What Rep. Heather Scott gets wrong in her latest 'label lynching' conspiracy theory

click to enlarge What Rep. Heather Scott gets wrong in her latest 'label lynching' conspiracy theory
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Rep. Heather Scott casts the Inlander's attempt to get her to speak with them as an attempt to take away her free speech.
This week's Inlander cover story tracks Idaho state Rep. Heather Scott through her struggles in the Idaho Legislature and her rise with Rep. Matt Shea in the patriot movement, a loosely organized coalition of militias, anti-federal-government groups, tax protestors, conspiracy theorists and land-rights activists. After all, both Scott and Shea had been tangled up in one of the biggest events in the region for the patriot movement, the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff.

We tried for weeks to get a sit-down interview with Scott: At first, she expressed openness, discussing the possibility of a Skype interview, and encouraged the Inlander to give her an idea of the questions we'd ask so she could "prepare."

Then she went silent. Instead of an interview, she uploaded a 12-minute video on Facebook, titled “The Label-Lynching of Rep. Heather Scott,” decrying the Inlander as the In-Slander.

"My name was mentioned in the report against this state rep, Representative Matt Shea, for being at some of the same events that Matt Shea was at," Scott said on the video, "so this guy's trying to tie this all together and connect the dots."

Scott's comments went beyond slamming an article that hadn't been written yet as a "hit piece." She went full-on conspiracy theory, arguing that the Inlander attempting to lump her in with the “patriot movement” was part of a long-term plot to attack her free speech.

“He wants me on the record, to get me to say, 'Yeah, I'm part of this movement,' because then in six years when Trump's gone, he can come after me and target me — they can silence your voice,” Scott says. "When we get a new president, there is the opportunity to get another Obama and basically take out your political enemies by labeling them."

She calls it "label-lynching."

Two years ago, the Inlander first reported on the word "label-lynching" when former Spokane GOP Chair Cecily Wright used the term to defend local white supremacist James Allsup while hosting him at an event for local conservatives.
The phrase comes from Mark Herr, the president of the Tennessee-based Center for Self-Governance, who argues that "left-wing extremists" are smearing conservatives with labels like "right-wing extremist" as a ploy to destroy their reputations, their businesses or even their lives.

Herr is the producer of a documentary about LaVoy Finicum, the militia member who was shot and killed during the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff when he reached for a gun at a roadblock. Finicum's death had been a catalytic event in the patriot movement. A "Heather Scott" is listed as a Kickstarter for the documentary.

Scott, in her video, reads from a list of people who she claims have been "label-lynched":
President Donald Trump with the impeachment hearing, Vice President Mike Pence, Congressman Steve King, the Washington florist who refused to participate in a same-sex wedding, the Covington Catholic kid with the Trump hat, LaVoy Finicum.

And what do they all have in common? Scott asks. They’re all conservative Christians. And Scott sees a scheme.

“The media, they’re collaborating and coordinating these articles,” Scott says. “These reporters — and I don’t know, maybe you, the citizens, can help me — they’re working for somebody, somebody is giving them their marching orders.”

Scott, in particular, is concerned about the use of the phrase "patriot movement." She notes that it is defined in a 2009 Department of Homeland Security lexicon as a "term used by right-wing extremists to link their beliefs to those commonly associated with the American Revolution," which includes "violent anti-government groups such as militias and sovereign citizens."

"What they want to do is tie me with the political patriot movement, because the political patriot movement is listed right here in the Obama's DHS's lexicon for domestic terrorism," Scott says. "This is scary because we need to hear everybody's beliefs. This country is a free country, people should be free and not afraid to speak their mind on anything."

This much is true: There was a "Domestic Extremism Lexicon" that made headlines out in 2009. And it did include a definition of patriot movement that said the group "primarily comprises violent anti-government groups such as militias and sovereign citizens."

It also had a wide slew of other terms of other definitions from across the political spectrum, including "animal rights extremism," "black power," "Cuban independence extremist," "green anarchism," "hacktivism" and "Jewish extremism."

As the conservative Washington Times noted back in 2009, the lexicon "was nixed within hours and recalled from state and local law enforcement officials."

