My Rural Hometown: Targeted by Reactionaries
Far-right Republicans are stepping up their offensives in rural America, including where I live in Port Angeles and Sequim, Washington. Sequim currently has a mayor who supports QAnon and a predominantly right-wing city council. This peaceful retirement community of 7,500 people, surrounded by farms and lavender fields, is riven by discord over racism and bigotry. Now Port Angeles is in the same crosshairs.
Right-wing activists are exploiting a controversy over a desperately needed drug treatment center planned for Sequim by the Jamestown Klallam tribe. A group called Save Our Sequim spews lies about drug addicts pouring in from metropolitan Seattle and destroying our community. This has resulted in racial slurs towards the tribe and a vicious social media campaign scapegoating people with chemical addictions and mental illnesses. It also targets homeless people.
This rural corner of Washington State was on edge during the Trump years. When gun shop owner Seth Larson spread false rumors that “antifa” (anti-fascist activists) were coming to vandalize white neighborhoods, local militiamen pulled out their guns. They bullied Black Lives Matter marchers and terrorized a multiracial family on a camping trip. Vigilante groups chased the homeless from their camps. Recently, a Palestinian American family was physically threatened near their Kabob House restaurant.
My stomach turned when I heard Sequim Mayor William Armacost on a “Coffee with the Mayor” radio show claim that “QAnon is a truth movement that encourages you to think for yourself” . When criticized, he gave a smooth, presumably coached rebuttal, denying having anything to do with QAnon. Then Armacost fired the city manager, who called on him to support the far-right conspiracy theory cult.
Amid the pandemic, Mayor Armacost traveled to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which was billed as a Covid-19 superspreader event, with over 400,000 attendees. Upon his return, many were appalled when he immediately reopened his beauty salon without quarantine, putting his elderly clients at risk.
Hard-right organizers are using Q’s goofy lies to recruit into their anti-government movement. Ultra-conservative Republican operatives Jim McEntire and Donnie Hall, along with several “silent supporters”, formed the Independent Advisory Association (IAA), which mentored far-right candidates. They nursed Armacost and claimed his election victory as their first victory. Now, the IAA is proposing a conservative slate of candidates for November’s city council election in nearby Port Angeles.
This list of right-wingers is waging a shrewd campaign on social media and in forums calling for ‘cleaning up our streets’ and cutting social services that ‘just attract more homeless people’. An IAA candidate said, “These people need to be arrested, taken to jail.” But, according to a one-time survey, 90% of people on the streets are locals and the problem will get worse when the pandemic moratorium on evictions ends.
Our community needs more affordable housing and treatment services, not less!
The politics behind bigotry. The pandemic has really shaken rural economies, which were already suffering. Fear of societal issues like homelessness and protests against racist police killings are being exploited by the far right. By targeting rural areas, they hope to grow a movement of people angry at Covid restrictions who want to end all federal regulations, privatize schools, ban abortions, vilify LGBTQ+ people, dismantle unions and more.
Their policies are intimidation, harassment and deception. Behind innocent-sounding names like “Save Our Sequim” or “Patriot Prayer” hides Hitler’s politics. They attack liberals and leftists as “woke” elites, and diversity as “political correctness,” thereby encouraging white supremacists and thugs to bolder public attacks.
These deceptive tactics don’t work in my hometown. We celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride Month with the first-ever march in Port Angeles, and Sequim held large rallies in support of building the addiction treatment clinic. Both cities held Black Lives Matter rallies. Several young candidates are running in the municipal elections to oppose the right-wing list.
While I don’t think electing Liberals will stop this proto-fascist movement, I am encouraged by the response in my community. People are speaking out and standing up against racism and bigotry.
But we need more: a mass public outcry, a national civil rights movement – rural and metropolitan – to counter the ultra-right!
Send your thoughts and comments to the author at [email protected]