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Mayor’s embrace of QAnon roils the politics of Sequim

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 31, 2021

CNN senior national correspondent Kyung Lah interviews Sequim Mayor William Armacost after a “Coffee with the Mayor” session Thursday morning. (Matthew Nash/Sequim Gazette)
CNN senior national correspondent Kyung Lah interviews Sequim Mayor William Armacost after a “Coffee with the Mayor” session Thursday morning. (Matthew Nash/Sequim Gazette)
Seattle Times

Seattle Times

Sequim, a small town known for its summer lavender festival and its above-average ration of sunshine for the Pacific Northwest, is now drawing darker national attention as home to a mayor who has promoted irrational QAnon conspiracy theories.

William Armacost was selected mayor by the Sequim City Council a year ago. Last summer, in a “Coffee with the Mayor” chat broadcast on local radio he declared QAnon a “truth movement” and encouraged listeners to watch on YouTube a specific QAnon conspiracy video.

The video, subsequently taken down by YouTube but still available on the internet, is anti-Semitic, anti-intellectual and histrionic. It promises a “war of biblical proportions” to rid the world of an evil global conspiracy run by an elite class riddled with pedophiles – a cabal that is presented as the cause of everything bad in the world including crime, war, homelessness and poverty.

It tries to convince viewers with more baseless charges that every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has been a “deep state criminal” and that a secret group of good guys in the military is about to save the world with Donald Trump as their great leader.

That last bit may be out of date now.

Interviewed by CNN Thursday, Armacost refused to pass judgment on these conspiracy theories. Instead, he denied he had ever explicitly “endorsed or said I was a QAnon supporter” and said he had simply encouraged people “to seek truth.”

Shenna Younger, who helped found a citizens group to promote good governance in Sequim, said its 500 active members are very concerned about Armacost’s “QAnon ideologies.”

“This is not indicative of who we are. It’s a small minority,” Younger said. “This spotlight is damaging our tourism and our businesses.”

Judging that a recall of the mayor would be costly, her group is focused on the November election and aims to replace three City Council members aligned with Armacost.

Recruited in a conservative push

Armacost has never been chosen in a contested election by the people of Sequim.

He was helped into public office with the support of a Clallam County organization run by two prominent local Republican activists that promotes “conservative/populist” candidates.

He was appointed to the City Council in 2019, held that seat in an uncontested election, then was appointed mayor by a vote of the city council – which currently is mostly appointed, not elected.

The city, on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula, has just over 7,000 residents.

In November’s presidential election, the city voted 56% for Joe Biden and 41% for Trump. However, the surrounding rural community is overwhelmingly Republican. Last summer, signs supporting Republican Loren Culp for governor predominated in the area.

Matthew Randazzo, who lived in Sequim for six years until 2012 and was then the chair of the county Democratic Party – he still has property there and retains connections in the town – described the outlying community as “a robust, outspoken conservative population that is trying to drag the city government in its direction.”

He said the organization that helped get Armacost into office has been recruiting candidates for nonpartisan bodies that don’t get much attention.

“They’ve exploited this lack of attention and the result is an extremist and apparently unhinged city council majority” in its support of Armacost, said Randazzo.

He said Armacost has been very open, even flamboyant, about his QAnon beliefs, flaunting them on social media posts.

“But I don’t think he’s alone,” said Randazzo. “He’s the tip of an iceberg, of a radicalized conservative base all across the country.”

Resisting pandemic restrictions

Armacost runs a salon & spa business in Sequim and is also a representative of Juice Plus+, a multi-level marketing scheme that sells vitamin supplements.

Juice Plus+ was formally cautioned by the Federal Trade Commission in June for false advertising claims that its products could prevent COVID-19 infection and make its representatives rich.

Armacost shares the resistance of many on the right to government advice on COVID protections.

In August he traveled to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, which drew more than 450,000 people and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified it as triggering chains of transmission to other states.

On his return to Sequim, which has a high percentage of older retirees, Armacost declined to self-quarantine.

“It is not required of me either by science, regulation, experience or custom,” he explained in a letter to the Sequim Gazette.

Last week, political strife in the town reached a pivot point when the mayor moved behind closed doors to oust longtime city manager Charlie Bush.

With an impressive resume of city management positions, Bush was recruited from Issaquah to manage Sequim more than six years ago.

When a furor broke out after Armacost’s QAnon remarks on the radio broadcast last August, Bush issued a statement with the mayor saying it was inappropriate to have made those remarks in the course of conducting city business.

“Any responses to questions reflecting the personal opinion of the Mayor do not reflect policy positions of the Sequim City Council,” Bush stated in that release.

In that statement, Armacost did not disavow his comments, but committed in the future to keep his “personal life separate from my professional life.”

The political heat in Sequim rose over the past year when an opioid treatment clinic being built by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe deeply divided the community’s liberals and conservatives.

Bush’s granting of permission for that clinic seems to have been the final impetus for the mayor and his City Council allies to oust the manager.

Last Monday, after a closed-door executive session, the council passed a motion to request his resignation, in what the local Peninsula Daily News described as “what promises to be an expensive” leave-taking.

A local petition to retain Bush as city manager had collected more than 1,500 signatures by Saturday.

Armacost’s extreme political beliefs have sharpened what was for a long time a typical rural/urban divide between conservatives and liberals and now reflects the deeper tensions that have riven the entire United States since the election.

Five days after an angry mob of Trump supporters – prominently including QAnon believers – violently blasted past police lines last month to ransack the U.S. Capitol, one local Sequim resident who gave his name as Josh asked Armacost at a Zoom City Council meeting to publicly renounce QAnon.

“I don’t like to be represented by terrorists,” Josh declared.

Armacost ignored the plea for a public denunciation.

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