Monday, January 30, 2006


The Umbrella Group

[The following true story is extracted from the book Blind Spots by Jay Taber.
An earlier and considerably longer composite of excerpts from Blind Spots is available here . The author is currently seeking venues for publishing The Umbrella Group as a feature story. Assistance in this endeavor appreciated.]

The Umbrella Group

On September 20, 1992, CBS 60 Minutes aired a segment on the violence of the industry-backed Wise Use Movement, focusing on the threats, intimidation, and assaults against parents and community groups in the US who raised concerns about water and air pollution. Caught on film were movement provocateurs Chuck Cushman and Skip Richards, as well as movement propagandist Ron Arnold--all based in Washington State--and interestingly, David Macintosh, White House staff representing President Bush at a national Wise Use gathering. On behalf of President Bush, Macintosh congratulated them for the role they were playing in shaping US policy. As Mr. Macintosh put it, “This is an important movement—one that reflects the American people’s desire to have sensible government.” Part of the footage of Clean Water, Clean Air was shot in Whatcom County, Washington where I lived at the time.

In our Pacific Northwest neck of the woods, the threats in the early 1990s were coming from folks stirred up by the real estate development industry against environmental protection and Indian treaties. Several of those targeted for harassment were my colleagues and friends.

While on our fall 1994 vacation, Marianne and I stopped for lunch in the picturesque logging/mining town of Republic, in the mountains of Ferry County 100 miles northwest of Spokane. As we often do when visiting new locales, we picked up the local newspaper to get the flavor of the area. The eight-page Republic Miner contained the typical small town articles about weddings, civic group functions, and the Sheriff’s report, along with the usual hardware, grocery, and real estate ads. What caught my eye, though, was a full-page color ad by The Umbrella Group--an unusual name for this arid side of the state--that consisted mostly of text denouncing environmentalists and anyone else who allegedly was putting timber workers and miners out of work. The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

When we tuned into the local radio station, we learned that the mill that employed most of the town was scaling back and making layoffs. The call-in show we caught in mid stride was full of scapegoating and fear-mongering. As it turned out, TUG was another industry-funded lobbying group that was evading disclosure by failing to report campaign expenditures, which in turn enabled them to come in under the radar of media and good government groups that monitored election department forms to see who was funding support or opposition to candidates, initiatives, or referendums.

The following week, I saw a notice in the Bellingham Herald for a meeting of the Committee for Environmental Justice, at Laurel Grange. When I entered the hall, I spotted Gene Goldsmith, the Wise Use State Legislator from Ferndale. As I looked around, I noticed several characters I hadn’t spotted before at Wise Use rallies or public hearings. Some of them were wearing camouflage clothing; one who was operating a video camera on a tri-pod between me and Representative Goldsmith, had a ball cap on with an insignia of a revolutionary war Minuteman.

Skip Richards, a Building Industry Association contract field agent, opened the meeting by introducing the master of ceremonies from Snohomish County, Don Kehoe, who launched into a mild-mannered, monotonous diatribe on Millenialism, Armageddon, and the looming “End Times.” Several “expert” speakers continued in a similar but more excited vein over the next two hours--interrupted only by spontaneous testimonials from audience members who popped up here and there, regaling their encounters with agents from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). Guys with dark rings around their eyes, like the cast in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, like maybe they’d been losing a lot of sleep worrying about the UN invasion or maybe been over self-medicating.

As I witnessed the escalating fervor of the many wild-eyed participants, including a visibly agitated Washington State Representative Gene Goldsmith, whose one leg kept bouncing up and down—accelerating with the passion of the testifiers--I began to wonder how many of these marginally-sane malcontents were packing firearms under their jackets. I was considerably relieved when they announced the coffee and cookie break, and headed in to grab some refreshment and look around.

