To Soothe Their Fears

(c) 1996 Paul de Armond

The recent arrest of several members of the Washington State Militia on conspiracy, firearms and explosives charges was the most recent chapter in a drama that has slowly been unfolding since early 1994. What first began as bizarre conspiracy theories about abolishing the federal government, mysterious invasions by foreign troops, the “restoration” of the Constitution by use of force, and an increasing “preparedness” for violent conflict finally became exactly what the militia participants feared most.

The following transcript of a public meeting held shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing shows that the participants trajectory was clear — at least in their own minds — from the beginning. The meeting was called by Ben Hinkle’s Populist Party splinter-group, Citizens for Liberty. The featured speaker was Whatcom County Sheriff Dale Brandland. Citizens for Liberty had prepared a brochure with questions for the Sheriff.

The brochure, entitled “Welcome to ASK THE SHERIFF Questions for Dale Brandland,” clearly laid out the Christian Patriot view of the relative authority of the federal government and local sheriffs. Most widely known through their connection with the intensely anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus, Christian Patriots see county sheriffs as the supreme authority in the United States.

Also distributed at the meeting were large amounts of right-wing, Christian Patriot, Christian Identity, militia and other literature from a variety of groups frequently characterized asextremist. The literature display covered several tables and included copies of local and regional newspaper articles, flyers produced by Hinkle and other participants in Citizens for Liberty. One small flyer, FOR COMMUNITY, WE MUST HAVE TRUTH, attacked the Coalition for Human Dignity, a human rights organization, as a “hate group.” A form letter, with a space to fill in the address of a member of Congress, announced, We Have Drawn The Line! on gun control.

At this meeting, Sheriff Brandland clearly did not understand who he was addressing or what they were talking about. When it was over, Sheriff Brandland thought that he had established some rapport with the group and the militia members thought that he had given them permission to organize a private army. Neither side understood what the other was saying.

One possible explanation for the conduct of John Pitner and the other militia supporters is the rumors which had been flying around both before and after the Oklahoma City bombing. Militia organizers, such as John Trochmann, Mark Koernke, and others had claimed that there were going to be raids on the homes of American citizens, massive confiscation of firearms, and the deportation or imprisonment of “Patriots.” These fears were clearly voiced by Pitner in his dialog with Sheriff Brandland. It is unfortunate that Sheriff Brandland either was ignorant of these rumors or chose to dismiss them as unrealistic.

The results of this communication failure have now been underscored by the arrests of members of the Washington State Militia, at least three of whom were participants in this meeting with Sheriff Brandland. Having first created their fears, the militia members may have made them come true.

The following is a partial transcript of the events at that meeting.


Citizens for Liberty
Bellingham Harbor Center
May 19, 1995

Unidentified voice:

I’d like to ask question number 5. Are you aware of any militia activity in Whatcom County and if so are you prepared [garble] to make any arrests if the ATF comes?

Sheriff Brandland:

I’m not aware of any militia, uh, in Whatcom County, uh, I’ve heard rumors that, uh, that there may be a militia here. Um, I have not seen any evidence of it at all.

Unidentified voice:

Do they pose any threat?

Sheriff Brandland:

The only time I would see a militia posing a threat in Whatcom County is if they are going to take some, uh, some action and take the law into their own hands. If the militias going to start taking the law into their own hands then, yeah, I have a problem with that.

Ben Hinkle:

Excuse me, I think after this if you have a question come up here to the microphone and then the person that has the microphone has the floor will have the floor and we won’t have people have a cross, ah, discussion. So if you have a question, come up here to the microphone so everybody can hear it and, uh, there will be only one person talking. Thanks.

Unidentified voice:

I’ve always had the philosophy that if there weren’t any police, then I’d probably have to be one. But I’d hate to have to be a policeman today if this is the authority that they have to work by. I’m upstairs watching television. If I hear a scuffle coming down my driveway and I can hear my door being broken in — I know it’s not going to be any friend. I’m going be down those stairs with my .44 and the bullets are going to start flying. And when they stop flying, whatever has happened, I know I won’t be guilty and I won’t expect to be charged for anything. What’s going to happen then?

Sheriff Brandland:

Are we going to use you as an example?

Unidentified voice:

Any one of us. [garble]

Sheriff Brandland:

You’re talking about this being you, so let’s use you as an example. I’d probably call you on the phone.

