After my cover story on Sequim, Wash. came out, I started getting e-mails from people around the country. Their communities were experiencing the same far-right surges, and they, too, were organizing pushback against this trend.
Whidbey Island, on the Puget Sound east of Sequim, is one of those places. While this is a historically liberal, progressive community, militias such as the Three Percenters—which calls on its members to be armed at all times—have begun establishing beachheads on the southern end of the island. They have, in recent years, organized via the local Grange, and their members have taken over local GOP chapters. When, a few years ago, high schoolers on the islands organized a March for Our Lives to call for stronger gun control laws, the militias threatened the protesters.
Granges around the country are essentially agricultural community centers, whose members share tips on farming and work together to build a stronger economic base for rural communities. What they haven’t been, historically, are organizing hubs for the far right. But these days the far right is organizing rural residents via any and every institution it can get its hands on, and the Grange in Whidbey Island proved to be low-hanging fruit. It began accepting a large influx of far-right members, and when progressives like school board member Marnie Jackson sought to counter their influence by also joining the organization, they were denied entry.
In response, progressives sought other organizing venues, setting up groups like Solidarity Over Supremacy (SOS) and United Student Leaders to directly challenge militia sympathizers whenever they ran for public office or attempted to mobilize a crowd.
One of SOS’s founders, the Rev. Emily Melder, describes it as “a group of folks who came together to counter the rise of the militias on South Whidbey Island.” These days, it claims to have 700 people on its mailing list—a large number, given that the island’s total population is only 15,000.
As in Sequim, when the militias ran far-right candidates for the school board, progressives organized against them and, with 70 percent of local voters turning out for the elections, handily beat them at the ballot box. When they ran candidates for the city council, they met the same high voter turnout and the same organized, and successful, opposition.
Now, the militias are digging in once more, turning their attention to the apparatus of the election system itself and attempting to take control of precinct officer positions. Melder says her group and other progressive organizations on the island are already strategizing to beat back these efforts and to defend the basic infrastructure that makes democracy possible. “I’m very optimistic,” avers Jackson of the progressive community’s ability to hold firm against the far right. “We continue to see troubling signs of power-building by a very small minority group who hold radical beliefs, but the community organizing is bigger, and the number of people who got involved in the last election, that was exciting.”