Posted by: sweeneyblog | April 22, 2013

Freedom Academy Comes to Whatcom County

Rep. Jason Overstreet  stared right at me from the stage at the Rome Grange as he waved his Constitution in the air. “Hack job bloggers, these pseudo journalists working for these pseudo journalist corporations; they have mocked my love for the founding documents. There is even one, right here in this room, that has mocked it as ‘Leprechaun Economics‘!” The crowd harrumphed as Overstreet continued. “Applying the timeless truths in this document . . .” again, more Constitution waving, “. . . will get you mocked by the media.” The crowd erupted with a defiant roar and Overstreet smiled as he passed the microphone over to the next speaker.

I am beginning to wonder if coming to Freedom Academy was such a good idea.

It started two weeks ago when a friend forwarded me an invitation. The Whatcom Tea Party, Whatcom Republicans, Northwest Business Club and the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights were sponsoring a training right here in Whatcom County for activists who wanted to run for local office. Curious, I paid my $25 and bought a ticket. Wanting to keep a low profile, I shaved my usual scruffy beard, put on one of my American flag t-shirts, and borrowed an Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network baseball cap.

Trying to keep a low profile

Trying to keep a low profile

I was ID-ed the moment I stepped out of the car. Michelle Luke, chair of the planning commission and candidate for County Council was just arriving. “Hi Riley!” She asked if I had a seatmate and when I said no, we picked out a couple of chairs next to each other. Inside the Rome Grange, there was the usual milieu of conservative movers and shakers. Greg Brown and Ellen Baker of Whatcom Excavator, Elliot Fine and Randy Elmore of the Northwest Business Club, Dave Onkles and Chet Dow of the Whatcom Republicans, Lorraine Newman of the Whatcom Tea Party.

The training was provided by the Freedom Foundation. Based out of Olympia, they are a think tank doing outreach for conservatives in Washington state. Our speakers, Glenn Morgan and Scott Roberts, both were involved in elections in Thurston County and brought some great personal insights to the training. They clarified that they weren’t funded by “the Koch brothers or Wal-mart, but if anyone knows them, we’d love to get in touch!”

Glenn Morgan and Scott Roberts

Glenn Morgan and Scott Roberts

They opened their presentation with this video, talking about how liberals want the country to fail and the only way to save it is to return to conservative principles. They continued to build this sense of dread, “I used to believe that freedom is inevitable, yet in the last five to ten years I have begun to doubt that,” testified Roberts. However, Morgan and Roberts were very focused on their goal of electing conservatives to local office. “Local government is the one government that you can change the easiest and the quickest,” said Morgan. “Today’s school board members are tomorrow’s legislators.”

I have to say, their advice was really good. They pointed out that there are 8,000 elected positions in Washington state and if you want to get involved in politics, don’t jump straight to running for state Legislature, start somewhere smaller. Run for a public utility district or assessor or city council. They recommended the tried and true techniques: “Doorbell, doorbell and then, when you are tired of doorbelling, doorbell some more,” said Morgan. They recommended talking to people you disagree with, going to Democratic Central Committee meetings and union endorsement interviews. “Preaching to the choir is the path to oblivion,” said Roberts, obviously not a Tom Cruise fan.

They also imparted an important bit of messaging advice, “Stay away from conspiracy theories!” Morgan was quite adamant on this point. “Conspiracy theories are not helpful, especially on our side. They don’t build credibility.” Roberts suggested staying positive. “Don’t be angry all the time. If you are a bitter critter, people won’t want to talk to you.” I was relieved to see professional conservative organizations trying to turn their base away from the Andrew Breitbart-style black-helicopter-and-UN-secret-treaty-fears of the last couple of years.

Glenn Morgan

Glenn Morgan

Morgan and Roberts both hit the on the important concept of emotionally connecting with your audience, rather than just listing complaints. “The conservative movement tends to be really fact-based; we need to inspire people more,” Roberts admonished. They came down against big consultants for local races. “You don’t need some fancy consultant for your school board race. Maybe later, when you are running for Congress, but for a city council race, all you need is a good treasurer and some volunteers.”

Overall, the first half was solid, almost bipartisan information. Really, it was no different than the advice I’ve heard or given to candidates running for local office. Beware the time commitment, be a people person, always stay friendly and open, communicate on values and local issues. Really solid stuff. I was genuinely impressed, this was great information for anyone to have and I was pleasantly relieved to find it so . . . non-controversial. As I talked during the break with various attendees, most of them were open and receptive, curious why I was there, but never confrontational. Most of them were just surprised I had decided to attend. As I left for lunch, I thought to myself, “This isn’t too bad, maybe I misjudged the local conservatives, these guys seem perfectly reasonable.”