Unidentified voice:

Well this has already happened. What am I going to be accused of after the incident happens? [garble] I end up shooting some police officer that’s going to be breaking into my house. They’re in, the doors down — that’s a Constitutional right I feel I have to [garble]

2nd unidentified voice [interrupting]:

Make sure they’re inside first.

[garble – several voices talking]

Sheriff Brandland:

How many wrongful search warrants have we had here?

Unidentified voice:

We’ve been reading here about quite a few — in the papers — throughout the United States

Sheriff Brandland:

But how many have we had, can anybody guess?

Unidentified voice:

But that is what we want to keep from having here. We don’t want those lawful, uh, sir. We don’t want that here. That’s what we’re concerned about.

Sheriff Brandland:

Uh, I mean, to think that that’s something that I would endorse — is almost offensive to me. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I was elected by you — some of you [laughter] — to enforce the law. And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to do the right thing. I don’t want to see you guys have your doors kicked in. None of us do. I mean, can I guarantee that it won’t happen; can I guarantee you that — that somebody out there is going to go get a search warrant, is going to put the wrong number on a piece of paper and kick in the wrong door? That happens. It happens in Seattle. Can I guarantee it won’t happen here? No, I can’t. Can I tell you that I will work very hard to make sure that it doesn’t? — and I have. Yes, I will.

John Pitner:

Sheriff Brandland, I want to [garble] turn on the microphone. [laughter] You’re aware of the 2nd Amendment, right?

Sheriff Brandland:

Yup.

John Pitner:

OK, to keep and bear arms. Now, what happens if the federal government, through some heinous activity or eleventh hour legislation or through executive order decides that a United States citizen can not keep or bear arms anymore? Do you instruct your deputies, here in this county, to go door to door and help the authorities collect our guns?

Sheriff Brandland:

Boy…

John Pitner:

That’s pretty cut and dried.

Sheriff Brandland:

Pretty cut and dried, but the likelihood of that happening is pretty remote.

John Pitner:

It’s happening all the time.

Unidentified voice:

It’s happening all the time in America, yeah. It already has [garble].

John Pitner:

See, I think what the main fear here is, is that we’re very afraid of the federal government. And we need somebody here in this county to tell us and sooth our fears — and let us know that these beggars are not going to come in and busting our doors down, collecting our weapons and things of these nature. And I think that this is a large part of why the militias have been established. Just because people were afraid. Not because they are lurking around; wanting to shoot somebody or take the law into their own hands. Just because we are afraid of our own federal government. And when the federal government fears the people, it’s time to get rid of the federal government.

So I would just like to know, would you instruct your deputies to assist these people in going door to door and confiscating private citizens’ weapons?

Sheriff Brandland:

I was elected to enforce the law.

John Pitner:

So by their color of law, I’m telling you right now, that’s where I stand.

[Several people talking all at once.]

Sheriff Brandland:

I was elected to enforce the law. I don’t interpret the law. We have a lot of laws that are not constitutional that we put into posit– that we put in place and they are found to be unconstitutional and nobody enforces them.

John Pitner:

We’re talking about a very serious issue here, sir.

Sheriff Brandland:

Yes, we are.

John Pitner:

And, uh, you swore to the Constitution when you took your office.

Sheriff Brandland:

Uh huh.

John Pitner:

To support that Constitution.

Sheriff Brandland:

I did.

John Pitner:

And, and, and that order, if you were to assist these federal authorities to take away our weapons, you would be in direct violation of the Constitution, therefore jeopardizing yourself…
[NB — as Contitutionalists understand their version of the law, “violating the Constitution” is treason and the penalty is death.]

Sheriff Brandland [interrupting]:

Well, I guess I have a little [garble – several people talking at once]

John Pitner [continuing]:

From what I have seen from the advent of 666, HR 97 and all this other legislation, GATT and NAFTA and everything else. I don’t think that anybody in here tonight has any faith in our federal government any longer. That’s why we need you to make your statements to let us know how you’re going to protect us. Whether you are going to protect us or not. So that we can go home tonight feeling semi-secure, knowing that our sheriff is going to protect us. And that’s why you’re in office right now. Not to protect the federal government, but to protect us.

Sheriff Brandland:

I’m here to enforce the law.

John Pitner:

Thank you.

Unidentified voices:

The Constitution’s the law. [garble] the Constitution says that… is the supreme law… the interpretation… [garble]

 

 

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