Washington State Democrats have taken an interest in a Black Diamond City Council race, alleging the incumbent is part of an extremist paramilitary organization.
The sole contested seat in the city is Position No. 5., where Councilman Chris Wisnoski currently sits, and is being challenged by Kristiana de Leon.
Wisnoski is a key member of a group called the Washington State Three Percenters (WS3P), an offshoot of what’s been deemed the Patriot Movement, a resurgence of decentralized right-wing organizations that gained popularity after President Barack Obama was elected in 2008.
The term “Three Percent” comes from the idea that only 3 percent of American colonists fought against British rule during the Revolutionary War; many historians say that’s an incorrect figure, with one estimate putting 15 to 25 percent of colonists with an active role in the war when you consider the army, navy and privateers, and militias.
What Three Percenters (or “Threepers”) stand for depends on who you ask, and although there is a national organization, regional or local groups can differ. In general, supporters and critics can agree the groups are largely Republican or Libertarian, support gun rights, value preparedness, argue for small government and are at least wary of illegal immigration.
Critics say the national Three Percent movement is anti-government, promotes the formation of armed militias, is extreme in their gun rights beliefs, and can be anti-immigrant and anti-Islam. The Washington State Democrats echoed some of these criticisms in a short statement.
“We’ve been made aware of Wisnoski’s membership in an extremist militia group… and have been working with our partners at both the King County Democrats and 5th [Legislative District] Democrats to ensure volunteers supporting Kristiana de Leon, Wisnoski’s opponent, are aware they should contact the authorities if they feel Wisnoski’s fellow militia members create an unsafe environment on the campaign trail,” Washington State Democrats Chair Tina Podlodowski wrote in an email. “Obviously we believe that the community of Black Diamond would be better served by someone like Kristiana who is focused on improving her community’s schools instead of agitating for the far-right, extremist ideology we’ve seen on the rise throughout the WA GOP.”
Wisnoski said his group is oriented more around community service and preparedness than anything else, and is not affiliated with the national movement, nor are they a militia.
“We cleaved off of national years ago. We saw some things in national that we didn’t like, things they supported that we didn’t like. There were some groups out there that were much more extreme than we are, much more — not accepting of, but looked the other way of some of that racial crap,” Wisnoski continued. “That’s not us.”
However, some activists in South King County are concerned about WS3P, sending screenshots of posts made on the organization’s public Facebook page, as well as screenshots taken from Wisnoski’s social media profiles.
In one post on his Facebook, Wisnoski shared a quote falsely attributed to comedian Steve Harvey titled, “How I feel about Trump.” The post says the country is “being invaded by illegals” and compares them to “rabid, messy, mean raccoons” in a basement, with President Donald Trump likened to an uncouth exterminator.
“You don’t care if the guy smells, you don’t care if the guy swears, you don’t care if he’s an alcoholic, you don’t care how many times he’s been married, you don’t care if he has a plumber’s crack, you simply want those raccoons gone,” the post reads.
Wisnoski wrote the post had a “good analogy,” though didn’t specify which metaphor he was referring to.
During an interview, he clarified he was referring to the Trump/exterminator metaphor, and that “when I saw that other people looked at it from a different point of view that I hadn’t even thought of… I deleted it.”
Another post, this time from Wisnoski’s Twitter, reads, “How dare the illegal aliens break our laws! How dare they knowingly put their children at risk by coming here illegally and continuing to stay here and work here illegally. They need to take responsibility for THEIR actions. THEY broke the law. THEY are not victims, THEY are criminals!”
Wisnoski said this post was not racist, adding that people of all colors and races come into the country illegally.
“My concern are the people breaking the law to get here, and thus trying to jump ahead of all those folks who followed the law to get here,” he continued. “I’ve got tons of friends that got here legally, and it takes time and money to do it. It’s too bad it takes as much time and money to do it. We need to fix that.”
A NATIONAL LOOK
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks various extremist groups around the country, described some Three Percent groups as anti-government and paramilitaristic, providing armed security at protests and rallies for more extreme right-wing groups or provocateurs.
