The Gristle

A giant passes through

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A GIANT PASSES THROUGH: Even as the Gristle reported last week on the resurgence of anti-Indian rhetoric and rightwing organizing in Whatcom County, one of the movement’s foremost chroniclers and critics drew his final breaths. Researcher and political commentator Paul de Armond, 60, passed away following a prolonged illness.

“Paul was committed to creating a political arena that was both unflinchingly truthful and completely safe, so that diverse opinions could be shared without fear,” commented Sherilyn Wells, former president of Washington Environmental Council, herself one of the fearless champions—at one terrible moment the very last voice of conscience left standing—in the protection of Lake Whatcom and the county’s natural resources. “In the pursuit of this goal, he courageously entered and exposed dangerous situations, documenting sub rosa activities with an unassailable level of professionalism. His contributions reached the level of national significance.”

“It was Paul de Armond who brought each of us together,” agreed Eric Ward, former field organizer at Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment. “As human rights organizations or individual researchers, each of us was engaged in trying to better understand the political emergence of the Patriot, Wise Use, and Militia movements. The mid-90s convergence of these movements would presage the rise of the Tea Party nationally 15 years later. ...Paul challenged us to collaboratively research a growing threat against democracy, thereby creating a space for collaboration that is still modeled today around the country. Paul was the definition of sacrifice in the face of bigotry and intolerance and never backed down from what was right. He was a tireless fighter for rights, transparency and democracy.”

“There is no way really to describe the extent of his dedication, his energy, the incredible depth and texture of his research and the quality of his understanding. They’re prodigious,” noted Jane Kramer, who followed the rise of Whatcom’s engines of hate and extremism for The New Yorker, culimating in her 2002 book The Lone Patriot: The Short Career of an American Militiaman, which detailed the deluded and doomed efforts in the mid-1990s of county Christian Patriots to assemble an arsenal of pipe bombs and grenades before the FBI arrived to make short work of them.

“What impresses me most about Paul de Armond,” she said, “is his immense generosity of mind, his collegiality, his commitment to enlightening—you could call it benign forced feeding—all of us who are trying in one way or another to understand, with him, what is happening to our country.”

In the earliest days of writing this column, 16 years ago, Paul was instrumental in helping me comprehend the ugly national movement of rising extremism—a toxic commingling of corporatist plunder and racially tinged anti-governnment, anti-environmental nonsense slathered over with political corruption, wrapped in a greasy wad of the Constitution and tied with the pretty golden ribbon of “property rights,” a packaging that endures to this day in groups like the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights and the Agenda 21 crowd that dominate county politics. Then, not long ago, Whatcom County was the vanguard, with more rightwing hate groups operating north of Seattle than in all of Montana, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks these groups.

Yet Paul was equally adept with the rest of the political landscape. In splendid political analysis, he was penetrating, articulate and—above all—droll. He could read polling data with inerrant and deadly accuracy. In prophecy, Paul was gracious as Cassandra.

He understood the nature of politics as satire, without surrendering to the smug view that politics is therefore unimportant and deserving of being shunned or ignored. He knew the enduring vitality of a sticker or slogan, the dirty trick turned on its head. Mailers and mailing lists were his tea leaves. He gloried in the WTO protests and Occupy movements. In one of his most endearing stunts, Paul documented the entire schematic of the cut-and-flip greenfield land grab that has so polluted local politics for the past two decades, mashed up so a child could grasp it in a series of old comic strip panels long in the public domain.

The public domain was Paul’s domain. He was—as David Ronfeldt, a retired senior researcher at RAND Corporation, notes—a pioneering practitioner of what political analyst John Keane calls “monitory democracy,” the power of citizens to hold their government accountable not just at the polls, but every day, through the assembly of data and documents and networks in all their forms.

