The Republicans in Oregon’s state senate have fled the state rather than provide a quorum for a cap-and-trade carbon emissions bill to become law, in the process rallying armed right-wing militias to their cause — whether they wanted to or not.
On Thursday, Gov. Kate Brown (D) authorized the Oregon State Police to go “bring Senators back to the capital,” and the law enforcement agency said it would do so, pledging to utilize “patience” and “polite communication with these senators” as its preferred method.
“Send bachelors and come heavily armed” State Sen. Brian Boquist (R) said Wednesday before the walk-out began. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon.”
If Boquist meant it as a rallying cry for Oregon’s anti-government extremists, it worked. The Oregon III%, a collection of local chapters that’s part of a nationwide movement of anti-government militias, issued a blaring call to action on Facebook and said leadership had voted “to provide security, transportation and refuge for those Senators in need.”
Various militia members refused to speak to TPM, citing an organization-wide blackout. But someone who identified themselves as an Oregon III% public information officer — he refused to give TPM his name, “out of threat of retaliation from Oregon State Police or any other law enforcement entity” — claimed that more than 200 militiamen from 17 counties had mobilized within the state and around the Oregon-Idaho border.
“These people are all armed and prepared to put themselves in front of senators to prevent arrests from Oregon State Police specifically,” he said, also claiming that various militias in Idaho and Nevada had been activated, potentially adding a few dozen more people to the mix.
Whether or not they have, or ultimately will, come to the senators’ aide is a different question.
“They are not with any militias,” Kate Gillem, a spokesperson for the Oregon Senate Republicans, told TPM in an email, adding later: “I cannot speak to specific conversations, however, I can confirm the Senators are not with any militias and are not accepting their help.”
Eric Parker of Bundy Ranch standoff infamy, now president of the Real Three Percenters of Idaho, didn’t deny that to TPM, but he did say senators had been in touch.
“We are in touch with certain senators,” he said, adding: “We are in contact with them, and we’ve offered to help them in any way they need.” Parker said “at least seven” Oregon senators were in Idaho.
“Some have responded,” he said.
“There are people in the same vicinity as the senators acting as what would be commonly referred to as overwatch,” the Oregon III% spokesperson claimed, using the military term.
The Oregon State Police said in a press release that “out of state resources” were “assisting OSP,” but declined further comment to TPM. The Idaho State Police denied any involvement.
“The Idaho State Police is not involved in the search for or potential apprehension of anybody from the Oregon legislature,” spokesperson Tim Marcano told TPM over the phone. Noone from the Oregon State Police had been in touch, he said.
Sandra Barker, an FBI spokesperson, told TPM in emails that the bureau had “not been asked to provide assistance,” nor was it involved more generally.
Not every senator has been as blunt as Boquist. Tim Knopp, whose senate district encompasses the small city of Bend, told KTVZ that while he and his fellow Republicans would stay out of the state, “until we resolve the stalemate,” they also believed “that we can get to a bipartisan solution if everybody is willing to try to compromise.”
And Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger, of Grant’s Pass, declined to tell Oregon Public Broadcasting where the senators were but added: “I think that we need to be in a position, if we come to some terms, that we can give them a quorum.”
Referring to the cap-and-trade bill as “a monster of legislation” in an interview on KXL Friday — host Lars Larson introduced him as “on the run from Gov. Kate Brownshirt” — Baertschiger said “I’m not going to be part of letting that be passed.”
That’s music to the ears of militiamen eager for a cause.
“We see it as the right to protest” said Parker. “We see it as the same right to protest as the protesters in the wash at the Bundy Ranch had.”