Right-wing militia groups across the Pacific Northwest are mobilizing to prevent Oregon state police from arresting Republican state senators who went into hiding on Thursday in order to prevent climate change legislation from passing.
All 11 of Oregon’s Republican state senators are currently on the lam, with some leaving for Idaho in an effort to deny the Democrat-controlled state senate a quorum to pass a cap-and-trade bill. In response, Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D), citing a provision in the state constitution that allows the state to “compel” absent lawmakers to attend legislative sessions, dispatched state troopers to bring them back.
One of the lawmakers on the lam, Republican Brian Boquist (R), warned that he would resort to violence rather than return to the state, implying in a local television interview that he would attack law enforcement officers sent to retrieve him.
“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” Boquist said. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”
Militia groups in the Pacific Northwest—a hotbed of far-right extremist activism—claim they’ve mobilized to protect those state senators.
“We’re doing what we can to make sure that they’re safe and comfortable,” said Eric Parker, the president of militia group Real Three Percenters Idaho, adding that the Idaho militias are in touch with their Oregon counterparts about the senators.
In a Facebook post, Paul Luhrs, a member of the Oregon III%er militia, said the militia had “vowed to provide security, transportation and refuge for those Senators in need.”
“We will stand together with unwavering resolve, doing whatever it takes to keep these Senators safe,” Luhrs wrote.
This isn’t the first time state lawmakers of either party have fled their states to deny their rivals a quorum. In 2003, Texas Democrats left the state to avoid a vote on redistricting legislation, while Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin fled in 2011 to block Republican cuts to union rights. But what makes the current standoff in Oregon unique is the offers of help from militias—and the threats by at least one of those lawmakers to shoot police himself.
Despite the offers, it’s not clear whether any of the Republican senators are actually in contact with the militia groups or have received help from them. Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., who fled the state with the rest of the senate Republican caucus, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Parker declined to comment about whether his group has been in contact with the senators themselves.
One source inside the Oregon militia movement told The Daily Beast that their members were “willing to put their own lives in front of these senators’ lives.” The source claimed that dozens of armed militia members have “mobilized” to protect the state senators, and said there was potential for violence if law enforcement officials try to bring the senators back to Oregon. The source added that the militias would defend the Republicans “at any cost.”
“All of these people are armed,” the source said.
The militia mobilization has drawn in members of the III%ers, the Oath Keepers, and independent militia groups from outside the state, according to the militia source. The III%ers derive their name from their belief that only 3 percent of colonists were involved in the American Revolution, while the Oath Keepers claim to be veterans and law enforcement officers who have vowed not to violate their “oaths.”
Parker, the Idaho militia leader, compared the fugitive state senators to the far-right activists who engaged in an armed stand-off with federal agents at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada in 2014.
“We see it the same as we saw the protesters in the wash at the Bundy Ranch,” Parker said.
This isn’t the first time Oregon has seen militias “mobilize” for political ends. In 2016, militia members, led by members of Nevada’s Bundy family who argued that the land should be open for private use, briefly seized Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Militias are often trying to attach themselves to mainstream political causes in an attempt to win over new supporters, according to John Temple, the author of Up in Arms, a new book on the Bundys and the Malheur occupation. Temple said the fleeing legislators have the potential to attract support from across the militia movement nationwide, especially after Boquist boasted about attacking police.
“They are public officials and carry some weight, yet they are talking like they are straight out of the Malheur occupation,” Temple said.