Hundreds of grassroots activists from around Washington State gathered on the capitol steps in Olympia Friday to defend their Second Amendment rights from what they feel are serious attempts to erode those rights by state lawmakers, the governor and attorney general.
They heard from four gubernatorial candidates—Tim Eyman, Loren Culp, State Sen. Phil Fortunato and Anton Sakharov—all promising to put their rights ahead of political correctness. And, they heard from am Eastern Washington state representative many feel is being unjustly pilloried as an alleged “domestic terrorist.”
In a pre-rally interview with Eyman, the firebrand anti-tax crusader-turned-politician told TGM and Liberty Park Press that the value of running for office is that he can now talk about something other than taxes. He revealed a deep appreciation for the right to keep and bear arms, noting that gun owners are also taxpayers, and that he has been fighting for them for two decades.
“What is so fantastic about not doing initiatives anymore, and instead running for the biggest office we have in the state of Washington,” Eyman said, “is I get to talk about more than one thing.”
With people streaming in and out of the crowd, the largest mid-winter turnout in recent memory in bitterly cold temperatures that also brought snow flurries, it left the impression Washington gun owners have had enough of so-called “gun safety” legislation. Dozens were carrying signs from the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and others had homemade signs. Many vowed to be back for hearings on proposed House and Senate gun control bills Monday and Tuesday, where they will provide opposition to busloads of gun control proponents coming from Seattle to support the measures.
Eyman reiterated his message about protecting the Second Amendment during remarks to the crowd that covered the Capitol steps. A Washington State Patrol trooper said when a crowd is large enough to cover the steps leading up to the Capitol doors, the “rule of thumb” is that there are at least a thousand people present.
Culp, the police chief from Republic in Ferry County, who became nationally famous last year for declaring he would not enforce provisions of gun control Initiative 1639, promised the crowd, “As your next governor, I will not stand for any infringement on your constitutional rights, period.”
He called the Constitution “a rule book for the government.”
Sakharov, who once lived under communism, declared, “This country is the best in the world because we have (the) First Amendment, Second Amendment; the Bill of Rights is protecting us every day and we have to protect the Bill of Rights.”
Fortunato told the crowd he enjoyed recreational shooting, because it is a stress reliever “after spending a week down here with” other politicians. He then opened his jacket to reveal a holstered pistol, to the delight of the crowd.
State Rep. Matt Shea, who also spoke to the crowd, later estimated the number of participants may have been as high as 1,000 by some estimates. Other news outlets have reported crowd sizes of 500 to 600.
Shea, who has been under fire for alleged involvement with right-wing extremist groups, and has been stripped of committee assignments following release of a report that asserted, among other things, that he “planned, engaged in, and promoted a total of three armed conflicts of political violence against the United States” as a “leader in the Patriot Movement.” The allegations are contained in a 108-page report for the state House of Representatives done by the private Rampart group.
Speaking to the crowd, the embattled lawmaker, who many have said should resign said, “This isn’t about one person. This isn’t about President Trump or Matt Shea, it’s about we the people. We’re just standing in the way. We all need to be on the line, standing for the right to bear arms, standing for all of our liberties. The right to life, the right to liberty, the right to property and the ability to defend the same. That is what it means to be American.”
The crowd broke out in cheers.
He accused his critics of “label lynching.”
“We shouldn’t be surprised they’re trying to do that,” Shea asserted, “because they can’t win when we argue the truth. We’ve got the truth on our side. They can’t win, all they can do is label us. So, don’t be surprised if you get labeled. Don’t let it distract you. Keep fighting.”
Shea has also been suspended from the GOP caucus, but told a reporter he intends to run for re-election this November. Several people in the crowd carried signs reading “I Stand With Matt Shea.”
His presence and remarks at the rally allowed local media to focus on that issue, while Shea asserted the investigation is just the latest attempt to silence his voice as a gun rights defender and champion of conservative causes.
Hearings on gun control measures are scheduled Monday and Tuesday. Anti-gunners are expected to be bused to the Capitol both days to jam the hearings.