This week's cover story has a lot of accusations being thrown around: It has Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich warning that "folks that want to overthrow the government," accusing a local state Rep. Matt Shea of "preaching hate and falsehood," of getting elected based on fear. He doesn't call Shea terrorist or a white supremacist, but he does warn that anti-government rhetoric could inspire anti-government violence.
It also has a state representative predicting government collapse, accusing the sheriff of lacking integrity, and saying things like "I'm going to submit today, that the Southern Poverty Law Center — and the sheriff that backs them — is the most dangerous organization in this country."
There's the challenge. How do you communicate that that on a cover? We wanted an illustration that would capture both the way the sheriff sees himself and the way that his critics see him.
So we commissioned an illustration by artist Jeff Drew, and photoshopped Knezovich's head on (it's larger than life to show that it's an artist's rendering, not a staged photograph). It shows the sheriff standing on a big, mean-looking snake atop a pile of the "Don't Tread on Me" Gadsden Flags
. (It isn't the original
Gadsden Flag used in the American Revolution, mind you. The green grass at the bottom of the flag show's it's a later version.) It symbolizes a number of things:
First, the sheriff has specifically aligned himself against elements of the local Tea Party, who he sees as pushing dangerous rhetoric.
Here's a section of one original interview with him:
Inlander: A lot of people push a lot of dumb things—
Knezovich: Dumb things don’t get people killed. This gets people killed. … You had the sovereign citizens on that video. They killed two police officers because they believed they didn’t have to follow the rules. You had the people that went down to Bundy’s ranch, they ended up killing two police officers saying this was a start of a revolution. That is the rhetoric people are pushing. Sooner or later you find these people who are compromised in one way or another, susceptible to that rhetoric or not — or more susceptible, I should say. And they go and do things like that. You know, people die. Timothy Mcveigh. People die. This extreme hate of government.
Inlander: So when we’re talking about the people who are pushing this rhetoric — you did mention Matt Shea. Who else?
Knezovich: Well, it’s all those folks that created the video about the Deputy. That would be the Spokane Tea Party. That’s John Charleston. Cecily Wright is his wife. You have [Anthony] Bosworth.
Showing him treading on the Gadsden Flag, a symbol that has been repurposed as a Tea Party standard, highlights his conflict with this group. And it also highlights how offended some local Tea Party members (and other right-leaning types) have been over Knezovich's words. They see him as insulting the Constitution
, and the people who believe in it.
But from Knezovich's perspective, he's more than willing to ruffle a few feathers and say some politically incorrect things, because he believes there are genuine threats. For him, the snake isn't just a symbol, in other words. The snake is real, resting on anti-government ideology, and in danger of striking. He wants to stamp that snake out. He think that snake has hijacked the patriotic rhetoric, and words like "Constitutionalist." (He also accuses guys like Infowars' Alex Jones of selling "snake oil.")
During his speech about the "Threats We Face
," Knezovich cites the example of the couple in Las Vegas who killed two cops and a civilian, and covered the body of one cop with the Gadsden Flag.
These local groups do feel "tread on." They feel they've been lumped in with actually dangerous snakes for no reason. Sheriff Knezovich does believe he's identified a genuine threat, and that the local groups need to stop saying things that could cause those snakes to strike.
"Remember when I said you can't control who you invite to the party," Knezovich warns in his presentation
after showing a threatening Facebook message he'd received. "I hope that if anything happens to any of my deputies, that the people responsible for this little firestorm, I hope you all hold them accountable."