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Shawn Vestal: LC grad rides extremist conspiracy theories and call for martial law to Trump Pentagon nomination

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 17, 2020

John Hagney was watching CNN last week when he saw a familiar face.

Scott O’Grady, a student of Hagney’s in the 1980s at Lewis and Clark High, had been nominated by the president to a top position at the Pentagon, one of a series of late-stage appointments.

In most other circumstances, it would be a local-boy-does-good story. But “good” isn’t the right word for someone who is beating the drum for martial law on behalf of a president who is refusing to concede his election loss.

No, some other word would be what we need here.

That is my evaluation, not Hagney’s. He recalls O’Grady as an excellent student who went on to the University of Washington after graduating from LC in 1984 and, later, worldwide fame as a fighter pilot who was shot down over Bosnia in 1995.

Now, though, O’Grady’s days as a Tiger and a hero have been overtaken by his days as a peddler of pernicious conspiracy theories about the election. That’s likely what qualified him for his nomination from still-President Trump for the post of assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, part of a series of strange, last-hour Trump appointments. O’Grady would require Senate approval, and would serve until the end of Trump’s presidency.

With other military officials like pardoned felon Michael Flynn, O’Grady has shown a commitment lately to the most dangerous, despicable conspiracies about the election, and has lent his support on social media to a call for martial law. He’s not the only one doing so, and it’s just a sad, dangerous fact of the Trump era that outrageous, un-American, utterly made-up nonsense is now woven so deeply into conservativism’s articles of faith that the damage will long outlive this one terrible president.

Even in that context, O’Grady is out there. Most of the presidential cultists who have tried to maintain a veneer of normalcy – such as Cathy McMorris Rodgers and the House Coup Caucus, who should forever wear bright red A’s, for asinine amicus brief – have had to belatedly return to factual reality, mumbling their acceptance of their election results.

O’Grady is truer-blue. CNN examined his social media feeds and found a gusher of misinformation. He likes and retweets baseless claims that Trump won the election in “landslide fashion” and repeatedly spins pernicious lies about Biden’s 7 million vote victory.

He retweeted this post: “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but calling for martial law is not a bad idea when there is an attempted coup against the president and this country happening right now.”

He has also shared claims declaring former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis a “traitor”; alleging that Hillary Clinton and George Soros helped foreign actors interfere with last month’s election; and asserting that former President Obama and top military leaders were “sworn socialists.”

They take an oath, see. In a bunker somewhere with Soros and AOC.

Utterly shameless stuff, for anyone retaining the capacity for shame. But it’s utterly normal – now – for the bubble that surrounds the president of the United States of America.

O’Grady had a 12-year career as an Air Force pilot, and he became famous a couple of decades ago, after he was shot down flying an F-16 over Bosnia in 1995. He parachuted to safety and survived for six days using skills he had learned at the Fairchild Air Force Base survival school, eating leaves, bugs and grass before his rescue.

He was hailed as a hero by President Clinton, graced the cover of Time magazine, and became the subject of books and films about his experience – sometimes quibbling over the manner in which he was portrayed.

He eventually settled in Dallas, went to theology school and became a real-estate agent, investor and public speaker. His time in Spokane was relatively short-lived – his website says he moved here with his family in 1974 and left after graduation in 1984. He was later stationed for a while at the Fairchild survival school.

Still, he sparked a memory for Hagney – who taught history at LC for 45 years before his retirement last year – and probably for others here as well. Hagney did not want to evaluate his former student’s latest activities and assertions, but he had nothing but praise for his time as a teenage student of history.

“He was a great young man – intelligent, an excellent student,” Hagney said.

And now, 36 years later, he’s calling for a military coup while under consideration for a top Pentagon job – providing more fodder for future students of this sordid chapter in our history.

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