police haven’t shifted toward militarism, he said that police agencies have inherited technology from the military since the Civil War. He pointed to an 1873 Colt Peacemaker, developed by the Army.
“I wonder how many people would be telling Wyatt Earp to be sending his Peacemaker back,” Knezovich said to laughter.
His goal of speaking hard truths didn’t always land as hard as he suggested, as when he told the amenable crowd that he would not shy away from religion.
“If I offend you by mentioning the Christian religion, I don’t care,” he said.
He brought up his own religion again when criticizing the Phineas Priesthood, which also went by the name Vigilantes of Christendom. “I guarantee you, the savior doesn’t like this one,” he said.
But it was his refusal to speak about the recent massacre in a Charleston, South Carolina, church that delivered a truer moment of reflection to Knezovich’s speech.
“I will not talk about Charleston,” he said. “I am very proud of the city of Charleston because, instead of hate, they wrapped themselves in Christ’s love and tried to heal that community.”
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