Ron C. Judd
A tiny town shouts 'Whoa!' to Patriot Act
Sun Aug 10 17:06:56 2003

Sunday, August 10, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

A tiny town shouts 'Whoa!' to Patriot Act

By Ron C. Judd
Seattle Times staff reporter

Mark Alan, who fashioned the Tonasket Resolution, stands outside the site of his former nonlicensed radio station near Oroville, Okanogan County. The federal government made him close the station.

TONASKET, Okanogan County — If this is a hotbed of sedition, they're hiding it pretty well.

In fact, the most suspicious group activity on this scorching day in Tonasket, the bellybutton of the Okanogan Valley, is the alarming number of people eating ice-cream cones, all at once, down at Shannon's on the south edge of town.

Plenty of vanillas in the crowd. Radical these folks are not.

But you don't have to dig very deep at Tonasket City Hall to find the small seed of a populist uprising planted this spring and spreading like cheatgrass down to the county courthouse in Okanogan — and beyond.

It's a simple, two-page resolution supporting the constitutional rights of Tonasket's 1,000 citizens — and directly opposing one of the most significant acts of Congress in recent history.

"The Tonasket Resolution" is a symbolic broadside at the USA Patriot Act, the far-reaching "terror-obstruction" measure approved by Congress six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Washington, D.C., area.

Tonasket's cheeky response was penned by self-described "constitutionalist" Mark Alan and edited by Tonasket's police chief, Don Schneider. It has since been adopted by the city councils of nearby Oroville and Riverside and is being considered by the Okanogan County Commission.

Its preamble reinforces the notion that America was created "in the shadow of bloody conflicts" with intentionally strict limits on government. It goes on to suggest that the Patriot Act and similar incursions on individual civil rights are unconstitutional.

The meat of the resolution takes care to endorse most efforts to combat terrorism. But it insists government had all the tools to do that before the Patriot Act.

And it boldly proclaims that any law that "dilutes, weakens or denies" a person's constitutional rights is "unenforceable in our jurisdiction."

Practical impacts are debatable. Federal law clearly trumps local ordinances, but similar resolutions in other U.S. cities contain "unenforceable-in-our-jurisdiction" language to warn the feds that their police are there to protect citizens, not serve as FBI gofers.

Local push has yet to come to federal shove in places that have approved Patriot Act snubs — a list that now includes three states and 141 counties and cities representing 16 million Americans, according to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which supports citizen petitioners. Opposition has increased with rumors that the Justice Department is drafting a stronger "Patriot II."

Anti-Patriot Act measures have been produced by an odd alliance of libertarians, extreme conservatives and flaming liberals, and often in the expected places. The act has been assailed in varying degrees in Bellingham, Bainbridge Island, Jefferson and San Juan counties, Port Townsend, Seattle and Vashon Island.

But opposition also has risen in lands less expected. Apple-growing, God-fearing, Wranglers-wearing north-central Washington might be the last place you'd expect locals to be shouting — during and after wartime — "Whoa!" to Congress, the Justice Department and the president.

Unless, these newbie constitutional activists insist, you'd bother to read the fine print.

Major changes

The Patriot Act sailed through Congress with little debate in those harried, post-9-11 days. It is a 56,870-word grab bag — a medium-sized novel's worth of bureaucratese.

But it made sweeping changes in laws affecting freedom of speech, rights to legal representation, freedom from unreasonable searches, the right to a speedy trial, the right to confront witness, and government access to formerly private, personal information.

Even in remote Okanogan County, where news sometimes arrives late, this perked up eyebrows. Two of them belonged to Alan, 46, who knows about tangling with the power of the federal government.

In February 2001 — before the Patriot Act was ever imagined — Alan was approached in downtown Oroville by two men who knocked on the window of his truck, asking him to roll it down. Fearing the men were carjackers, Alan hit the gas. Big mistake: The men were federal agents, in town to serve Alan with contempt-of-court papers.

His crime: Running a nonlicensed radio station from an apple-picking shack on a hillside above Oroville, pop. 1,600. With a sister transmitter down the valley in Tonasket, Alan's faint, 5-watt FM signal reached only around the two towns, carrying news, high-school sports, advertising — and provocative, right-leaning political commentary pulled by satellite dish from "patriotic" national broadcasting networks.

Alan insisted his North Valley Broadcasting "microcast" station didn't need a federal license because it didn't interfere with other station signals and didn't broadcast over state lines. The Federal Communications Commission — pressured, Alan says, by a radio competitor in Omak — disagreed.

Moments after fleeing the undercover feds that day in Oroville, Alan, a former reserve police officer with nary a parking ticket on his record, was chased down and arrested at gunpoint. The father of six was tossed into the Spokane County Jail, where he sat for nearly two months, becoming something of a cause cιlθbre in his community.

After a series of legal maneuvers, and a dispute over the legal name under which he could be charged (he goes by Mark Alan, his "baptized" name, but the feds insist he is Mark Alan Rabenold, his "family" name), he pleaded to a minor offense and agreed to unplug Radio Free Oroville.

He took the deal, he says, only after prosecutors threatened to arrest his wife, Jeri, as an accomplice, and put his six children in foster care.

A resolution is born

Tonasket Police Chief Don Schneider edited the Tonasket Resolution to make it "strongly supportive of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights."

