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CLUE and Militias Exploit Landowners

Local Property Rights Group Uncomfortable In Public Spotlight

Posted - 2 pm, Monday, Oct 6, 96

(C) 1996 by Gene Metrick

The arrest of several Whatcom County militia members this summer has helped to focus local attention on not only the militias, but also on their ideological cousins, the property rights movement.

And many of the members of the Coalition for Land Use Education (CLUE), the local chapter of the Wise Use Movement, don’t seem too pleased with the public scrutiny they are becoming subjected to.

In response to a column in the Bellingham Herald by WWU associate professor Vernon Johnson, co-chair of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, many CLUE supporters wrote the Herald vehemently denouncing Johnson for truthfully stating the connections that exist between politicians such as Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) and the militia movement.

Johnson's article discussed the extent to which the militia message is becoming a part of the mainstream. He also described how groups like CLUE supported last year’s deservedly failed property rights measure, Referendum 48, and worked to elect two of its members to the Whatcom County Council.

The angry reaction from both the grass-roots supporters and the leadership of CLUE is understandable, although it stems from different reasons.

The rank-and-file members of groups like CLUE and Wise Use are rightfully shocked when the true motivations and real forces behind the property rights movement are even partially hinted at.

And the founders and leaders of the groups would probably prefer that these rather uncomfortable facts were not divulged to the public.

Many CLUE supporters wrote the Herald expressing their outrage at Johnson's supposed insinuation of ties between CLUE and the militia movement.

But in an August article in the Seattle Times, real-estate developer and CLUE co-founder Skip Richards, who is currently running for the 40th District state senate seat, acknowledged working with militia members. Richards defended this practice as simply “playing interest-group politics.”

The Times also reported that CLUE meetings at local grange halls have hosted speakers warning of efforts to establish a “New World Order” and passing out Militia of Montana literature. CLUE’s newsletter has also included militia information.

Another CLUE leader, Whatcom County Councilwoman Kathy Sutter, told the Portland Oregonian in August that connections between the Wise Use Movement and militias were “a matter of degrees.”

Nothing in Johnson's article sought to connect CLUE with the militias, but that did not prevent the letter writers from denying that any existed.

And although no "smoking gun" evidence exists that could directly link the two groups, it is curious that so many people are ardently protesting allegations that were never made.

The grass-roots supporters of these property rights groups are generally rural working- and middle-class landowners who are concerned over rising property taxes and environmental regulations that sometimes unnecessarily overburden them.

CLUE and Wise Use exploit these legitimate concerns, turning them to their own advantage by encouraging and directing feelings of fear and anger at government workers and environmentalists.

Organizers blame rising tax rates and economic insecurity on the costs of environmental protection and government land-use policies, and present their groups as protectors of small land owners from "intrusive government" and "watermelon environmentalists."

But the protection of small land owners was not the reason that the Wise Use Movement was created. It is nationally organized and financed by a coalition of timber, mining and real-estate development interests for the purpose of eliminating or reducing as much as possible the environmental protections that hinder their pursuit of profits through unlimited land development and unchecked exploitation of publicly-owned natural resources.

Similarly, CLUE was formed by a group of Whatcom County construction, real estate and other development interests.

The rising tax rates that mobilize support for these groups are more often than not a result of the business activities of these interests that fund and direct the movement from behind the scenes.

When a new housing subdivision or commercial business mall is built, the public ends up paying higher tax rates to build the roads, sidewalks, sewer systems and water lines that must service them.

Tax money is used to build logging roads for corporations like Weyerhaeuser to use while mineral rights are practically given away to large mining companies. Wise Use was a reaction to efforts to end practices such as this.

Ron Arnold, a principle strategist and national leader of Wise Use, wrote a series of articles for Logging Management magazine in 1988 proposing that the resource and development companies put citizens instead of corporate spokesman in the front lines of the environ-mental battle. Arnold advised these companies to "stop defending yourselves, let them do it, and get the hell out of the way. Because citizen groups have credibility and industries don't."

Vernon Johnson's article was meant to be a call for an honest discussion over the problems that affect our local community and urged residents to engage in a give-and-take dialogue to reach solutions that can benefit everyone.

It's a shame that this message had to be deflected by the smear and diversion tactics employed by the leaders of the property rights movement that continue to stifle debate, demonize opponents, and mislead those who they pretend to speak for.

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