Deschutes Co. Sheriff accepts invite to speak to controversial group

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Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson next week plans to speak to the Central Oregon chapter of The People’s Rights group. 

It’s just another calendar item for a busy sheriff elected to represent Deschutes County.

“Sheriff Nelson has agreed to speak to them about Operation Guardian Angel, Measure 110, and the upcoming community academy,” said Sgt. Jayson Janes on the sheriff’s behalf. “The Sheriff has done similar speaking engagements for many organizations and groups like  Leadership Bend, Leadership Redmond, Rotary, the Lions Club, and many more. Members of the Sheriff’s Office commonly are asked to speak to organizations and groups within Deschutes County about Sheriff’s Office business.”

But The People’s Rights Group is a little different than the Lions Club in that multiple extremist watchdog groups consider it “a racist and far-right organization” that promotes paramilitary activity and, in Oregon, backs plans to secede from the state. 

“This isn’t the Rotary,” said Chuck Tanner, the research director for the Seattle-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “It’s a far-right group that has an insurrectionist vision.”

Tanner’s firm researches movements like The People’s Rights group and others that he said, “pose a threat to democracy.”

“Presenting to groups about these topics does not translate into our office holding or supporting various group/organizational beliefs or ideals.”
– Sgt. Jayson Janes, spokesman for Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson

People’s Rights is also on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national social justice organization that tracks hate groups.

“The group’s message, which has been shared across social media platforms, is that the U.S. government poses a great threat to the freedom and liberties of ‘the people,’ who need to be armed and ready to fend off these supposed tyrannical forces,” according to the SPLC “Hatewatch” blog.

Ammon Bundy started the group two years ago in Idaho, in part, to oppose the state’s COVID restrictions.

It’s blossomed from there into a national movement of 30,000-strong – or, twice that if you’re to believe Bundy’s estimates

Over the last two years, the group has organized numerous public protests – with members armed – outside state Capitols, schools, and public health departments. 

Calling it a militarized social movement, Facebook has gone as far as removing the profiles of many People’s Rights members and chapters. 

The Central Oregon chapter’s website says its members have come together with “unity and security” as the focus – “Unite to Defend.” The page also has several blog posts opposing mask and vaccine mandates, blasting local school boards and local government.

“Freedom is secured by uniting together in Claiming, Using and Defending People’s Rights,” according to the site. 

Responding to this story, chapter member BJ Soper refuted all the claims of the watchdog groups and said it has little or no ties to the national organization. 

Your quote from the SPLC regarding ‘armed to fend off the tyrannical government,’ is completely misleading and horrendously slanted. You will not find a similar statement made anywhere from THIS group you are painting that narrative upon,” Soper said in an email. “I challenge you to find that ideology, show me where we have done anything of the sort, and then please explain how that would not be considered LIBEL in a court of law.”

“Every Peoples Rights group across this Country, and now in Canada, run at the local level,” he said. “There is no hierarchy, no national effort, no president, or a leadership structure of any kind. Each chapter is free to make their own path by simply using the communication tools created on the website. The website is merely a tool to bring likeminded people together.”

The local group Nelson is speaking to was also behind a Redmond Fourth of July Parade float on which a member waved a Confederate Flag.

▶️ Redmond councilor, People’s Rights member react to Confederate Flag flap

Given how the extremist watchdog groups classify People’s Rights, we asked the sheriff’s spokesman in a follow-up how he would respond to those concerns.

“To answer your question the Sheriff does not routinely meet with militia groups, and did decline a meeting with the Central Oregon Peacekeepers,” Janes said. (Nelson has since said he would meet with the Peacekeepers to discuss the same topics he’s discussing with People’s Rights.)

Janes added that the sheriff would not be discussing public health with the group. 

“Sheriff Nelson believes one of his obligations as Sheriff is to share information about the Sheriff’s Office, programs the office offers, and explain ballot measures and their effects to residents of Deschutes County,” he said. “Presenting to groups about these topics does not translate into our office holding or supporting various group/organizational beliefs or ideals.”

Soper said People’s Rights has every right to bring in an elected law enforcement officer to speak to them about issues of importance to the community.

