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Shawn Vestal: ‘What are you willing to kill for?’ asks Idaho candidate and GOP official

“What are you willing to kill for?” asked Alex Barron, an officer of the Kootenai County GOP and candidate for the Idaho Legislature, in a speech at Freedom Fest in Sandpoint in September 2019. (YouTube)

It was September 2019, and the Redoubters – Matt Shea, Heather Scott and the rest of the gang – were talking liberty at the Freedom Fest in Sandpoint.

Alex Barron, the self-styled “Bard of the Redoubt,” officer of the Kootenai County GOP and candidate for the Idaho Legislature, took the stage and issued a challenge for those in attendance.

“What,” Barron asked the crowd, “are you willing to kill for?”

He added, “That’s the question you need to ask yourself. When you’re shaving in the morning; when you’re putting on your face. Is there anything you’re willing to kill for? Anything at all. It’s not my question. It’s your question.”

Even for the echo chamber of hot talk and violent rhetoric that populates the Redoubt, it’s shocking to hear. You can find it on YouTube if you doubt me, or believe there’s some context that minimizes it.

“What are you willing to kill for?” asked Alex Barron, an officer of the Kootenai County GOP and candidate for the Idaho Legislature, in a speech at Freedom Fest in Sandpoint in September 2019.

Inland Northwest Freedom Fest / YouTube

What you’ll find if you do is Barron repeatedly raising the notion that his audience – people he said were selected by God to defend liberty and Christianity at a moment when the Lord might ask for a “blood price” – must decide that they’d be willing to kill for something, that only force will make the government change and that establishing a Christian theocracy with guns for all requires true Redoubt warriors to take extreme measures in that fight.

“Every veteran here will tell you that you never win by dying for your cause,” Barron said. “A very brilliant general says, ‘You win by making the other poor bastard die for his.’ That’s the truth, as uncomfortable as it is.”

Barron never specifies what kinds of killing patriots should start doing, and one imagines, if asked to explain, he would lean heavily on describing his words as metaphorical. I don’t know because Barron didn’t answer my requests for an interview.

The head of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, Brent Regan, did, though.

And guess what? He was completely, utterly, combatively fine with it.

“Speaking ONLY for myself,” Regan wrote in an email, “it is clear to any fair-minded person, without agenda-driven confirmation bias, and after viewing the entirety of the speech, that Mr. Barron’s question was rhetorical and simply intended to incite contemplation.”

I wrote to Regan that I don’t think there’s any place for that kind of talk from those who claim to serve the public in politics. I think it’s dangerous, and in a time when right-wing extremism is considered by law enforcement organizations such as the FBI as the biggest threat of domestic terrorism, I think that when people like Barron speak about deciding who to kill inside the bubble of end-times, anti-government, live-free-or-die gun zealotry, it’s more than rhetorical to at least some listeners.

Regan found my objections objectionable.

“When does talk become ‘this kind of talk?’ ” he asked in his email. “What is the metric, the bright line? If left to a subjective determination then the very right you enjoy daily is at risk. Freedom of speech loses its meaning if it does not include the freedom to say that which some find objectionable.”

Got that? Barron, the secretary of the Kootenai County Central Committee of the GOP, told a crowd of followers we are in a time of great peril to the country, they are culture warriors selected by the Lord to restore a country based on Christianity, the government will only change through force and they must decide what they’re willing to kill for – and the head of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee endorses it as a kind of noble, constitutional thought experiment.

Regan confuses free speech with consequence-free speech, as people often do when defending the despicable. He seems to think the Constitution actually requires some people to say ridiculous things while the rest of us say only “amen.”

This is preposterous. Barron is free to say whatever he wishes. The rest of us are free to call it out for what it is.

A lot of the public talk surrounding the current state of right-wing, end-times politics has focused on Matt Shea and whether he can survive being credibly accused as a “domestic terrorist” by a scathing Washington House investigation of his activities in instigating and fueling the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff.

What sometimes goes unremarked is the fact Shea’s political future is linked less and less to his actual legislative constituency in the Fourth District, and more and more to an ideological constituency divorced from geography and sustained by social media. In that world, up is down and black is white. The more damning the revelation, the more “amens” are added to the martyr’s chorus in Shea’s support.

One sign of that is his political donations – some come from within his district, but plenty do not. Plenty come from people like Brent Regan, whose Regan Properties LLC in Coeur d’Alene gave Shea $500. At this point, Shea represents a state of mind more than a district, and the Kootenai County GOP has moved from Idaho to that state.

Barron is one of the movers who are helping to establish a permeable membrane between traditional Republicans and the fringe. As noted, he’s a party officer and candidate for the Idaho Legislature; he’s a survival blogger and regular at Redoubt events and other such gatherings.

On Monday, for example, he spoke at a gun rally in Coeur d’Alene on the day the nation honors a visionary American, Martin Luther King Jr., who was killed by a racist gunman.

Word of his September comments was sent to me recently, and I watched the speech online. It’s a solid example of the genre. Titled “What Are We fighting For?” Barron tells his story of growing up in the notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, and going on to business success in San Diego before moving to North Idaho, which he loves. He spoke of himself and his political ilk as Christian warriors in a battle to restore America to its true glory – warriors for whom personal sacrifice, blood and death are definitely on the table.

“If the people in this room are not willing to give their last, like our forefathers did, we will lose,” he said. “And by give your last I mean all your retirement accounts, 401(k), your property, your wife and your children.”

Now there’s an incitement to contemplation. He said he and his fellow liberty lovers were selected by the Lord to fight this battle.

“Every time the Lord’s people got off track, he has demanded a blood price,” he said. “Every time. And I fear we are that blood price. ‘Cause we can see. But rejoice. Rejoice I say. Because the Lord, who sees all eternity, knew what was happening in our nation would come and he made sure that you were alive now.”

Barron then added that people often characterize their deepest values by asking the question: What would you be willing to die for? Then he said that “the more proper way to phrase it” is “what are you willing to kill for?”

That is the question, he said, Republicans must answer to unite.

Why, you ask? Is the GOP ready to start killing, once it can agree on a shared reason for doing so?

“Government never stops by choice,” he said. “Always, every right you have has been used by force. Force has been used. … If I say only things that you know and are comfortable with, what’s the point of talking?”

Our politics, and our political institutions, are lost if we can’t be better than indulging the fantasies of righteous violence that animate Shea’s world, fantasies that we know from experience some people will act on. The mainstream on the right has to correct for this eventually.

Until then, consider this an incitement to contemplation.

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