Enforce existing laws
[Ed note: The letters below were sent to members of the Olympia City Council after they asked Governor Inslee to change state laws to provide severe penalties for people who form private armed militias—complaining that existing penalties were insufficient. The fact that Olympia’s city leadership hadn’t enforced even those penalties struck some citizens as a problem.]
Dan Leahy to the City Council:
I want to thank you for your October 8th letter to Governor Inslee and Attorney General Robert Ferguson.
While you ask the Governor for a “severe penalty,” please direct our police department to enforce existing laws including RCW 38.40.120, the violation of which is punishable of “up to ninety days in jail or a fine up to $1,000 or both such fine and imprisonment.”
There is ample sworn testimony in the OPD’s Internal Investigation of Police Officer Tiffany Coates, dated August 20, 2020, that Olympia police officers witnessed both members of the American Wolf and the Washington Three Percenters acting as a private militia with no state license to do so, clearly carrying weapons capable of causing bodily harm in the midst of civil disorder and giving the impression that they were assisting the police in enforcing the law.
RCW 38.40.120 makes it illegal for groups of people to organize as a private militia without permission of the state. RCW 9A.48.1120 states it is a felony to teach how to use devices capable of causing bodily harm in the unlawful pursuit of civil disorder. RCW 9A.60.045 states it is a crime to create the impression that someone is a law enforcement officer or give that impression to a reasonable person. (Precise language can be found in attached document).
I agree that to be concerned with the presence of these armed vigilantes in our city is not unreasonable. You worry that our “capitol city may well end up like Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017.” I think it could be much worse.
The white power movement in the United States utilized the Turner Diaries by William Pierce to develop strategic and tactical coordination. US Army veteran Timothy McVeigh was a major distributor of this book and, of course, his plan for blowing up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma mimicked the plan in the Turner Diaries.
The Washington Three Percenters has on its website (wa3percent.org) a single book listed under its “Recommended Gear” section. The book is 299 Days, actually a series of books, by Glenn Tate, a supposed pseudonym of a former Olympia lawyer.
I read book eight, The War. The author recounts a New Year’s Eve attack on the City of Olympia by 100-plus armed “patriots” of the “17th Irregulars” for the purpose of installing their own state Governor and government.
On their way to the Delphi overpass on Highway 101, they had to get past a fictional town called “Frederickson.” I suppose this could be Aberdeen or maybe Montesano or Elma. This obstacle was eliminated by a police lieutenant who arranged for the town leadership to gather in a large conference room for a New Year’s Eve party with alcohol and promises of fresh meat (women).
Once everyone had gathered, the Lieutenant threw two fragmentation grenades into the conference room and then dispatched leaders still alive with a “.40 to the head.” To finish his job so the 17th Irregulars could travel on to Olympia, the Lieutenant ordered his police force into the town’s “MexiZone’ to kill all males, known as gang bangers.
I know. Fiction. So were the Turner Diaries. Please enforce the existing RCWs. We can’t wait for more severe penalties.
JJ Lindsey to the City Council
I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Leahy and join him in thanking you for the letter sent to the Governor and AG. I also ask that you take meaningful and serious steps to enforce already existing state law in the City of Olympia, such as regarding the behavior of Officer Tiffany Coates and the militia she was cavorting with.
To make such a pointed request to state leaders, but not enforce existing laws yourselves, is a contradiction. I think you will agree: that contradictions show weakness and lack of resolve in intent and action, and that there is no room for such contradictions in times like these. I think, given Olympia’s polarized population, it could definitely be much worse than Charlottesville, and therefore it is imperative that the City show strong intent of non-negotiation, and strong corrective action, when it comes to militia threats.
If you ARE the law, then exercise it with these aggressive and violent-leaning militia groups—otherwise, they will creep closer and closer to “showdown.”
Please look closely at yourselves as city leaders, and bravely step up to do what it is you yourselves are asking for.
See City Manager Jay Burney’s response to Dan Leahy below.
Sending a message—the wrong one
The local Black Lives Matter movement was dealt another blow by the Olympia Police Department on October 14 when a ceremony was held to present Tiffany Coates with the Officer of the Year Award she had won in 2019. Officer Coates had landed Olympia in national news when she greeted and posed with armed members of the far-right, anti-government militia group the Three Percenters while on duty on June 5.
Whether intentional or not, the Department’s decision, and the City Council’s apparent complicity, gives a nod of approval to the Three Percenters as well as other right-wing militias. The Three Percenters are American based, but have a presence in Canada, where some experts consider them the “most dangerous extremist group” in the country.
Creating a special public opportunity to praise the officer whose actions revealed a camaraderie with the Three Percenters hurts and endangers our entire community. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), white supremacists and other rightwing extremists have been responsible for 67% of domestic terror attacks and plots so far this year, with at least half of that violence targeting protesters
These far-right extremist ideologies are spreading at a time when Americans have been living with years of unaffordable housing and a lack of tenants’ rights, unaffordable/inaccessible healthcare, stagnant wages, and loads of student and medical debt. All of this is compounded by increasing joblessness due to the pandemic, leading to economic devastation for many Olympia and Thurston County residents while the federal government does effectively nothing to help.