“Lastly, I would ask you, are the People in our group not members of this community? Do we not pay taxes, have the right to vote, and have a voice in this community,” he wrote. “If we do not align with views held by the editor, journalist, and clearly biased sources, should the elected officials that represent us be banned from speaking to their constituents?”

Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang acknowledged the situation was “an important topic” but declined to comment for this story.

Commission Chairman Tony DeBone has not yet responded to a request for comment.

But Tanner told Central Oregon Daily News a county sheriff sitting down with People’s Rights “lends legitimacy to a group that should have none.”

He said groups like People’s Rights are known to bring in law enforcement for speaking engagements in an effort to recruit them into the movement and “intervene to enforce their distorted view of the Constitution.”

“I don’t think any respectable law enforcement should be anywhere near these groups,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


You can read Sgt. Jayson Janes’ follow-up response to Central Oregon Daily News below.

Sheriff Nelson was requested by the People’s Rights group to speak to them about the Guardian Angel program, Measure 110 and the effects of the decriminalization of drugs. The Sheriff and Sheriff’s Office members often give presentations to various groups, clubs, programs and organizations about the work/accomplishments of the Sheriff’s Office.  

Sheriff Nelson and members of the Sheriff’s Office are available to present to any group/organization about the Sheriff’s Office response to ballot measures and programs the Sheriff’s Office offers.

To answer your question the Sheriff does not routinely meet with militia groups, and did decline a meeting with the Central Oregon Peacekeepers. 

An example of when Sheriff Nelson meets with groups is when the Sheriff’s Office was seeking input on our body camera policy.

The Sheriff did have meetings with a number of organizations in Deschutes County. Some of the organizations he met with and sought input from were Saving Grace, Central Oregon Black Leaders Assembly, Latino Community Association of Central, Oregon, Bend La Pine and Redmond School Districts, as well as others.    

The Sheriff is not discussing public health with this group. Sheriff Nelson believes one of his obligations as Sheriff is to share information about the Sheriff’s Office, programs the office offers, and explain ballot measures and their effects to residents of Deschutes County.

Presenting to groups about these topics does not translate into our office holding or supporting various group/organizational beliefs or ideals.   

Sheriff Nelson has also let the Central Oregon Peacekeepers know he is available to give them the same presentation. 
 

You read BJ Soper and The People’s Rights group’s full response below:

 
I would like to take the opportunity to refute and set the record straight on the erroneous points your journalist included in the article listed above.

Before I point out the errors I would like to ask, “What has happened to balanced journalism?” When did opposing views become the only view used to, for lack of a better term, destroy the reputation of people or groups?

I would simply ask, why was our group not contacted for a statement of any kind before publishing such a contentious, inflammatory, and one-sided article? This article crosses the line from opinionated to libelous when one party is left without the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. One does not have to look far when wondering why the public no longer trusts our media outlets.

Our People’s Rights group is about four thousand members strong in Central Oregon. We are people from all levels of society who live in our community. Our membership consists of multiple ethnicities and religions. We are made up of doctors and nurses, lawyers, truck drivers, farmers, ranchers, grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, realtors, investment strategists, fisherman, loggers, butchers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and much more.

The young and old come to be a part of our group because we are all part of a community, neighbors to one another, working to ensure that we are secure in many facets of our lives. We work to ensure that our member’s freezers and pantries are stocked, and those that need medicine can get their prescriptions. We help each other with projects and tasks, we support our member business owners to survive in our current economic climate. We educate each other on critical issues such as upcoming legislation at all levels of government as well as reading and learning our foundational documents like the Oregon and United States Constitution. We ask our members often, “If you do not know your rights, how do you know they still exist?”

These so called “watch dog groups” that your journalist quoted, I wonder if the editor finds them a balanced resource. Would you find groups like Antifa and BLM on their radar too? Much like your journalist, these groups also fail to reach out and engage with groups like Peoples Rights, to try to communicate and make an actual fact-based assessment of the people and ideologies. Instead, they simply stalk social media accounts in hopes of finding little tidbits of information that help to drive their ideological assessment of people that do not live the way they do.