The kitchen was worse—it was full of maniacal Larouchites leaning over the tables frenziedly pitching their knowledge of the House of Windsor and Rothschild connections to internment camps run by UN troops at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for locking up people like themselves who knew the secrets about the New World Order. There were other sociopaths nearly foaming at the mouth while frantically hawking guns, books, and armaments orders to already pumped-up militia recruits who were loading up on caffeine and sugar. Soft sell was not in their repertoire.


October 26, 1994, four days after the Laurel Grange militia revival, the Wise Use Whatcom County Council announced it was withholding support from a human rights group formed in the wake of a cross-burning and shotgun attack at a migrant workers’ camp near Lynden. A city of five thousand with a history of anti-abortion, anti-gay, religious activism--due in part to the concentration of Christians involved with organizations like Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family, and Christian Coalition--Lynden’s prosperous berry farmers relied on seasonal workers from Mexico. To some of the Wise Use bigots--particularly their associates in the militia recruiting organization Citizens for Liberty-- these non-white laborers were viewed on a par with Indians and Blacks--not only unequal in the eyes of God, but undeserving of equal protection under the law. The County Council’s major objection to the human rights group, however, was its support of equal rights for homosexuals.

Meanwhile, down in Snohomish County, just north of Seattle, growth management activist Ellen Gray was threatened by property-rights zealots brandishing a hangman’s noose. Ellen was later asked to testify before a Congressional committee investigating domestic terrorism.

In January 1995, Whatcom County Council member Marlene Dawson--a real estate speculator on the Lummi Indian Reservation--urged U.S. Senator Slade Gorton to “drastically cut Lummi funding” on behalf of her and other white fee land owners. The Fee Land Owners Association (FLOA), in which Marlene was active, had been at odds with the tribe over the sovereignty of Lummi Nation to manage water resources within its own jurisdiction. To the white developers, this interfered with their ability to make easy money at the expense of the tribe.
This situation played out on numerous Indian reservations throughout the state, especially those with waterfront. Puget Sound was notorious for battles between tribes and developers. United Property Owners of Washington (UPOW) is the umbrella lobbying and litigation organization for the whites. Former U.S. Representative Jack Metcalf from Langley on Whidbey Island (whose father was a Silver Shirt Nazi-sympathizer during World War II) served on UPOW’s board.

Senator Gorton made a name for himself in the 1970s as the Washington State Attorney General who led the fight to deprive Washington Indian tribes of their fishing rights guaranteed under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot. I remember in 1974 my Lummi and Samish friends being rammed and shot at while fishing salmon. As a U.S. Senator in 1995, Gorton took the action of threatening to deprive the Lummis of funds used to support such needs as health services for their elders and the Head Start program for their children.

After an armed stand-off on the reservation between Lummi Police and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputies at the site of a Lummi Nation well, anti-Indian organizers stepped up their activities. Several Indian youth were harassed and assaulted in the nearby Ferndale School District, and placard-carrying contingents from FLOA, stirred up by Skip Richards’ and his new partner Kris Heintz’ propaganda equating property-rights with civil rights, became regulars at County Council meetings.


A short while later, at a human rights workshop I had the good fortune to meet Eric Ward from Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment in Seattle. Eric, and his partner Bill Wassmuth, were focused on constraining racist based political violence. Eric, a young, dreadlocked, black man with blue eyes had been initiated into human rights work combating neo-Nazi skinheads in Eugene, Oregon. Bill, an older, white, former Catholic priest from Idaho, had received his initiation fighting Aryan Nations, which is suspected of blowing off the back of his home with dynamite.

On April 19, I made an early morning trip south to Snohomish County to introduce myself to Ellen Gray. When we met for lunch, I related to her some of the stuff Paul de Armond was uncovering, and suggested, “We might be able to help you do something about the militia thugs down here. You know your Sheriff’s mixed up with them.” She stopped me in mid sentence, staring with a puzzled look. “You seem so calm. Do you know what happened this morning?”
I said, “No, what?”
“Someone blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.”