And then Rep. Jason Overstreet arrived. 


Bill Knutzen

After lunch, they held a candidate forum, where local elected officials spoke to the group about their experiences running for office. County Councilman Bill Knutzen, Ferndale School Board Member Hugh Foulke and Rep. Overstreet all arrived to share their thoughts. All three of them spoke quite eloquently about what led them to get involved and some of the challenges they faced. “When I gave my first public speech, I was terrified,” said Knutzen. “I had sweat running out of every orifice except for my mouth because it was so dry I couldn’t move my tongue. I’m pretty sure I just blacked out and didn’t remember a single thing I said.” Michelle Luke nodded sagely and whispered to me, “I can relate.”

All three of them talked about facing criticism from the outside. Knutzen said when he first ran, “One Bellingham publication linked me to Al Qaeda and another said that we should worry because I was too stupid to find the courthouse. Well, don’t worry, I found it.”

Rep. Jason Overstreet

Rep. Jason Overstreet

When Overstreet stepped up to speak, I pulled my camera out of my pocket to take a picture and he immediately called me out. “I’m going to let Riley take his picture before I start. Okay . . .” He paused for a moment and then launched right into that tirade against yours truly. “You can sit in the cheap seats and be a hit man blogger with inaccuracies, but it is a much different thing when you step in and actually say what you believe.” After a bit of this, he then got back to the subject at hand. Before long, they opened it up for questions.

The first question was about how to cope with the pressures of elected office. Jason Overstreet paused before answering and his wife, Jessica Overstreet, leaped right up and grabbed the microphone to answer for him. “The most difficult part is balancing the time and being used to being under the microscope. If you are going back to Scripture and living under Scripture then living under a microscope isn’t that bad, you don’t have anything to hide.”

This sudden swerve into religion actually startled me  because before this, all the conservative talk had been exclusively about economic issues. Jessica Overstreet continued, “We are here to glorify God forever, that is why we are here. We just have to pick up our cross and we get to it. Be rock solid in your principles!” There was cheers from the audience and the woman behind me shouted, “When are you running for office?” Jessica blushed and handed the microphone back to her husband.

One of the audience members asked Overstreet what he thought about John Stark, reporter at the Herald, “mocking” Overstreet for carrying a Constitution with him everywhere. That’s what set off the rant against me about being a “pseudo journalist” and accusing him of leprechaun economics. It was out-of-place and while he got some definite cheers, the organizers looked more than a little uncomfortable about the direction the discussion was taking.

After a few more questions, I raised my hand and asked how they keep up their enthusiasm for public service. “I know burnout can be an issue, all three of you have been in office for four years now, how do you keep the fire alive?” Knutzen answered that his family helps keep him grounded and thanked his wife for putting up with all of the demands of office. When the microphone got to Overstreet, he looked at me directly. “Riley, I’m so glad that you wanted to talk about Obama’s warrantless use of drones and indefinite detentions. I’m glad that you want to discuss Obama’s use of those despite that document that John Stark doesn’t want me waving around. I recently sponsored legislation restricting the use of drones and limiting indefinite detentions and some Democrats actually joined me in co-sponsoring that bill. That’s how I keep my passion, finding things that really matter and staying true to my principles.”

As soon as the forum was completed, Michelle Luke turned to me. “Has that ever happened before? Jason, you know, going at you like that?” I shook my head. “Well, it . . . it didn’t really contribute to the discussion,” she said. I agreed and slipped downstairs to grab some water. Knutzen greeted me as I reached the bottom of the stairs. “You notice I didn’t make fun of you,” he said with a big smile.

I can't wait to read, "Barack Obama's Rules for Revolution: The Alinsky Model."

I can’t wait to read, “Barack Obama’s Rules for Revolution: The Alinsky Model.”

The second half of the day was more focused on activism, and here is where things got a little more controversial. At one point, Morgan told a story about doorbelling in Thurston County. “I knocked on this door and this black guy came out and just started yelling at me for twenty minutes. The whole time, I kept a smile on my face. After a while, he stopped and said, ‘You know, I’ve been giving you shit this whole time and you haven’t gotten angry. Come inside and let me write you a check.’ So I did, and I thought he was going to cut me a check for $20, just to apologize, but it ended up being for $200!”

“Was he a drug dealer?” shouted one of the audience members. Morgan winced as the comment drew chuckles from the crowd. “No, I think he was in law enforcement, but that’s not the point.”

