Spokane’s White Supremacists

The Northwest was a haven for white supremacy before the area was divided into states. The territorial government over land that later became the State of Oregon passed the Oregon black exclusion laws that simultaneously outlawed slavery and prohibited black people from settling in the territory. Admitted as a state in 1859, the Oregon State Constitution contained a whites-only clause. The last of these laws weren’t repealed until the 1920s. After the Civil War the Northwest became a haven for Confederate soldiers fleeing the defeated Confederacy as the south struggled with Reconstruction. After all, in an all-white bastion, the issue of racial slavery could be left behind. With black exclusion laws and little industry looking for labor, the Northwest never become a destination for black people migrating northward in search of a better life as they fled share-cropping and Jim Crow in the South.  [See African American Great Migration(s) for more.]

So it was that when, in the 1970s, Richard Butler planted his flagrantly racist and anti-semitic ideas in the Aryan Nations compound north of Hayden Lake, Idaho, his militant brand of racial and religious hatred found fertile ground. Butler’s beliefs were cloaked in a malignant form of Christianity, the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian [1] The names Church of Jesus Christ–Christian and Aryan Nations were legally put to rest by the lawsuit that bankrupted Butler’s compound in Hayden Lake in 2001, but Christian Identity ideology continues to percolate in plain sight on the edge of Sandpoint, Idaho, in the form of America’s Promise Ministries on GN Road. The soft links of this church to racist violence and the nationwide Christian Identity movement are striking.

In Spokane County white supremacist ideology is alive and well, thinly cloaked in claims of “Christian” ideology or free speech and intellectual inquiry. In Spokane County this stew of far right, old testament Christianity admixed with white supremacy can usually be linked to two sources, the Covenant Church on Princeton Ave in north Spokane or Northwest Grassroots based in Green Bluff. Northwest Grassroots was founded and is still run by John and Cecily Charleston (aka Cecily Wright, former chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party). Their political reach is based both on Cecily’s former prominence in the Spokane County Republican Party and the couple’s hosting of “Movie Night” on the second Tuesday of every month for nearly ten years, an opportunity to share movies like “Hillary’s America” and “ShadowRing” with a like-minded audience of a hundred or so. The location of “Movie Night” is no longer revealed to any but the inner circle but was once routinely held at Darcy’s Restaurant and Spirits near Sprague and University in Spokane Valley. Some flavor of these gatherings can be had in a preserved internet link to an article in Gem State Patriot News from May 14, 2016. (Northwest Grassroots webpage is no longer functional. Their Facebook presence is now rather guarded and paranoid.

Politicians and far right agitators linked to the Covenant Church and Northwest Grassroots have recently been much in the local news. Each article in the following text is worth a read on its own merits, and it helps to recognize their multiple linkages through Covenant and NWGrassroots. Ken Peters, the former pastor and founder of Covenant, was one of the true believer’s present at the Trump rally in Washington D.C. on January 6. Shawn Vestal details Peters’ involvement in “Pastor who organized anti-abortion rallies in Spokane helped rally Trump supporters in D.C.” The revolving door between the Spokane Republican Party’s politicians and the Covenant Church is vividly illustrated by domestic terrorist and former LD4 (Spokane Valley north to Mount Spokane) Matt Shea’s becoming the Pastor of Covenant after Peters’ recent departure to spread his malignant ideology in Nashville, Tennessee. (Matt Shea also makes a cameo appearance in the Gem State article on NWGrassroots. I suspect he is frequent flyer at NWGrassroots when he is not out promoting his theocratic “Liberty State” and right wing militias.) 

Shawn Vestal in “As one Trump conspiracy dies, James Allsup returns to offer another” covers the fevered subsequent meanderings of this Charlottesville tiki-torch-carrying Christian Identity Republican warmly hosted at NWGrassroots by Cecily Wright in 2018. Allsup was introduced to that gathering as a victim of “label lynching,” a fatuous construction, given that Allsup has amply demonstrated the applicability of his label as a white supremacist and anti-semite. 

Then the crowning glory: “New state Rep. Rob Chase hires former Spokane County GOP chairwoman who resigned after defending white nationalist” informs us that Rep. Rob Chase (recently elected Republican State Rep, LD4, essentially the replacement for Matt Shea and devotee of NWGrassroots ideology) has chosen none other than Cecily Wright (of John and Cecily [Wright] Charleston, founders and guiders of NWGrassroots) to be his legislative assistant. Chase is quoted as saying he has know Cecily “for about twelve years.” Small wonder, NWGrassroots is the swamp out of which his political ambitions have grown. 

Probably none of the politicians and pastors and right wing folk mentioned today would preach white supremacy openly (apart from James Allsup), but the roots and associations are there, all wrapped up in a twisted form of non-denominational Christian Fundamentalism, 2nd Amendment rights, anti-choice activism, states’ rights,  the evils of Democrats, and co-opted words and phrases like Freedom, Patriotism, and “preserving the Constitution.” It all points to the insurrectionists that attempted an armed takeover of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, as Shawn Vestal points out in “The Capitol takover was foretold, time and again, in the patterns of Northwest extremism.” 

Learn the names and associations. Keep them in mind so as more stories unfold you can draw the associations: Matt Shea, Cecily Wright, Rob Chase, Ken Peters, the Covenant Church, Northwest Grassroots, and a few local associates I did not mention in this post: Rod Higgins (former Mayor and current member of theCity of Spokane Valley City Council, and occasionally featured speaker at NWGrassroots) and Caleb Collier (former City of Spokane Valley Council member, member of the John Birch Society [2], and frequent flier at Covenant). The Spokane County Republican Party depends on the voting numbers of these people to maintain their electoral grip in the region. The remaining traditional conservative Republicans coddle these people at their peril. 

Keep to the high ground,

[1] The Church of Jesus Christ-Christian was founded in 1946 by Ku Klux Klan member and former Methodist minister Wesley A. Swift, in Southern California based in the American version of the Christian Identity movement that formed a “christian” religious foundation for Nazi ideology in Europe in the earlier 20th Century. Swift’s father was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the part of the Methodist Episcopal Church that was centered in the south and broke away over the issue of slavery before the Civil War. Most (but not all) of the MEC,S reunited with the rest of Methodism to re-form the Methodist Church in 1939. (Only in 1968 did the current name, the “United” Methodist Church arise when the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren [EUB] merged.) I was brought up and confirmed in the Methodist Church. Like most churchgoers I was, until now, mostly unaware of the doctrinal disputes around slavery and white supremacy that had rocked the foundations of my church in the recent past. For those interested in the historical fluidity of Christian belief systems, the weird foundational stories told, and the twisted ideas that have sometimes spun off, I recommend browsing the links in this paragraph. 

[2] The John Birch Society is experiencing something of a resurgence among the far right extreme of the Republican Party. This article, “Long before QAnon, Ronald Reagan and the GOP purged John Birch extremists from the party” chronicles Republicans’ uneasy romance with voters adherent to the JBS a half century ago. Now, with Trump’s nod to conspiracy theories, these folk form an increasing portion of the Republican base. Caleb Collier of Spokane and of Covenant Church serves as the executive field coordinator for the John Birch Society in 11 western states. His JBS has been active in stoking anti-mask fervor.