“Anti-government groups do not necessarily advocate or engage in violence or other criminal activities, though some have,” the SPLC wrote on its website, declining to label the overall organization as a “hate group.” “Many warn of impending government violence or the need to prepare for a coming revolution. Many anti-government groups are not racist.”
The national Three Percent group (also known as the Three Percenters — Original) deny being a extremist movement. The group says they’re pro-government “so long as the government abides by the Constitution, doesn’t overstep its bounds, and remains ‘for the people and by the people,’” their website reads. They also stress that they’re not a militia or are looking to start a revolution, that they accept people of all sexes, races, and creeds, and carry weapons at rallies to exercise their right to bear arms and for self-defense, citing violence from antifa, a decentralized left-wing group that is criticized by the political right for many of the same reasons the left criticizes Three Percenters and other like groups.
But despite the national Three Percent group’s claims, there have been several cases of Three Percent groups, or individuals who claim to be a Three Percenters, being violent and racist.
In 2016, Mother Jones published an article written by a reporter embedded in the Three Percent United Patriots group in Arizona, detailing how they would patrol the U.S./Mexico border with AR-15s, combat gear and meals “prepared with bacon grease or pork to keep would-be Muslim infiltrators at bay.”
Three Percenters were at the 2017 “Unite the Right” Charlottesville rally where Heather Heyer was killed by white supremacist Alex Fields Jr., who was not affiliated with the Three Percent movement. After the rally, the national Three Percent group “issued a stand down order,” asking Three Percent groups to not engage with upcoming antifa or Black Lives Matter protests in order to not appear aligned with white supremacist groups.
“We strongly reject and denounce anyone who calls themselves a patriot or a Three Percenter that has attended or is planning on attending any type of protest… related to these white supremacist and Nazi groups,” the statement reads.
However, just a few days after the Charlottesville rally, Jerry Drake Varnell — who claimed to be a Three Percenter — attempted to set off a truck bomb outside an Oklahoma City bank.
The Center for Investigative Reporting wrote an article in 2018 about three men who bombed a Minnesota mosque (no one was injured). One of the men, Michael B. Hari, was reportedly the leader of the White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia, which called for people to take up “armed resistance” against the “failed state.”
Closer to home, Three Percenters protested in Portland, Oregon, in August 2019, along with Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys, other right-wing groups; the former has been criticized for “trolling” left-wing protesters to provoke violence and their ties to other extremist groups, while the latter is known for its self-labeled “western chauvinism,” as well as its anti-Muslim, anti-woman and white nationalist rhetoric.
Wisnoski said members of WS3P that attended the Portland protest went as individuals, and did not represent the group as a whole.
EXAMINING WASHINGTON THREE PERCENT
Wisnoski serves as WS3P’s communications director, which means he helps teach how to use HAM radios and program equipment. He reiterated his organization isn’t a part of the national movement, and expressed frustration when groups like the Proud Boys attend Three Percent rallies, since the group takes away “from the message we try to get out.”
“They’re a bunch of frat guys… They’re loud and obnoxious and they like to get into fights. It’s counterproductive — we’ve asked them that if they’re going to act like that, don’t come to our events,” he continued. “Some of them are nice guys, from what I’ve seen, but they bring a lot of drama.”
But until recently, it appeared neither WS3P’s website or public Facebook page made those dissociations clear; it was only after an interview with Wisnoski did WS3P announce on Facebook they are not a part of the national organization and “are completely independent in WA.” The only Facebook post mentioning the Proud Boys on their public page was an official Proud Boys statement regarding the August 2019 Portland rally.
Still, Wisnoski was adamant that his Three Percent group was not extremist.
“We do a lot of charity work. We do a lot of veteran outreach,” he said. “Washington Three Percent is way more like the old civil defense group way back when.”
The group is an official 501(c)(4), which gives it tax-exempt status, but is also allowed to participate in political campaigns. WS3P leader Matt Marshall believes his group to be one of — if not the only — nonprofit Three Percent group.