“The lexicon was not an authorized [Intelligence and Analysis] product, and it was recalled as soon as management discovered it had been released without authorization,” Amy Kudwa, Homeland Security spokeswoman, told the Washington Times. “This product is not, nor was it ever, in operational use."

The Inlander confirmed that the lexicon had long been abandoned by contacting Daryl Johnson, the former lead analyst for domestic terrorism with the Department of Homeland Security.

He noted that, in fact, a new lexicon had been released in 2011, called the "Domestic Terrorism and Homegrown Violent Extremism Lexicon." And that one's a lot less controversial and more politically correct. It doesn't include the word "patriot movement" at all. Instead, it talks about "militia extremists" and "sovereign citizen extremists," and applies each definition only to "groups who facilitate or engage in acts of violence."

In fact, if anything, the Department of Homeland security veered away from scrutinizing domestic extremism during the Obama years. Johnson's team was eliminated in 2010, and Johnson told Wired that, as of 2018, DHS only has a single analyst tracking non-Islamic domestic extremist groups.

But Scott insists, in a newsletter, that the lexicon had "not been repealed or superseded by the current administration." Her source? Wikipedia. Right now, the Wikipedia article on the lexicon only spans three sentences. Older versions of the Wikipedia article include the fact that the lexicon was "was almost immediately repealed."

In Scott's video, she encourages her followers to sign a whitehouse.gov petition, authored by Herr, that blames Finicum's death on him being labeled a domestic terrorist.

“Maybe Trump will remove the conservatives of the lexicon for domestic terrorism in our country," Scott hopes. “I’m pleading with you, please sign this petition. It would be helpful to me, but it would also be helpful to hundreds and thousands of conservative Christians around the country who feel like their voices are being suppressed by the leftist media and the fake news."

For any journalist, of course, it's important to be precise about labels. Honest journalists avoid tarring any figure, no matter how controversial, with the label of a group they don't associate with or an ideology they don't believe.

Still, the Inlander has used the phrase "patriot movement" to discuss Shea, Scott and the participants of the Oregon wildlife standoff occupation.

It's a phrase used by experts with the Anti-Defamation League in this context.

Not only that, it's a word used frequently within the movement that Scott's associated with.

It's a term used by Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, a group to which both Shea and Scott belong. It's a term used by James Wesley Rawles, founder of the American Redoubt movement, who praises Scott and Shea for being leaders and promoters of the Redoubt.

It's a phrase Shea uses in documents he sent Scott during the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, where he discusses his goal to "re-establish legitimate leadership over the patriot movement" and worries "that the feds want to "destroy the patriot movement from a PR perspective to justify them calling us all domestic terrorists and cracking down."

It's a phrase used multiple times by Redoubt News, including a little over a month ago, in an article defending Matt Shea. 

"The patriot movement, in general, are conservative Christians who lean libertarian," wrote Alex Barron on Redoubt News in December. "We are often modern-day anti-federalist or extremely distrustful of the corrupt over-powerful federal government and unaccountable administrative Deep State."

But that doesn't mean everyone in the movement shares the same views. Far from it: One of the reasons we wanted to interview Scott was to better understand where she agrees with others in the patriot movement and where she disagrees.

We wanted to ask questions like: Do you believe the government is about ready to collapse? Is another civil war imminent? Do you believe Muslim refugees are a bigger terror threat than white supremacists? Are all federally owned lands unconstitutional? Are you worried about a New World Order? How about chemtrails? Vaccines? Are wolves a part of an Agenda 21 plot to force rural folks into cities? Is it ever right to take up arms against the U.S. government and for what reason?

Questions allow reporters to paint with a fine-tipped brush instead of a broad one.

After all, even guys like Shea ally Anthony Bosworth, a leader of a Three Percenter patriot movement group, wrote on Shea's "Redoubt Emergency Network" — an encrypted Signal group that included Scott — that he was frustrated with the direction the movement has gone.

"Now the ranks are completely full of loudmouth attention whores. Most of them claim to be sovereigns and anybody that is truly a sovereign does not respect the Constitution or our founders," Bosworth writes in November 2017. "The rank-and-file of the patriot movement have become nothing but a moral cesspool." 

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...