Anti-government militias have vowed to protect an Oregon GOP lawmaker who threatened to shoot state police trying to bring him back to the capitol to pass legislation this week.
On Thursday, Republican state senators walked out of session at the Oregon state capitol over disagreements on a cap and trade climate bill. Later that day, 11 of them failed to appear for a roll call on the Senate floor, which prompted Gov. Kate Brown (D) to order the state police to bring them in to finish voting on the bill.
“The Senate Republicans have decided to abandon their duty to serve their constituents and walk out,” Brown said in a statement. “It is absolutely unacceptable that the Senate Republicans would turn their back on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent here in this building.”
Oregon State Police were at pains to point out to CNN that they would be “utilizing established relationships to have polite communication” and that “patience and communication is and always will be our first, and preferred option” in bringing the legislators back to the capital.
This, however, did not appear to convince Republican state Sen. Brian Boquist.
“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” he told KGW News. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”
Boquist, who previously served in the U.S. Army, then doubled-down on his statements in an interview with The Oregonian, reaffirming his refusal to be a “political prisoner.”
Boquist’s comments grabbed the attention of a number of militia groups in the Pacific Northwest. A member of the Oregon 3 Percenters — a militia group whose members have vowed to combat what they perceive as constitutional infringement — said they would act as the senators’ de-facto bodyguards against the state police.
“We have vowed to provide security, transportation and refuge for those Senators in need,” they wrote in a Facebook post. “We will stand together with unwavering resolve, doing whatever it takes to keep these Senators safe.”
In Idaho, where some of the lawmakers have supposedly fled, the state’s 3 Percenters group was similarly willing to defend the Republicans as well, posting threatening memes on its Facebook page. “This is what the start of a civil war looks like,” the group wrote in one post. “Elected officials seeking asylum in a friendly jurisdiction.”
Speaking to ThinkProgress, Eric Parker, president of the group Real 3 Percenters Idaho, said the group was currently networking to figure out if Brown had asked for any “out of state resources” — such as help from the FBI or Idaho State Patrol — and were willing to assist the the Republican senators in any way necessary.
“We are willing to help them with whatever they need, if they need an escort or a place to say we will do that,” Parker said. “The narrative coming out is [the senators] are abandoning their constituents. We don’t believe that’s true. These people are representing their constituents well.”
Parker also said he believed the governor had overstepped in attempting to stop the GOP “protest,” which he interpreted has being enshrined in the Oregon constitution. He added that, while Boquist could have figured out a better way of expressing himself, his comments were justified.
“The First Amendment is just as important as the Second,” he said. “The Second Amendment protects the First. If it was the Democrats running from Republicans, we would be just as fast to say ‘you’re not going to intimidate them and we will protect them.'”
A GoFundMe has also been started to raise money for the Republican lawmakers. It has so far raised $17,000 to pay for the their expenses.
This isn’t the first time a seemingly innocuous matter has resulted in a militia standoff in the state. In 2016, militia organizers seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, holding it over the belief that the federal government had overstepped its role in managing public lands. That action turned into a prolonged stand-off with law-enforcement, and eventually resulted in 11 arrests and the death of one occupier, Lavoy Finicum.