Later in May 1995, Ben Hinckle, who’d opened for Chuck Cushman at a Wise Use Rome Grange revival, hosted an open-to-the-public Citizens for Liberty meeting at Squalicum Harbor Center. Citizens for Liberty--an amalgam of adherents of the John Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, and other racist /anti-Semitic organizations--was waxing as a militia recruiting group, drawing interest from less stable members of Fee Land Owners Association and other property-rights fanatics. The new political climate boastfully created by the Building Industry Association, had clearly signaled it was time for these dormant Minutemen to prepare for action.

The targets of their delusional fear and hatred had been provided—now it was time for revenge. Whatcom County Sheriff Dale Brandland attended to warn them not to “take the law into their own hands.” At a later public meeting of Citizens for Liberty, Hinckle threatened Paul with a knife.


As Paul’s report Wise Use in Northern Puget Sound circulated around the state and nation, attracting interest from civic groups, academia, law enforcement, and news reporters in the US, Canada, and Europe, the anti-Indian element of the property-rights fundamentalists began to escalate the conflict. In September 1995, Bellingham’s KGMI radio talk-show host, Jeff Kent, led Fee Land Owners Association representatives Jeff McKay and Linnea Smith in an hour-long diatribe against the Lummis. When U.S. Senator Gorton stepped up his attack against Native sovereignty, Washington Environmental Council and the Washington Association of Churches joined the Lummis in condemning this unconscionable act of revenge for losing the fish wars in federal court as a younger man.

For a brief period that fall, humanists and renegade Democrats worked along side attorney Joe Bowen, a Skagit Indian fielded to challenge Gorton for U.S. Senate. Perhaps in the twisted minds that comprised Citizens for Liberty, this confirmed their delusions of conspiracy against their version of white supremacy guaranteed by the “organic” U.S. Constitution, the one without amendments beyond the original ten—the one they carried in their shirt pockets when attending militia meetings. But it was not what they thought that mattered most—it was what they did that counted, and their decision in November 1995 to sponsor a talk by Ron Arnold, the hate-mongering Wise Use propagandist from the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue, was one they’d come to regret.

Arnold, “Merchant of Fear” Alan Gottlieb’s partner, is a not so subtle master of violent rhetoric, who covers himself by claiming his calls to “kill the bastards” (environmentalists) are metaphorical.

Movement entrepreneurs Arnold and Cushman--national players who mobilize ruffians to carry the banner for industry--generate violence toward Indians and environmentalists from coast to coast. According to Western States Center researcher Jonn Lunsford, crimes including “animal mutilation, property damage, death threats, arson, assault and battery, bombings, and attempted murder” follow in their wake. In May 1988, Cushman was the featured speaker at Protect America’s Rights and Resource’s national convention in Wisconsin, held to oppose honoring Indian treaties. Shortly after his 1988 appearance, Indian fishermen there were assaulted and shot at by sports fishermen.


The week before, on November 11, 1995 (Veterans Day), another event took place that had Paul and I in an excited state of mind. Paul’s sister Claire had received a call early that Saturday morning from a friend who’d passed the Rome Grange on the way to town, and seen a large sign out front announcing “Washington State Militia.” Paul called me before breakfast to arrange a rendezvous at the Grange. He and Claire would sit on one side of the room, visibly taking notes and tape-recording if it seemed safe, and I would sit on the other side of the room blending in.

Shortly after the pledge of allegiance and welcome, Paul and Claire entered and sat across the room toward the front. I noticed a few heads turn as his presence was whispered back and forth. After a couple of warm up speakers who lamented the “browning of America” by immigrants, and warned of the police state that would take their children, wives, and other property, an out-of-uniform Sheriff Brandland came in eating a bag of popcorn and sat opposite me on the bench under the window. When the presentations started to get repetitive, Paul and Claire walked out. The Sheriff left after a bit as well. When the refreshments break came, I held back and pretended to be interested in some of the recruitment flyers they’d passed out. I noticed the keynote speaker, Keith Anderson (recently convicted of securities fraud), was speaking sotto voce to his assistant near the window. I pretended to not be interested and only strayed as close as necessary to pick up their conversation.

