Albion Monitor /Features

Rep. Helen Chenoweth - Poster Child of the Militia

by Dan Yurman

Tar with a Wide Brush

Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) is an outspoken supporter of the militia. She has never condoned violence, but she has defended militia groups. After the Oklahoma City bombing she warned against "a rush to condemn many people who are guilty of nothing more than the peaceful exercise of their basic rights." Militias, in turn, praise her legislative agenda, distribute her speeches and call her their best friend in Congress.

The Boise-based Idaho Statesman called Rep. Chenoweth "a poster child for the militias," and accused her of confusing individual freedom with anarchy. Rep. Chenoweth's rhetoric is uncompromising, and she tars with a wide brush. Her stand is an example of how once-radical conspiracy theories can enter the political mainstream. Before and after her election victory in November, she did the following.

  • Issued a warning that, "We are in a day-and-age now when we are facing an unlawful government from time-to-time."
  • Proposed a bill to strip federal agents, including the FBI, of most arrest, search and seizure powers, unless city or county leaders give advance written approval.
  • Said that of all the species on Earth, "It's the white Anglo- Saxon male that's endangered," a comment echoed by Idaho Sen. Larry Craig last August.
  • Linked environmentalism to Marxism and called for converting federal lands to state, local or private ownership.
  • Proposed to open silver mining operations in the Idaho Sawtooths wilderness area.
  • Defended Samuel Sherwood, chief of the United States Militia Association, who was widely quoted as telling his followers: "Go up and look legislators in the face, because some day you may be forced to blow it off."

    He says that remark was quoted out of context, but twice confirmed it to the Associated Press at the time he said it. Since then most newspapers in Idaho have refused to accept as credible his claims of being misquoted. Sherwood's remarks could be interpreted as going beyond the protection of the 1st amendment and into the realm of criminal intimidation. The Idaho State legislature thought so and passed a unanimous resolution condemning his remarks.

  • Putting Militia Madness into Focus

    Critics of Chenoweth, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), have accused Chenoweth of "pandering to militia with 'code words'." Her videotaped comments linking environmental activism to the 'New World Order' are sold by the Militia of Montana. Chenoweth says she did not authorize the sale of the video tape, but she has not asked the militia to stop selling the tape.

    Let's be clear about what's going on. It's hard to stand out as a a freshman republican member of Congress. Chenoweth has chosen a path to the limelight paved with the pages of conspiracy theories and extremist views on politics and the environment. Her idea of political expediency is to use the noteriety of the militia to gain press, and negative press is better than none at all. Remember, there is wide sympathy for militia and anti-environmental views in Idaho, and the voters of Idaho are the only ones she cares about. This may prove to be the wrong path for Rep. Chenoweth. The democrats in Idaho have already fielded a candidate to run against her saying her radical views don't fit Idaho's politics.

    Chenoweth's Bridge Game - Wise Use Links to Militia

    Last fall the National Federal Lands Conference, a Wise Use group, printed a newsletter titled "Why There is a Need for the Militia in America." Inside, it explained, "To overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution." Wise Use and militia groups increasingly share members, and some Wise Use leaders have spoken at white supremacist gatherings. Wise Use leaders may be seeking to broaden their base of support, as militia groups seek increased political respectability.

    Chenoweth has placed herself in the midst of this loose coalition. To achieve this position, she has adopted a political line which is a blend of Wise Use and militia politics. She charges that the government used black helicopters to enforce the Endangered Species Act, which coincides with militia reports that black helicopters are invading the West. Federal wildlife officials say they have no such aircraft in Idaho. Chenoweth made the charges at a press conference without ever consulting with the Department of Interior.

    It turns out the only green-and-black colored helicopters in Idaho are used by the national guard. The Militia of Montana tried to shoot down a national guard helicopter on a training mission which had the bad luck to overfly a ranch owned by a militia leader. The Boise Interagency Fire Center has told the militia in both states that if they interfere with forest fire fighting, that the aircraft and men on the ground will be withdrawn and the fire allowed to burn whatever stands in its path.

    Blaming the Victim

    Militia groups have long asserted that county sheriffs are the supreme law-enforcement officials in the land. Rep. Chenoweth introduced a bill that would make that philosophy law. And while militia groups have focused charges of brutality against federal firearms enforcers, Rep. Chenoweth has leveled such accusations against environmental enforcers.

    At a public hearing in Boise, she cited a March 1995 incident in which wildlife officers searched a ranch for evidence in the shooting of a wolf. By all accounts, their mere presence scared the elderly rancher - but they kept their pistols holstered and used no force.

    Rep. Miller said that last year federal rangers nationwide were assaulted 207 times and injured 36 times by guns, knives or other weapons. The House Resources Committee recently voted to investigate. Rep. Chenoweth opposed the probe, which she called "silly."

    Sherwood advocates having armed militiamen confront federal forest rangers. "Then they'll think twice before saying, 'These are our trees,'" he said. Rep. Chenoweth said she has never spoken to a militia group, which is patently untrue. Sherwood praised her for "standing up and defending her young, while these other snake-oil politicians ran for the nearest dark place to hide."

    This report is courtesy of the Western Lands Gopher Service.

    Albion Monitor August 19, 1995 (

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