Saturday, March 07, 2015

Seattle Forum Focuses Concern on Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes in Key Neighborhood

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, right, and his husband, Mike Shiosaki, left
[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Shaken by a year-long spike in LGBT-bashing crimes in their predominantly gay neighborhood, community leaders from Seattle’s Capitol Hill area organized a public forum this week that drew several hundred participants, as well as the city’s mayor.

Ranging from an attempt to kill hundreds of people packed into a bar on New Year’s Eve to a steady stream of assaults and robberies motivated by anti-LGBT animus, the spike in hate crimes on Capitol Hill appears to be a violent backlash against recent gains in LGBT rights in Washington state, including the approval given to same-sex marriage by the state’s voters in 2012.

“I used to live on Capitol Hill, but I don’t anymore,” said Debbie Carlsen of LGBTQ Allyship, a local rights organization, to the crowd on Tuesday, echoing a number of other speakers. “And when I go to the Hill, I don’t feel culturally safe. It’s not a place that I feel safe anymore.”

A number of residents described to the crowd the kinds of assaults that they have endured in the past year, including verbal harassment escalating to physical assaults as they walked through the neighborhood, as well as one alleged assault by a police officer. One man stood up and removed his hat, revealing a large healing wound on his forehead, saying he had been attacked only a week before and had been unable to identify his assailants, “but they were all calling me names.”

Most of those who testified agreed that the worst, most violent attacks seemed to be directed at transsexual people of color.

The meeting, organized by Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant, featured a number of speakers offering a range of solutions. Some proposed more citizen patrols, while others opposed that step as potentially dangerous. Some argued for greater police involvement, while others blamed the police as part of the problem. Sawant spoke at length about how economic disparities often fuel the conditions that make the crimes possible.

Seattle’s openly gay Mayor Ed Murray, who attended the gathering with his husband, said he will help take the lead on this issue. “I think if people don’t feel safe, if they perceive they’re not safe, then we have a problem,” he said. “And we as a city and we as a community have to respond.”

Murray told KING 5 News that he believes the problem is real and substantial. “I think there is an increase,” he said. “I mean, we’ve been here before, we’ve seen this right on this very street before, back in the late ’80s and early ‘90s, when I was a young person. And we’re seeing it again.”

Shaun Knittel, the founder of Social Outreach Seattle, and one of the people who helped douse the attempted arson at Neighbours Bar on New Year’s Eve 2014, an act that eventually brought a heavy 10-year sentence for the perpetrator, told the crowd that it needed to resolve some of its internal differences if the community is going to form an effective response to the challenge.

“We have a perfect storm here on the Hill,” said Knittel, noting the split between people who support the police and those who blame the police. “What kind of message does that send to people who want to do harm to us?”

“We also have a nightlife culture here where everyone that’s opening a business here seems to think they need to be either a bar or a nightclub. How many do you need in one neighborhood?”

Knittel urged victims of bias crimes to resist the temptation to not report the matter to police at all, noting that doing so just encourages repeat offenses and escalation.

“We need to understand better about reporting, and we need to talk about what that looks like,” he said. “If you fear going to the police to report, we understand that. But please, reach out and find and advocate and let people help you report what’s happened. Because I can guarantee you that you’re not their first victim.”

Most of all, he noted, the community needs to make it clear that “bashing queers” is not a free sport for haters anymore.

“We need to lean into this notion that you can come up here and mess with us and we won’t do anything back,” he said. “Those days are over.”

Monday, March 02, 2015

Tales of the Montana Freemen: The Girl and Her Dog

The Freemen's cabin near the town of Roundup
Here's a story a collected while reporting on the saga of the Montana Freemen in the 1990s. I have always thought it was a revealing (not to mention disturbing) instance of the far-right "Patriot" mindset, particularly in how they viewed the world and the way children should be raised.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my first book, In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, published by WSU Press in 1999. The chapter is primarily about the activities of the Freemen prior to their infamous armed standoff with the FBI of 1996, especially Ur-Freemen Rodney Skurdal and Leroy Schweitzer, in the little town of Roundup.


A sign on the Freemen property.
While their legal defeats were coming in rapid succession, the Freemen’s recruiting was going well. Another key follower showed up at the Freemen ranch that fall: Dale Jacobi. A Canadian businessman who had moved from Calgary in the 1980s south to Thompson Falls, Montana, Jacobi became involved in the radical right while operating a propane-gas business in the little Clark Fork River logging town just a few miles east of Noxon. He fell in with John and Dave Trochmann, and also became acquainted with another local Constitutionalist, John Brush.

Brush decided to move to Musselshell County in 1994, partly to be closer to the Freemen, so he bought a parcel of land out in the distant woods and set about raising and training horses with his wife and daughter. Jacobi, who became a Freemen follower after Trochmann recommended their four-day courses in the Militia of Montana newsletter that spring, sold his business and moved onto Brush’s land, living in a trailer on the property.

In one afternoon that fall, though, Brush not only disavowed Dale Jacobi but the Freemen as well. He later explained why to John Bohlman, the Musselshell County prosecutor: One morning, Brush told Bohlman, when he drove into town for supplies, Jacobi took Brush’s 8-year-old daughter, with her dog in tow, out to a remote part of their land. He carried with him a stool and a piece of rope. Under a tree, Jacobi set up the stool and placed the little dog on it. Then he made a noose with the rope, placed it over the dog’s neck, and slung it over the tree. He pulled the open end of the rope tight and held it at a distance from the dog, then told the girl to come stand in front of him. Call the dog, he told the girl. She did. It jumped off the stool and hung itself as Jacobi held the line taut.

The girl was in hysterics when her father returned home. Enraged, he asked Jacobi why he did it. Jacobi told him he felt the girl needed some toughening up, and that this would help her. Brush screamed at Jacobi to leave and never come back. Jacobi packed his things into his car and left.

He found an open room at [Rodney] Skurdal’s ranch, and soon was named one of the group’s constables. Brush announced he wanted nothing more to do with that bunch -- and asked Bohlman to remove the arms cache Jacobi had left behind. Bohlman and a deputy went out to Brush’s place and found PVC pipes hidden under some brush, stuffed with a few guns and a massive load of ammunition, reloading tools, powder and bullets, enough to make thousands of rounds with. Brush also told Bohlman he knew of similar caches like this in strategic spots throughout the Northwest.


Of course, none of this ended particularly well for any of the participants, most of whom wound up doing federal prison time after engaging the FBI in a record-setting 81-day standoff at another ranch outside the town of Jordan, a couple of hours north of Roundup. One hopes that John Brush's daughter eventually recovered. And that her daddy got a clue.