Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan pumped his fist while leading his audience in an enthusiastic chant Thursday evening, seemingly offering full-throated support to a conservative secessionist movement that would turn Eastern Washington into a 51st state called Liberty.
“Liberty!” Fagan shouted during the fundraising event at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley, joined onstage by council candidate Tim Benn.
“State!” the crowd replied.
But on Friday, Fagan, who is running for council president, said he’s not necessarily a supporter of the Liberty State movement.
In an interview, Fagan called the proposal “an interesting idea” and said he agrees that lawmakers in Olympia are out of touch with Eastern Washington. But he said he’s more focused on city of Spokane issues and hasn’t given much thought to splitting up the state.
“I’ve just got way too many other things going on,” he said.
Fagan said he was invited to Thursday’s fundraiser to run a dessert auction and later agreed to deliver a presentation with Benn. It was essentially an untaped episode of their AM radio show, “Right Spokane Perspective.”
“We were only there to provide a bit of comic relief,” Fagan said.
One of his opening punch lines, he said, was cribbed from an internet meme that blamed immigrants for crimes and other social ills. (Analyses of government data have
“Closing the southern border will create a shortage of infectious diseases, welfare fraud, meth, heroin, fentanyl, rapists, sex trafficking, murderers, home invasions, prayer rugs, MS-13, voter fraud, hate crimes … ” Fagan told the audience, before striking a disappointed tone. “Oh my god, Tim. And avocados, dude.”
The joke elicited some laughter among the roughly 200 Liberty State supporters in the audience. But Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs, also running to succeed Council President Ben Stuckart, didn’t find the joke funny.
“It’s not a joke I would make, and I think it kind of stops people from looking for real solutions, and it really marginalizes people who are suffering in a really uncompassionate way,” Beggs said Friday.
Fagan said he does have serious concerns about drug trafficking from Mexico, yet he acknowledged that some would be offended by the joke.
“If it was the wrong choice and somebody’s feelings got hurt, well, then I’m sorry about that,” he said.
Asked about Fagan’s attendance at the fundraiser, a third council president candidate, Cindy Wendle, said in an email: “I want to unite the community not divide it. Let’s get back to the basics of running this city. The most important issues right now are solving the homeless crisis and bringing more jobs to the region, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell also attended the fundraiser with his wife, Lesley, to learn what the Liberty State movement is about.
“It’s certainly something that’s worth listening to,” Haskell said, adding that he believes a new state could form with the blessing of the Washington Legislature and Congress.
“It’s clearly provided for in the law,” he said.
State Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, has championed the Liberty State movement while spreading conspiracy theories about a looming civil war between “Christian patriots” on one side and “Marxists” and “Islamists” on the other.
House Republican leaders recently said they would investigate Shea’s participation in a 2017 group chat that discussed violent attacks on political opponents, and a new website, MeetMattShea.com, targets the legislator with a collection of unflattering news reports about him. It is unclear who runs the website.
Shea also has faced criticism from local conservatives, including Beva Miles, who leads the Republicans of Spokane County, a moderate group separate from the Spokane County Republican Party.
Miles, a self-described born-again Christian and daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher, said Friday she was troubled by the rhetoric of the Liberty State crowd.
“They’re trying to create a theocracy, whereby Christians and everybody who thinks like them dominate everybody else,” she said. “And that should scare everybody to death.”
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