My rural hometown: targeted by reactionaries

Sequim’s mayor proudly displays his intolerance while grocery shopping. PHOTO: Posted anonymously online
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Ultra-right Republicans are ramping up their offensives in rural America, including where I live in Port Angeles and neighboring Sequim, Washington. Sequim currently has a QAnon-supporting mayor and a majority right-wing city council. This peaceful retirement community of 7,500, surrounded by farms and lavender fields, is being torn by discord over racism and bigotry. Now Port Angeles is in the same crosshairs.

Right-wing activists have been exploiting a controversy over a desperately needed drug treatment facility planned for Sequim by the Jamestown Klallam Tribe. A group named Save Our Sequim spews lies about addicts streaming in from metropolitan Seattle and destroying our community. This has resulted in racist slurs toward the tribe and a vicious social media campaign scapegoating people with chemical dependencies and mental illnesses. It also targets those without housing.

This rural corner of Washington state has been on edge during the Trump years. When gun shop owner Seth Larson spread untrue rumors of “antifa” (anti-fascist activists) coming to vandalize white neighborhoods, local militia types brought out their guns. They intimidated Black Lives Matter marchers and terrorized a multiracial family on a camping trip. Vigilante groups chased homeless people 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 claiming “QAnon is a truth movement that encourages you to think for yourself.” When criticized, he gave a smooth rebuttal, probably coached, denying having anything to do with QAnon. Next, Armacost fired the city manager, who called him on supporting the far-right conspiracy theory cult.

In the middle of the pandemic, Mayor Armacost travelled to the Sturgis motorcycle rally, which has been called a Covid-19 super-spreader event, with over 400,000 attending. Upon his return, many were appalled when he immediately re-opened his beauty salon without quarantining, putting his elderly customers at risk.

Hard-right organizers are using Q’s kooky falsehoods to recruit to their anti-government movement. Ultra-conservative Republican operatives Jim McEntire and Donnie Hall, with several shadowy “silent backers,” formed the Independent Advisory Association (IAA), which has been mentoring far-right candidates. They groomed Armacost and claimed his election win as their first victory. Now IAA is pushing a conservative slate of candidates for the November city council election in neighboring Port Angeles.

This slate of right wingers is running a slick campaign on social media and in forums calling for “cleaning up our streets” and cutting social services which “just attract more homeless.” One IAA candidate stated, “These people need to be arrested, taken to jail.” But, according to a Point-in-Time survey, 90% of those on the streets are locals and the problem will worsen when the pandemic moratorium on evictions ends.

Our community needs more low-cost housing and treatment services, not less!

The politics behind the bigotry. The pandemic has really shaken rural economies, which were already suffering. Fear of societal problems like homelessness and protests of racist police killings are exploited by the ultraright. In targeting rural areas, they hope to grow a movement of folks angry at Covid restrictions who want to end all federal regulations, privatize schools, ban abortions, vilify LGBTQ+ folks, bust unions and more.

Theirs are the politics of intimidation, harassment and deception. Behind innocent sounding names like “Save Our Sequim” or “Patriot Prayer” are Hitlerite politics. They attack liberals and leftists as “woke” elites, and diversity as “political correctness,” thus encouraging white supremacists and thugs into bolder public attacks.

These deceptive tactics are not working in my hometown. We celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride Month with the first ever march in Port Angeles and Sequim has held large rallies to support building the drug treatment clinic. Both towns have had Black Lives Matter rallies. Several young candidates are running for city council to oppose the right-wing slate.

While I don’t think electing liberals will stop this proto-fascist movement, I am heartened by the fightback in my community. Folks are speaking out and standing up against racism and bigotry.

But we need more: a mass public outcry, a nationwide civil rights movement — rural and metropolitan — to counter the ultraright!

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