Some senior Deschutes County officials plan to participate in or support two far-right anti-COVID restriction events in the coming months.
Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson is scheduled to speak at a people’s rights meeting Jan. 18. The group was founded by Ammon Bundy, who led the 2016 gunfight at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. People’s Rights is a network of groups formed in 2020 centered around Bundy’s anti-government ideology and resisting public health mandates.
Then, in April, County Commissioner Patti Adair plans to attend a “Rewaken America” rally led by disgraced former US Army General Michael Flynn.
Flynn served as President Trump’s top national security adviser for 22 days in 2017 before resigning because he lied to FBI agents about a secret phone call he had with the Russian ambassador in the United States, Sergey Kislyak. He pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI, but was pardoned by the former president in 2020.
Local organizer Troy Smith courted the event’s national promoters by assuring that two Republican Deschutes County commissioners supported the cause and that Oregon’s mask mandate would not be enforced. When contacted, these commissioners said Smith misinterpreted their conversations.
“Wake America Up”
The Rewaken America event is scheduled for the Deschutes County Expo Center in Redmond.
A Reuters investigation found that in December 2020, Flynn urged Trump to deploy the military to nullify the election results. Now Flynn is traveling the country spreading false claims of voter fraud and opposing public health restrictions. Rewaken America rallies are supported by evangelical religious leaders and media personalities who champion conspiracy theories.
Emails shared with county expo center staff last October show Smith urging the tour founder and conservative radio host Clay Clark come to central Oregon by securing local political support from “2 of 3 county commissioners who both sit as conservative Republicans.” Adair and Commissioner Tony DeBone are the only Republicans on the county commission.
“Once booked, they will personally help publicize the event by supporting it fully,” Smith wrote. “They are comfortable, as is the facility manager, with the event managing their own decisions on masking. They’re not going to control that.
DeBone said he had a conversation with organizers in which they asked him if he would try to shut down the event if “it got interesting and political.” According to DeBone, he told them that political events are allowed as long as they follow the rules.
“There are a few statements in there where I’m like, ‘Woah, that’s taking enough away from our only conversation,'” DeBone said, referring to Smith’s emails. something we never talked about.”
Event organizers did not respond to interview requests.
Adair confirmed that she spoke to Smith and planned to attend the event.
“I believe in the First Amendment,” she said. “It’s a good exhibit to hear different people and what they’re looking for.”
Before and immediately after the November 2020 election, Adair retweeted false stories that the election was rigged, Democrats cheated, or that widespread fraud somehow affected the results. This week, Adair said she hadn’t paid close attention to allegations of voter fraud, or the QAnon conspiracy theories trumpeted during the recent Flynn events.
Adair also said she was mindful of public health protocols and worried about the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Deschutes County, which is among the top counties in the state affected by the latest wave of coronavirus. About 1 in 19 inhabitants of Deschutes County has an active COVID-19 infection, according to numbers released Thursday. At least 225 county residents have died from illness caused by the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Adair denied providing assurances that the state’s mask mandate would not apply, but offered an unclear recollection of his contacts with Smith.
“I know masks are a personal choice,” Adair said. “What I said on record about masks is that if you’re going to wear a mask, you have to make sure your mask works.”
The two commissioners hoped that the high local infection rate would decrease by April. When asked if she would be wearing a mask at the event, Adair replied, “I usually do.” DeBone said protocols at the time of the event will be appropriately adapted to the state of the pandemic.
Deschutes County Fair and Exhibit Center Manager Geoff Hinds was on an Oct. 20 email chain that included the original email with assurances that the mask mandate from the State would not apply to the event. Contacted by the OPB, Hinds also pushed back against the organizer’s claims that public health regulations will not be enforced.
“We expect any of our partners, including them, to abide by all existing rules and guidance laws at all times when using our property,” Hinds said. “It’s part of our deal with them.”
Hinds said he never told event organizers they could handle their own masking decisions. He said organizers only asked if they were allowed to remove masks for eating and drinking. He pointed out that a rental agreement for the exhibition center space signed by the event organizers stipulates that all events must comply with public health laws and regulations.
The election and health misinformation have cost lives, said Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang, the council’s only three-seat Democrat. He said people who encourage the band to come should be ashamed of themselves.
“I would be willing to call OSHA on us,” Chang said. “We need to make it 100% clear to these event organizers that the state requirements apply to us. And we, in turn, will impose these requirements on anyone using a county facility. »
Chang told the Bend Bulletin on Thursday that the county would send a letter to the organizers of Reawaken America, stating that they must wear masks.
“It’s not going to be about two commissioners denying things and stopping there,” Chang told the newspaper. “I want people to know there will be a follow-up.”
Rights of persons
On January 18, another extremist group is hosting an event with Nelson, the Deschutes County Sheriff.
According to the People’s Rights website, Nelson “will speak from the heart and answer questions from those in attendance.”
According to a statement from the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Nelson agreed to speak to the group about how the county is responding to Measure 110, which decriminalizes low-level drug possession and invests in treatment programs. Deschutes County has since launched a program to divert drug addicts to rehab.
People’s Rights Oregon organizers did not respond to interview requests regarding the event.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Jayson Janes said the meeting with People’s Rights was not unusual. Janes said the sheriff often speaks to groups like Rotary and the Lions Club, two nonpolitical community service organizations that date back to the turn of the century.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks hate groups and extremist organizations in the United States, said People’s Rights “seeks to build a nationwide network of right-wing, often anti-government activists who can be called upon to mobilize quickly against perceived threats.
A regional peoples’ rights leader in Montana describes the group as an Uber-like “militia response system” that can be mobilized at any time.
In 2020, amid racial justice protests largely aimed at racist and violent police, Nelson declined to meet with the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, a social justice group, citing the group’s “negativity toward law enforcement”.
Since the group’s inception, armed people’s rights members have shown up at the homes of politicians, health officials and police officers due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The sheriff’s office on Thursday commented on a Facebook post criticizing Nelson for speaking out on people’s rights, giving the same presentation to peacekeepers in central Oregon.