In its most primitive form, Paul’s network was the backyard firepit, where all gathered frequently to chew fat and marrow from the bones of our public life. Many efforts were born around that welcoming roundtable—entire election campaigns, the human rights task force, recycling and renewal efforts, lore and scholarship that would transform into lasting public opinion and policy. Not that Paul did all this work alone. No, much of the time he was quiet as a monk, stoking and stirring the fire, a catalyst for community thought and action.

I recall early in the dark, new millennium Paul describing the rise of the Millerites and their apocalyptic vision of an earlier century, the Great Disappointment that polarized 19th century America and stalled both emancipation and suffrage civil rights movements as True Believers doubled down again and again on a gloomy end to the world. Horrible; but the world, he pointed out, did not end, and the liberal, charitable humane institutions that rose in response to carry the fight forward have endured longer than the harrowing visions of fire and ice. As then, so now.

He was, in every way, both master and mentor.

—Tim Johnson

Past Columns
Trust Is Reciprocal

July 18, 2018

Pressure in the Bottle

July 11, 2018

Sharing the Pain

July 4, 2018

A Supreme Shifting

June 27, 2018

The Costs of Failure

June 6, 2018

Thumb on the Scales

May 30, 2018

Bungle in the Jungle?

May 23, 2018

Heating Up

May 16, 2018

Home Run

May 9, 2018

State of the County

May 2, 2018

Symptoms of Pain

April 25, 2018

A Last Ditch Effort

April 18, 2018

Much ADUs About Nothing

April 11, 2018

The Sin of Sinclair

April 4, 2018

All Thumbs on the Scale

March 28, 2018

The Boundaries Between Us

March 21, 2018

Dirty Deeds

March 7, 2018

Events
Today
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Northwest Raspberry Festival

10:00am|Lynden

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Summer of Blood

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

LOL-apalooza

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Raspberry Pancake Breakfast

7:00am|Lynden Community Center

Tour de Whatcom

7:30am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Christmas in July Bazaar

9:00am|Bellingham Masonic Center

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Four Democrats seek election in the Skagit

9:00am

Primary Election Forum

9:30am|Bellingham High School

NW Art Beat Studio Tour

10:00am|Skagit County

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Summer Seersucker Bicycle Ride

10:00am|Gilkey Square

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Downtown Market Walk

11:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Street Food Saturdays

11:00am|Zuanich Point Park

Show & Shine

11:00am|BelleWood Acres

Hot Ticket

11:00am|North Fork Library

Public Sail

12:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

The Nandia Trilogy

1:00pm|Barnes & Noble

Craftapalooza

1:00pm|Point Roberts Library

Concrete Saturday Market

1:00pm|Concrete Community Center

Field Games

1:00pm|VanderYacht Park

Wren and Della

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

State Street History Tour

1:30pm|Depot Market Square

The Secret Garden

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Ferndale Uncorked and Uncapped

3:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk Park

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Whatcom Democrats Country Picnic

4:00pm|Hovander Homestead Park

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Feast and Frolic

5:30pm|Viva Farms

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Music at Maritime

6:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Austin Jenckes

7:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Bellingham Youth Jazz Band

7:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert

7:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Bebel Gilberto

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

Gerrymandering Update

7:30pm|Island Library

Village Books
Tomorrow
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Summer of Blood

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

NW Art Beat Studio Tour

10:00am|Skagit County

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Vietnam Veterans Car Show

10:00am|Barkley Village

Edison Farmers Market

10:00am|Edison Granary

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Langar in Lynden

11:00am|Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Skulls and Skins

1:00pm|Tennant Lake

Mosaic Stepping Stone Workshop

1:00pm|Chuckanut Center

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Fiddlin' Fox Summer Concerts

2:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

2018 Cascadia Kids Trove Web
Monday
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Rainbow Reads

12:00pm|Ferndale Library

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Paddling Whatcom County

6:00pm|REI

Cuban Salsa

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Books on Tap Two

6:30pm|Tino's Pizza & Pasta Co.

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »

2018 Cascadia Kids Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Trove Web Village Books