Roberts spoke at length about finding corruption in your local government. Naturally, I thought he was going to discuss tax giveaways to local developers, sweetheart land deals, or moonlighting city employees, but I was wrong. “Homelessness grants. Consultants make thousands of dollars off these grants to fight homelessness and don’t do anything with them,” Roberts said. “Also, enviro-grants are the number one source of corruption in Washington state. Check out who is receiving them and how they are using the money.” Other potential sources of graft according to Roberts? The Department of Social and Health Services, municipal debt and non-elected boards and commissions. “Every person touched by government is a potential ally.”

Morgan noted that the internet is a good way to get information out about these issues. “I’m not as negative as Overstreet is about blogging. The internet is where the information is.”

Speaking of information, most of the ticket price must have gone to printing costs. I walked away with several new books to read, from an analysis of Ayn Rand’s writing to “How to Counter Group Manipulation Tactics.” I will be reading them over the next couple of weeks and provide you with any interesting tidbits.

I had to leave about half an hour before Freedom Academy finished, but it was winding down as I slipped out. Aside from Overstreet’s bizarre rant at me and the casual racism, the event was relatively positive with lots of good information for people seeking office. I’m glad I went. And while I don’t support the policy goals of these conservative organizations, I’m always in support of more people getting involved in their government and providing vigorous oversight.

Speaking of which, no amount of Overstreet jeering is going to keep me from bringing you all the details of local political events. If you find what I do helpful, you can email me a news tip, share this blog on facebook or  throw me a few dollars to keep the site running strong.



  1. Nice write-up, Riley. Yeah, whenever someone goes ad hominem on ya, it’s a sure sign that person doesn’t have the goods to back up their argument. The fact that he used your perfectly uncontroversial question to pivot to bashing on the President smacks of anger issues.

    Good on you for taking the time to learn about stuff.

  2. Oooooooh, Overstreet really doesn’t like you, Riley.

  3. Thanks, Riley! Fascinating read, sorry that Mr. Overstreet had no class.

  4. Very nice description of the event, Riley. Please forgive me for the misinformation about your not having taken the literature with you. It should be noted, by the way, that facial hair is permitted at conservative events.

  5. I forgot that my WordPress id is my old politics blog handle.

  6. Sam Crawford has a beard, Riley. No shave necessary. And Overstreet is correct on the failings of NDAA, drones, and some other issues. …Whether or not he is doing it for Jesus.

  7. […] had fun reading today’s blog post by Riley Sweeney, “Freedom Academy Comes to Whatcom County.” There are ethical questions in the more […]

  8. Riley, you write a blog that is openly hostile to Jason Overstreet, and mocks the people who share his principles. I frankly thought Jason should have left you out of this, because it was simply a form of validation. A state legislator called you out at some length. Congratulations! You have been validated.

    About The Constitution: The Constitutions of Washington and The United States are still the official specification for our government. Any regime that distorts and disregards them is untrustworthy and dangerous. Every one of our elected representatives should be waving those documents with a flourish. Better yet, they should have their noses embedded in them.

    About the disguise: Did you really think that dressing up like a redneck was going to fool anyone? Despite what some of us might consider an insulting move, I thought most of the attendees treated you respectfully, even warmly. And… and… you paid your $25.00 for what I consider to be good advice for anyone who might have political aspirations — including the activism part. Maybe especially the activism part, since it can be used by anyone, even if not running for public office. Even if you are coming at this from a ‘progressive’ point of view, and even if you felt that the program had a ‘lib-classic’ slant, well… you know what we know. Forewarned is forearmed.

    About the religion thing: Many of us are not religious fundamentalists, and I personally would never make a statement in public as Jessica Overstreet did. I do feel that Jessica was not the least bit out of line to declare her Christian faith as the inspiration that helps make her family’s and her husband’s objectives a success, any more than someone who loses 150 pounds might attribute it to Jenny Craig. Good on her. Incidentally, none of the presenters made any such claims. The syllabus was completely secular. Hell, we didn’t even say the pledge of allegiance.

    About the racist thing: is it racist to relate that “a big black guy” was yelling at you? You might argue that his color is irrelevant, as it should be. But if you’re painting a visual picture for someone who wasn’t there, and the majority of Americans are white, then I think a person’s color might need to be specified in order to complete the picture. The end of the story was that the two people (black and white!) came to an amicable agreement. One could argue that it was a decidedly anti-racist lesson. It depends on which direction your political prism bends the light, doesn’t it?

    • My “disguise” wasn’t meant to be insulting, I just didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. The fact that I failed so spectacularly at it just shows that I definitely needed more interaction with our local conservatives. I did learn alot and it as a very positive experience. I’m glad I went and you are absolutely right about everyone being very respectful (Overstreet aside).

      • Your “normal” appearance would have fit in just as well as your “new look”. A tea partier once told me that I look like Vladimir Lenin. So there you go.