Your quote from the SPLC regarding “armed to fend off the tyrannical government,” is completely misleading and horrendously slanted. You will not find a similar statement made anywhere from THIS group you are painting that narrative upon. I challenge you to find that ideology, show me where we have done anything of the sort, and then please explain how that would not be considered LIBEL in a court of law.

Every Peoples Rights group across this Country, and now in Canada, run at the local level. There is no hierarchy, no national effort, no president, or a leadership structure of any kind. Each chapter is free to make their own path by simply using the communication tools created on the website. The website is merely a tool to bring likeminded people together.

Ammon Bundy envisioned this idea and worked to develop the tool for people to use. The media loves to demonize Ammon and his family, but I would like to point out that Ammon and his family were all found NOT GUILTY by a jury of their peers in Oregon. The case in Nevada was thrown out by a federal judge when evidence presented proved the government itself maliciously and unlawfully withheld evidence that was beneficial to the defendant’s case. Do these lawful and just actions no longer matter? If not, then what does matter, the opinions of an editor and journalist? Are those the determining factors in the character judgement or in these cases, assassination of the people in discussion?

Can the same not be said for Kyle Rittenhouse? Mr. Rittenhouse has been exonerated by a jury of his peers, gone through the proper prescribed manners used by justice systems long established before this Country came to existence. We are talking about trials where both sides present their case, and the people decide the fate of their neighbor. I am curious why media outlets feel their opinion outweighs a prescribed process seven hundred plus years in the making, enumerated clearly in our founding documents as the pillar our Country was built upon? Two foundational principles that every American holds, whether they understand or not, are Liberty and the preservation of Justice through due process.

I digress back to the false and misleading statements in your article. “Promotes paramilitary activity and plans to secede from the state.” If in understanding that every human being on this planet has an inalienable right to life, knowing that to maintain this, we have an obligation to protect our life, reaffirmed in the second amendment of the United States Constitution and in Article 1, Section 27 of the Oregon Constitution. Yes, many members are lawful gun owners. With this power comes responsibility and we encourage and help our members find the best training available so that they are again prepared in the event someone, or something threatens their life or the life of another.

As far as plans for seceding, Article 1, Section 1 of the Oregon Constitution says, “We declare that all men, when they form a social compact are equal in right: that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.“

Article 4, Section 3 of the US Constitution details the lawful process for a State to form within the boundaries of an existing State. With these two very clear principles, what exactly is so nefarious about having a discussion that is completely lawful and within the prescribed authorities enumerated in the Oregon Constitution to the People of Oregon, if and when they feel a change is needed to provide for their peace, safety, and happiness?

I ask again, where is the factual basis that your journalist used to back the claims provided by Mr. Tanner or the SPLC? Can you substantiate for yourselves the claim that we are somehow acting seditiously? We wonder if Central Oregon Daily News is willing to go through litigation in defense of that statement you freely chose to include in this article.

Lastly, I would ask you, are the People in our group not members of this community? Do we not pay taxes, have the right to vote, and have a voice in this community? If we do not align with views held by the editor, journalist, and clearly biased sources, should the elected officials that represent us be banned from speaking to their constituents?

One must wonder if this is not the intended inference of this article. Article 1, section 26 of the Oregon Constitution again states “No law shall be passed restraining any of the inhabitants of the State from assembling together in a peaceable manner to consult for their common good, nor from instructing their representatives, nor from applying to the legislature for a redress of grievances.” We are lawful citizens of this State and County and have every right to have our elected officials speak on subjects important to our community.

In this Country, we still have every right to speak freely and to express ourselves in ways we see fit. We have a part of society that would like to nullify this inalienable right, demanding that voices be quelled simply because they are offended, or strongly disagree. Being offended is a choice, not a right from which to have protection.

That is the beauty of our Constitutional Republic, the voice and rights of the individual are protected from the will of the majority. Opinions are just opinions when coming from individuals, but when printed words are used to mislead the public at large through protected means, liability to the affected person, people or groups can be levied.

Libel is a significant issue for a media outlet, so we ask that Central Oregon Daily News takes the initiative to correct the narrative or provide a factual basis to their claims made about our local People’s Rights group.

Sincerely,
BJ Soper

People’s Rights Oregon 5

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