As such, WS3P raises money for their Boots on the Home Ground project, collecting funds to give homeless veterans durable footwear.
Wisnoski also said his group was prepared to assist the city of Black Diamond when its city council was inundated with infighting three years ago.
“When it looked like [council members] weren’t going to pass a budget and we would have to close down city services, Washington Three Percent was one of the groups that said, ‘Let us know if we can help you,’” he continued.
At the beginning of the year, WS3P teamed up with the left-wing Puget Sound John Brown Club in response to the white nationalist group Patriot Front reportedly passing out racist leaflets in and around Tacoma. As the PSJBC collected the leaflets and dropped them off at a tattoo shop known for its far-right connections, WS3P wrote on their public Facebook page, “ATTENTION PATRIOT FRONT!!! III% is coming for you. Apparently you missed the part about WE WILL DEFEND OUR COMMUNITIES,” and, “Racists like you deserve no platform. You disgrace the word patriot.”
It was reported the post was deleted after WS3P received online threats from other white nationalists.
And just last August, the group raised just over $1,000 for the city of Marshall in Eastern Washington in order for the town to repair its well pump, and also donated bottled water to the area’s near-100 residents.
But in light of the controversy surrounding the label, Wisnoski said his group wants to stay Three Percent because of the meaning behind the name; though he takes the Revolutionary War myth as allegory, the message remains — a small group of dedicated people can make a difference in a community.
However, some in the South King County community remain worried about the group, pointing to social media.
On their public Facebook page, WS3P has several posts and comments in recent months that appear to promote violence or racism.
One shared post said, among other messages, that “Islam is not peaceful.” Another, which appears to have been deleted, was a comment that stated, “Islam is an ideology not a religion therefor not protected by the 1st Amendment. This ideology is also in strict contradiction to the COTUS. Their goals are clear, our vigilance must be a show of resolve, as we are falsely labeled white supremacists.”
Wisnoski didn’t recall the comment, adding that he doesn’t use the public Facebook often, but said he disagreed with the message.
“You can’t judge a whole group by its extremists,” he said.
Another post shared by WS3P was a meme of a guillotine with the message, “New speaking platform for politicians who advocate for gun control and limitations of any constitutional rights and liberty,” followed by the comment, “We support this message.”
There are also problem posts from the general public, despite the WS3P’s clear policy to remove violent or racist content. Several comments claimed many who come into the U.S. illegally are child molesters. Another comment called for the execution of a judge, while a third called for politicians to be fired “1776 style.”
Wisnoski pointed out the social media page is public and that everyone in WS3P is a volunteer, so moderators try their best to remove violent or racist posts, but will inevitably miss a few. The best way to get these missed posts taken down is for the public to notify moderators directly, he continued.
Overall, Wisnoski said WS3P’s image suffers due to others besmirching the Three Percent label by not holding true to its tenets, as well as left-wing politicians, organizations, and media being unwilling to engage in constructive discussions and intentionally putting out misleading or false information.
“They (Three Percenters) are more of a disaster preparedness and veterans charity group than whatever the Dems or antifa want to make them out to be,” he continued. “If they would actually come talk to us they’d realize we’ve got people from all races, creeds, colors, backgrounds, lifestyles, you name it… The purposeful disinformation is disappointing. They know better.”
Will Casey, communications director for the Washington State Democrats, disagreed, saying the Three Percent label is too toxic to be overcome by a few charitable acts.
“It’s commendable that, in addition to all of this intimidation and agitating for violence… that they’re also doing some good things,” he continued, adding that his organization has received reports of armed Washington Three Percenters showing up at Drag Queen Story Hour events in the county and, in one instance, sending a “cease and desist” letter (not signed by a legal counsel) to a left-wing activist’s home, which Casey believes was meant as intimidation. “But I don’t think it’s a ‘it all balances out in the end’ kind of situation…. I wouldn’t say that doing those charitable efforts excuses their behavior or convinces us that they’re a good influence in the community.”