I’m a fan, for the most part, of the Republican leadership we have in this state right now.
The party is so sidelined in blue Washington that its rudder right now is three people — the minority leaders of the state House and Senate (Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm and Sen. John Braun of Centralia, respectively) and the Secretary of State, Kim Wyman.
We’re lucky that all three are rational actors who value the norms of democracy, and who aren’t caterwauling off into crazed conspiracy theories about the election.
“We have to stop this,” a frustrated Wilcox said Monday, about the continuing unsubstantiated cries of fraud that have led to threats against public officials following President Donald Trump’s loss. He added that he “believes in the results” of the ballot counts.
Wilcox was responding specifically to a website called Enemies of the People that alleged Trump’s election was stolen.
“Your days are numbered,” the site said. “Changing votes and working against the President is treason and patriotic Americans should never forget those who helped overthrow our democracy.”
But that was an anonymous website. A bigger issue for the GOP is that this type of insane rhetoric is also ingrown in the party. In fact it’s being voiced right now by one elected Republican right here in Puget Sound.
“Prepare for war,” state Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, wrote to followers Monday on his Facebook site, after declaring that “Joe Biden is not now, nor will ever be my President.”
“Is the ‘coup’ against the sitting President the start of a second ‘Civil War’ here in the USA?” Sutherland posted earlier, adding it would be “righteous” if Trump used the military to hold onto his presidency by force.
“What good and decent person would not conduct a war to defend Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of happiness, their families, their neighbors?” he said.
“This is about America. It’s being destroyed by evildoers. Patriots, will you join with me? I need to know. Lets raise the banner.”
Sutherland represents the 39th legislative district of eastern Snohomish and Skagit counties (so we can’t blame this one on Eastern Washington.) He’s the same guy who went all citizen-militia last summer and patrolled at a protest with his gun. For taunting the governor at one rally, saying “you send your goons with guns, we will defend ourselves,” he got rebuked by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
“Almost any interpretation of his comments would suggest violence against law enforcement,” the association’s director, Steve Strachan, said at the time.
Todd Vandivert, a former state Fish and Wildlife agent, wrote to The (Everett) Herald of Everett: “(These) are comments I would expect to hear from some domestic terrorist group’s leader, not from a state representative.”
Yet postelection, there hasn’t been a peep of criticism from within Sutherland’s party about how one of their own is out there going rogue about a civil war.
In addition to telling his followers to “prepare for war” after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit challenging the election results, Sutherland wrote earlier that “It’s OUR Country and no one will steal it from us. Not without a fight, that is.”
This stuff sure reads as if it’s designed to incite. Some of his followers sound, predictably, incited.
“When your ready to revolt … just say so … I will follow robert …” one wrote. “The enemy is within the gates … it will take Patriots like you and we … To chase them right back through those gates.”
It’s always hard to know how seriously to take rhetoric like this. It’s a free country, so Sutherland has a right to say most anything he pleases. The people of his district also showered him with 60 percent of the vote, so he’s got a popular mandate (he’s strangely not spreading doubts about the legitimacy of those ballots).
But none of this means his political party has to accept this dangerous nonsense — or him, for that matter.
It’s a bit like the case of outgoing state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley. After years of encouraging right-wing radicals and fantasizing about holy war, Shea finally got stripped of his committee assignments in 2019. Rebuked by his own party, he didn’t run for reelection.
So far, people in politics are going along to get along with Sutherland. His reelection campaign got donations from Boeing, the Associated General Contractors, the Dental PAC, the auto dealers, the beer and wine distributors, the Puyallup Indian Tribe and others. They probably value that Sutherland sits on the state House Appropriations Committee — and so have elected to ignore that his side-hobby is prepping a revolution.
But this just enables toxicity. Hasn’t there been enough looking the other way lately — including with this outrageous conspiracy-mongering about the election that rains daily down from the top? Of course it eventually led to violent threats.
State Republicans were wise to start angling away from all this, by choosing leaders who have a basic respect for democracy. But the worst of Trumpism is thriving in their ranks. They need to do more to call it out before it consumes them, again.