What I heard them say was, “Trochman’s coming to speak at the Lakeway Inn. Things are gonna start happening. He doesn’t fuck around.” John Trochman was the leader of the Militia of Montana, a heavily armed outfit that wasn’t above robbing banks, storming county jails to bust out their buddies, and engaging in shoot-outs with state police when pulled over for traffic infractions.

To avoid suspicion, I wandered downstairs and availed myself of the voluminous tabled handouts free-for-the-taking and returned upstairs with the boys. When Anderson’s speech on how to evade taxes and launder money concluded, I decided it was time to find Paul. He quickly made some calls to Eric in Seattle and human rights leaders in Bellingham to develop a response. When they spoke with the management of the Bellingham Lakeway Inn, the Trochman reservation was cancelled, forcing the militia recruiters to relocate their event to Mt. Vernon, thirty miles south. With this advance warning, human rights activists in Skagit County merged with those from Whatcom in protest on the day of the big event.

Eric was terrified with, “the idea of militias being able to utilize the electoral force of Wise Use groups” to legitimize racist based policies regionally and nationally. In Whatcom, Snohomish, and Chelan Counties, this epidemic was in full swing.


July 1996 brought several surprises to Whatcom County, not the least of which was a press conference by the U.S. Department of Justice, announcing the bust of eight local individuals for involvement in bomb-making and illegal modification of firearms into fully-automatic weapons—machine guns. News of this development, given the growth in militia organizing activities of the past year and a half, made Paul and I very concerned. Paul installed motion detectors and lights around his home. I started closing the blinds at night--drawing the heavy brocaded curtains over the windows in the living room where I often sat up late reading. I never said anything about why I was doing this, hoping to spare Marianne some worry. I guess I was only sparing myself, though. I realized this when she asked me if I thought someone might try to poison our dogs. I wondered if I’d be shot in my recliner some evening.

Paul shared information with local and federal law enforcement agents, but the communication was strictly one-way. As a member of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Speaker’s Bureau, I’d been lecturing at adult education forums in local churches about the danger posed by community silence. Most of my time consisted of undoing the years of misinformation published in the Herald.

The morning of the DOJ press conference, Paul was stuck at work, so I picked up our video of the Washington State Militia gathering and drove down to the Bellingham Police Station where the press conference was to be held. When I arrived, there were three huge, mobile, satellite-hookup news vans from Seattle television stations in the parking lot, a temporary chain link fence surrounding the station, and plainclothes agents--sporting sunglasses and earphones--all over the place.

Stepping up into the van of one of the major network affiliates, I interrupted a news team in the middle of organizing the sequence of their coverage and monitoring their satellite connection on the several live screens in the wall of electronics running the length of the walk-in van. They were pretty hyper, and seemed to overlook my presence, until I said, “I have a videotape of the militia meeting with me.”

When it was time to go inside the police station, I walked behind the news team, and when stopped by the armed agent at the entrance for lack of a dog tag, I produced a Public Good business card, which I referred to as an online media publication, and was escorted by another federal agent into the conference.


In August 1996, after four and a half years of cover-up by the Bellingham Herald, the Wise Use/militia connection was finally revealed in the Portland Oregonian. This was soon followed by an article in the Anacortes American, the first coverage by a paper inside the legislative district Skip Richards hoped to represent. Quoted as a background source in the Oregonian, I was becoming increasingly concerned for the safety of my family. After all, my face had just been broadcast on regional television as a militia-buster, and I figured if anything was going to happen, it might already be underway. Meanwhile, Bill Wassmuth and Eric Ward, down at the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity office in Seattle, were busy making sense of things for the metro news audience.
In October, trailing distantly in the polls, candidate Richards chose to play the race card in the general election, insinuating in his campaign literature that the Indians (presumably through guarding their treaty rights) were undermining all that the white people had struggled to build in Whatcom County. His associate Bill Geyer’s County Executive campaign also flopped, in spite of the Herald’s refusal to connect him to Wise Use. The third member of the local trio who’d initiated the faux property-rights rebellion (as well as a key figure in the Washington Property Rights Network that subverted elections in 14 counties), Building Industry Association executive Art Castle, relocated to the Kitsap Peninsula.