Olympia’s poverty rate is 16.7%. According to the Thurston Regional Planning Council, “the gap between the income needed for self-sufficiency in Thurston County and the Federal poverty level continues to grow.”
Between 2014 and 2020, the gap for a one-person household more than doubled, from $5,629 to $12,706. This coupled with the president’s hateful, racist rhetoric and active encouragement of these armed vigilantes serves as a tinderbox waiting for a spark. In many countries, poverty, civil unrest, and racism were a recipe for civil war. And here in the US, BLM supporters are not the ones with the weapons.
Now the City of Olympia has joined the most dangerous President in our country’s history in celebrating and rewarding those who view right-wing hate groups as friendly supporters.
We can hope the effects of this decision by the City and OPD are “just” more demoralization and fear among our city’s Black, Indigenous, and Latinx residents, as well as those who put their bodies on the line to fight for racial justice, to stop the murder and brutalization of Black people at the hands of our country’s police.
As for the City and OPD, the first step to correct course would be to rescind the award given to Tiffany Coates and stop giving preferential treatment to untrained, armed vigilantes. They should act now and not let up to discourage the militias from causing even more lasting damage.
Just go “somewhere else”
[Ed note: The following information is taken from a letter sent by Just Housing to the Mayor and Councilmembers. Read the full letter at https://justhousingolympia.org/]
After the City of Olympia said it would not evict people living in vehicles on Ensign Road because the Attorney General informed them it was illegal, the City found another way to accomplish their objective.
On Monday people breathed a sigh of relief when the City put its planned sweep on hold and instead said people would be asked to leave voluntarily. On Tuesday they found out how meaningless that was: Ensign Rd. was barricaded for hours on both ends with cones, public works vehicles, and police. No advocates or other witnesses were allowed to cross the barriers.
The ostensible purpose for the closure—installing “No Parking Zone” signs—took only a brief time, but more time was needed to get the residents to leave. Some residents were offered a gas card or 4 nights in a hotel. Some residents were threatened with tickets if they stayed. They were then told that only those who left could not come back without risking a ticket. Then the information changed again—everyone would be at risk of receiving a ticket. Finally, residents were told that the City actually doesn’t know yet.
In effect, the subtext of a continually changing message was the real message—the residents of Ensign Road who had no place to go, but would face a threatening uncertainty if they stayed They would be subject to the whims of City staff rather than any clearly interpretable law or policy.
Staff from the City said the only thing the AG’s letter changed was that they wouldn’t be “compelling” people to leave. But the plan was that they would leave.
City Manager Jay Burney responds to Dan Leahy letter
Thank you for your email. We share the concerns around safety threats posed by armed individuals who have appeared in our community, particularly over the past 6 months. This is an extremely troubling development. We do not need or want any assistance from armed vigilantes at any time, and have made that clear. We have spent considerable time evaluating the RCW’s you have outlined, weighing them against the 2nd Amendment Right to Bear Arms. I wish I could tell you that all of this is clear cut, with clear case law, and firm penalties in place. Clarity and stiffer penalties are needed if we are going to stop this from happening in our community now and over the long-term.
Although Washington’s anti-militia statute was first enacted in 1903, there are no reported appellate decisions interpreting this law in any prosecution over the last 117 years. You are correct the anti-militia law in RCW 38.40.120 is a misdemeanor punishable by up to ninety (90) days in jail or a fine up to $1,000 or both such fine and imprisonment. The burden of proof in order to affect an arrest is difficult under the current version of the law.
We must carefully consider that defendants charged with a violation of this obscure law are entitled to constitutional protections including the right to trial. A judge and/or jury must weigh a defendant’s assertion of the 2nd Amendment vs. a law with no reported appellate decisions and our ability to prove the defendant is part of a militia beyond a reasonable doubt. We may also be subject to claims asserting violations of an individual’s civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Such civil rights claims may expose the City to expensive claims or judgments the City can ill afford and continue to maintain essential, vital municipal services. This is a very difficult dilemma, which is why have asked for assistance from the Governor and Attorney General.
Despite the absence of appellate decisions resulting from prosecutions under Washington’s anti-militia law (RCW 38.40.120), law enforcement has other means under state law to protect persons who are intimidated, threatened or fearful of their personal safety by persons carrying firearms in public. This law is RCW 9.41.270, which is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year imprisonment and a $5,000 fine or both such fine and imprisonment. As you can see, RCW 9.41.270 has a more severe penalty than RCW 38.40.120. Further, there are appellate decisions arising from a prosecution under RCW 9.41.270 that provide clearer legal authority for law enforcement to act when it appears a person(s) “either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.” If law enforcement witnesses this behavior, and they can affect an arrest, they will do so.
We are committed to ensuring that our community is safe for everyone, which is why we have asked the Governor and the Attorney General for assistance and guidance in the interpretation of these RCW’s and asked for consideration of stiffer penalties. We will also be including this issue on our Legislative Agenda for 2021. I hope that you will stay engaged on this issue with us. In the meantime, I want to be clear that if at any time any of our officers witness anyone pointing a weapon at another individual, or threatening another individual with a weapon, and they can affect an arrest, they will do so. Thank you.
Jay Burney, ICMA-CM
City Manager | City of Olympia WA