Firearms & Extremism in the Pacific Northwest: July 8, 2021

The Pacific Northwest has a long, sordid history of far-right extremism and militia activity, which has both fed off of and helped shape gun culture. In 2020, armed intimidation spread across the country, threatening peaceful protests and business districts, average citizens and political leaders. 

In light of this troubling trend, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility Foundation partnered with the Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety to host a virtual summit to explore far right extremism and militia groups in the Pacific Northwest. The discussion covered how extremist groups use gun policies and debates to their advantage as well as what can be done to prevent armed intimidation, protect communities, and hold armed extremists accountable. 

The first speaker was Rachel Goldwasser, a Research Analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intelligence Project where she tracks right wing anti-government movements. Rachel shared specific incidents and trends in armed extremism observed by SPLC over the last year. She also covered how the recent gun debate led to the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement and how groups like the Oath Keepers and Constitutional Sheriffs exploited the pandemic and the national conversation to further their own agendas, which involved collaboration between armed militias and law enforcement. 

Next, we heard from Eric Ward, Executive Director of Western States Center. Eric is an expert on the relationship between authoritarian movements, hate violence, and preserving inclusive democracy. He focused on the coalescing between extremists, white nationalists, and paramilitary groups and the bridge building between public leaders, including law enforcement and elected officials, and these fringe groups. This growing connection was on display in the insurrection and in Second Amendment Sanctuary ordinance efforts. 

Finally, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes detailed how Seattle and other related jurisdictions are using existing tools, like Extreme Risk Protection Orders, civil surrender authority, and more, to tamp down on armed extremism and keep communities safe. 

We are so grateful for our speakers and attendees for taking the time to tackle this subject. Special thanks to the Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety for partnering on this event.

— Stephanie Ervin is Victory Fund Director with the Alliance.