On January 15, 1997, the trial of eight Washington State Militia members began in federal court in Seattle. One of their secretly recorded conversations, introduced as evidence, included a discussion about a route through the heavily wooded Whatcom Falls Park to the rear of the home of Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Chair Damani Johnson. Some of the defendants were set free due to a juror’s inability to follow the judge’s instructions; others went to prison for four years. Bellingham Herald crime reporter, Cathy Logg--who courageously covered the arrests and had her home and computer broken into--eventually moved away from Whatcom County.

Malcolm Gladwell, in the Crime and Science article published in the February 24, 1997 issue of New Yorker magazine, wrote about why some people turn into violent criminals. “New evidence,” he says, “suggests that it may all be in the brain.”

In the opening paragraph of Damaged, Gladwell describes the racist, anti-semitic, mass murderer, Joseph Paul Franklin, sitting in front of the judge in Clayton, Missouri completely still except for his left leg, which bounced up and down in an unceasing nervous motion. Just like Gene Goldsmith’s did at the Laurel Grange revival meeting.

According to Gladwell, Dorothy Otnow Lewis--a psychiatrist at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, who over the past twenty years has examined roughly two hundred murderers—concluded that Franklin was “a psychotic whose thinking was delusional and confused” due to “brutal physical abuse he had suffered as a child.” The blows to the head inflicted by his mother, she said, accounted for his “bizarre statements and beliefs.” Although he didn’t seem insane, she didn’t feel that Franklin’s brain worked the way brains are supposed to work-that he had identifiable biological and psychiatric problems.

When I read this article, I couldn’t avoid thinking of the Wise Use zealots, Citizens for Liberty, the Committee for Environmental Justice, and some of the fanatic fundamentalists steering the Whatcom Republican Party. As Lewis noted, some sociopaths are not evil; “They are driven by forces beyond their control.” Driven described to a “T” the malcontents I’d observed first hand over the past five years. They were driven to harangue anyone who disagreed with them. They were driven to organize, petition, lobby, and demonstrate against sex education, against the teaching of Evolution, against homosexuals, against environmental sanity, and perhaps most tellingly—against talking circles in the elementary schools—used to assist teachers in detecting victims of child abuse.
Local Wise Use Women in Timber activists viewed this and Outcome-based Education as intolerable intrusions into the inviolate domain of family life—the realm where the man was autocratic head of the household—where wife-battering, child-beating, and even incest were no business of social workers or society at large. The touchstone of family autonomy was something I’d heard repeated by these women in many venues. It came as no surprise when Citizens for Liberty/Washington State Militia member Fred Fisher was revealed as having been convicted of forcing repeated sexual intercourse on his nine-year-old foster daughter.

More importantly, these relatively small groups of neurotics were driven in 1993 to take over the legislative branches of Bellingham and Whatcom County governments. Public policy in city hall and the courthouse wasn’t just corrupt—it was literally insane.

I called Paul and told him about the article. It seemed vital to understanding some of the madness around Whatcom politics—indeed national politics after the 1994 mid-term Congressional elections. Remember the Contract with America crap? U.S. Representative Helen Chenoweth? Reverend Moon? Anyone sane enough to manipulate the damaged ones for political power is very evil indeed—and dangerous.