What does that have to do with the Tonasket Resolution and the USA Patriot Act? Maybe nothing, maybe everything, Alan explains from his new office — a leatherwork and saddle-repair shop in tiny Riverside, north of Omak.

Alan, a thin, quick-to-smile Libertarian Party activist and 4-H volunteer, says his radio gig was born of "self-imposed poverty." He moved his family to a vacation getaway in Havillah, in the hills above Tonasket, nine years ago when his sales job at a Seattle international freight and customs brokerage was eliminated. He started selling ads for another would-be radio microcaster in Oroville, then went out on his own.

He recalls the radio station fondly, saying it served as a grand community forum and meeting place. "There were times when it seemed like everyone in town was listening," he recalls.

But he put the arrest behind him, he insists, and holds no burning resentment of the federal government — just a lingering dislike for Attorney General John Ashcroft's brand of justice.

Earlier this year, an acquaintance handed Alan a stock version of an anti-Patriot Act resolution purloined from the Internet. Alan made some changes and brought it to the Tonasket City Council.

The resolution was long and full of invective against President Bush, which made council members leery. After watching the council bat it around for several meetings, Don Schneider, 52, the Tonasket police chief who says he "normally tries to stay out of politics," stepped in.

Schneider suggested editing the resolution "to make it more positive, not necessarily anti-Patriot Act, but strongly supportive of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights." A slimmer, more politically palatable version was adopted unanimously by Tonasket in April, then Oroville and Riverside in succeeding months.

Alan is now hoping the County Commission will embrace the measure. That would be a positive omen for civil-liberties defense nationwide, he says, because Okanogan County, which almost always picks the presidential-election winner — is a "pretty good place to take the pulse of John Q. American."

ohn Q., in Alan's mind, is only now waking from a "9-11 slumber" and realizing it's OK to act like an American again. To him, that means asking hard questions about actions taken in the name of national security, from the war in Iraq to the Patriot Act, that amount to "textbook fascism."

Alan says the resolution is more than symbolic and gives local officials leeway to refuse to cooperate with federal actions:

"If (a federal agent) showed up at the Tonasket Library and said, 'I want to see so-and-so's records,' I'm sure Chief Schneider would step in and say, 'Not here. You're going to need a warrant.' "

The chief himself is less cocky about that scenario, saying his officers have neither the desire nor the legal right to interfere with a federal investigation. But he's doubts it will ever be an issue.

"We rarely see an FBI agent or a DEA officer here," he says.

If the situation described by Alan did occur, "We'd be there to keep the peace and take notes," Schneider says — same as always.

Some have concerns

Other legal officials, however, do worry about the resolution being expanded to all of Okanogan County, rather than just the boundaries of three small cities.

Okanogan is the state's largest county. It borders Canada and overlaps two national forests and an Indian reservation. So officials there have daily contact with officers from the U.S. Border Patrol, Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies.

"I'd hate to see it create a bad situation here for our law enforcement," says Heidi Appel, the county's civil deputy prosecutor, who is reviewing the resolution for the County Commission. "I'm not really sure what to do with it."

But Alan remains resolute, saying he can address any county concerns. He's encouraged by the lack of backlash against the resolution in the three small towns.

Schneider is, too. For several weeks after the measure was approved in Tonasket, he would open the "letters" section of the local paper, braced for the worst. It never came.

"Everyone has been really positive about it," he says.

And working on the resolution has renewed his own appreciation for, and interest in, the Founding Fathers.

That's the goal, in Alan's mind. While average citizens here might not think daily about the Patriot Act, he says, they know what they value.

"In Okanogan County, most of us would just prefer to be left alone," he says. "People look at (the Patriot Act) and think, 'Here's another intrusion. Another way we can't control our own destiny.' "

He's confident the people will take that power back — even if it's one city council at a time.

"I've still got faith in America."

Ron C. Judd: 206-464-8280, or 
The Tonasket Resolution

Section 1. The City of Tonasket supports all lawful and Constitutional efforts to prevent and investigate terrorist or other criminal acts and prosecute their perpetrators.

Section 2. The City of Tonasket believes that sufficient Constitutionally acceptable tools existed, prior to the passage of the "USA Patriot Act" or other such restrictive acts, for Law enforcement to accomplish their intended lawful purpose.

Section 3. The City of Tonasket believes that any act, enactment, law, or legislation, etc., which dilutes, weakens, or denies the State and / or Federal Constitutionally guaranteed Rights of the Citizen is void from its inception, is unenforceable in our jurisdiction, and should be quashed, repealed or found by a court of jurisdiction to be unconstitutional in part or in full, as appropriate, to protect the Rights and Freedom of the Citizenry.

Section 4. The Tonasket City Council strongly encourages all citizens, organizations, and governmental legislative bodies to study, for understanding, the State and Federal Constitutions and their history, and the Bill of Rights and its history so that they can recognize and resist attempts to undermine our Constitutional Republics and the system of government that has brought our civilization so much success.

Section 5. The Tonasket City Council believes it is the duty of every citizen to protect and defend the State and Federal Constitutions from all enemies — foreign and domestic — and to demonstrate outspoken respect for the Rights that have been paid for with the blood and sweat of the American People throughout our history.

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