  9. That was a positive experience?
    I guess I must have read some other account of sitting in with a group of Conservatives trying to have regression ‘trained’ out of them through improvements in packaging and message instead of actual substance.
    Stockholm Syndrome perhaps?
    Or maybe a desperate drive to blend in like any other educated hippie at the Redneck Bar.

  10. “Was he a drug dealer?” shouted one of the audience members. Morgan winced as the comment drew chuckles from the crowd. “No, I think he was in law enforcement, but that’s not the point.”

    No, it wasn’t, and shouldn’t have been the point. And that, Karl Uppiano, is what you failed to note about this “decidedly anti-racist lesson.”

    Thanks for this blog.

    • We don’t know if the person was making a racist joke or not. It may have been completely unrelated, or s/he could have been poking fun at the stereotype. You’d have to ask them, but go ahead and assume the worst about the rest of us. Glen winced, as did most of us. But even if it was intentionally racist, what would you have us do? Nervous laughter doesn’t imply approval.

      • That’s why Conservatives in general and The Tea People in particular have such a horrid reputation for ethics and honesty,
        they think nervous laughter is the correct response to brainless garbage from within their ranks.
        What would you have us do?
        One shouldn’t make a fuss and alienate a member,
        there are already so few of us as it is.

    • What Mr. Sweeny conveniently failed to note was that the “drug dealer” crack was not in response to the revelation that the man was black, but rather that a person would offer to write a check for a $200.00 contribution to a candidate running for a seriously down-ticket local office.

      So you’ll have to forgive us all for giving the smart-ass the benefit of the doubt. Because by that point in the conversation, there was plenty of doubt to be had. But it’s so easy to jump to conclusions when you think you know everything about a group, isn’t it rubie? I daresay, I have to wonder who’s really the bigot here.

  11. Why is there a binder titled -FASCIST in front of Mr. Overstreet? Why is his faced scrunched up so? Why does he look like he has his life savings tucked between the cheeks of his ass? And where is the pic of Mrs. Overstreet? She sounds like a real ball of energy!

    • The book was titled “Eco-Fascist” and was handed out as a reward for good questions. I wanted to snap a picture of Mrs. Overstreet but was too busy writing down her comments to get a good picture.

  12. I made mention of the Eco-Fascist book which is my personal copy that I’m currently reading. We didn’t pass that one out. We did pass some other books out, however.

  13. I do have a photo in which “Eco-fascists” on the spine of the book is in focus and Jason Overstreet is out of focus in the background, and then another with the focus transposed.Jason is on the right side of the issues, I think., and while I might not have confronted him in that venue, Riley asked for what he got.

    • It’s always right to throw a hissy fit instead of defending your actions with those inspirational facts your academy advised.
      And when there’s someone in your audience that holds an opposing view,
      attack with your Personal Pocket-Sized Constitution high in the air, they’re asking for it!

  14. […] a day) so I will continue to produce at the current levels. We hit an all-time high on Monday, my article about Freedom Academy was the most popular non-liveblog post I have ever done, racking up an impressive 900-some […]

  15. […] Riley Sweeney, The Political Junkie, reported last week,, starting small is a good way to learn […]

  16. […] other news, the Freedom Foundation (in the wake of my attendance of their Freedom Academy) sent me a follow-up fundraising letter, book and invitation to a “Freedom Shootout”, […]

  17. […] (R-42nd) is already wracking up an impressive reputation as an ideologue. He recently had some harsh words for me at the Freedom Academy, but it was his wife’s speech that really caught my attention as offering a window into […]

  18. […] they publicize. Here at The Political Junkie, we try to give everyone a fair shake (except maybe Rep. Overstreet’s gold coin obsession). It is my goal to interview each and every candidate for local office before the August primary, […]

  19. […] Bill Knutzen, cracked a quick joke about his height and then launched into his campaign speech. ”I’m running for reelection. Another sob story about a multi-generational county resident running for council but I’m a fourth generation county resident running for council. He noted his fight against rezoning laws that “destroy businesses in our county,” but also mentioned his work with Comcast to provide free internet to families in poverty. He closed out his speech with a reference to my blog saying, “Riley will understand all that stuttering and dry mouth at the end.” I quoted him a few weeks ago talking about his fear of public speaking. […]

  20. […] Political Adventures: Read about my attempt to crash the Tea Party rally in 2010 with a satirical sign, about attending an Occupy Bellingham march and my pitifully unsuccessful attempt to go undercover at a Freedom Foundation candidate training. […]

  21. […] host Kris Halterman. There were flyers on the table for this year’s Freedom Academy training, a bootcamp for conservative activists that I attended last year to their chagrin. After a quick pledge of allegiance, the group handed over the microphone to Louws who spoke at […]

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