Dorothy Lewis’ colleague, Jonathan Pincus--a neurologist at Georgetown University--became convinced that “Almost all the violent ones [criminals] were damaged.” Gladwell claims They [Lewis and Pincus] believe that the most vicious criminals are, overwhelmingly, people with some combination of abusive childhoods, brain injuries, and psychotic symptoms…somehow these factors together create such terrifying synergy as to impede these individuals’ ability to play by the rules of society.

Since there is no objective standard for judgment, Pincus, says Gladwell, tries to pick up evidence of an inability to cope with complexity, a lack of connection between experience and decision-making which is characteristic of cortical dysfunction—the inability to adapt to a new situation. Like, say, the modern day White Supremacists Paul and I observed at militia recruiting meetings in Whatcom and Snohomish Counties? The ones who claimed that filing legal affidavits with county clerks declaring themselves white, property-owning males exempted them from paying taxes? The ones who asserted the County Sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer in the country? Like the ones holding Sodom and Gomorra placards in front of a photo exhibit at Bellingham City Hall of gay and lesbian people in the workplace? Not every suspected fruitcake was as cut and dry as the Larouchites who occasionally set up a table in front of the Bellingham Central Post Office. I wondered where to draw the line between ignorance and mental deficiency.

As Gladwell observes, child abuse has devastating psychological consequences for children and the adults they become…prolonged child abuse is a key to understanding criminal behavior because abuse also appears to change the anatomy of the brain…brain scans of children who have been severely neglected [show] that their cortical and sub-cortical areas never developed properly…were roughly twenty or thirty percent smaller than normal. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine, told Gladwell, “There are parts of the brain that are involved in attachment behavior-the connectedness of one individual to another-and in order for that to be expressed we have to have a certain nature of experience and have that experience at the right time. If early in life you are not touched and held and given all the somatosensory stimuli that are associated with what we call love, that part of the brain is not organized in the same way.”

All the “tough love” doctrine espoused by the Far Right came flooding back as I read these words. I imagined some of the horrors that must be taking place daily in some of the homes of families where religious fanaticism and other delusions fostered a siege mentality. According to Perry, “Such a person is literally lacking some brain organization that would allow him to actually make strong connections to other human beings…after age two-they’ve missed that critical window.”

I think it was about this time that Paul mentioned to me that his father, Fred, had worked in public health administration where he produced educational films. He said Fred later went into making documentaries for a subsidiary of KING Broadcasting in Seattle. It was there, in the early 60s, while Paul and Claire were in elementary school, that Fred came under threat from Far Right anti-communist zealots known as the Minutemen. Fred had produced a documentary on these holdovers from the McCarthy era of the 1950s, and they had in turn threatened Fred and his young family. It made a strong impression on Paul and Claire, who’d been raised Unitarian and spent their summer vacations volunteering in migrant worker camps near Yakima. When the same violent, racist rhetoric and threatening behavior erupted in 1990s Whatcom County, it was all too familiar.


“What you get is a kind of erratic-ness,” says Frank Putnam, who heads the Unit on Developmental Traumatology at the National Institute of Mental Health, in Maryland. “These kinds of people can be very different in one situation compared with another. There is the sense that they don’t have a larger moral compass.”

According to Gladwell, abuse, in and of itself, does not necessarily result in violence, any more than neurological impairment or psychosis does. However, Lewis and Pincus, he says, argue that if you mix these conditions together they become dangerous, that they have a kind of pathological synergy, that, like the ingredients of a bomb, they are troublesome individually but explosive in combination. I thought of people who believed their job or their one asset—their home, their land—might be taken by “eco-Nazis” or “lazy Indians,” and I began to appreciate the powder keg Richards, Castle, and Geyer had been toying with. What they’d done was not only criminal and immoral—it was cruel.
While seven militia members were convicted of explosives and firearms violations, the Building Industry architects of the revolution—those who initially incited political violence by bringing armed vigilantes into the political process—were never held accountable.

[Read what some are doing about this today . ]


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