The Republican walkout from the Oregon Capitol was spurred in part by high-profile rallies against a carbon-cap bill before the Legislature. Those Timber Unity events featured the wholesome image of loggers standing up to big-city environmentalists.
But a new report from conservation group Oregon Wild argues Timber Unity has mainstreamed extremism by allowing activists engaged in violent threats and conspiracy theories into the group.
"By refusing to distance themselves from these parts of the movement," the report concludes, "the Timber Unity leadership is simultaneously harnessing the energy of these extremist elements for their own benefit, while proclaiming that they are a legitimate representative of rural Oregon."
Oregon Wild doesn't support Senate Bill 1530. (It wants tougher restrictions on clear-cutting forests.) But conservation director Steve Pedery says Oregon Wild commissioned the report on behalf of "a group of rural activists on the North Coast" who were alarmed by "Timber Unity's commingling of various far right causes."
Julie Parrish, a Timber Unity leader, calls the claims "outlandish" and the report "bogus."
"The assertion that Timber Unity members from poor rural communities are somehow privileged or 'supremacists' for fighting for their livelihoods," Parrish says, "is simply proof that the Democratic majority in this state has completely abandoned the needs of the working class."
The report makes three noteworthy claims:
1. Timber Unity has permitted violent and bigoted language in its private Facebook group—including comments that targeted Gov. Kate Brown, the nation's first bisexual governor. "Recall the Dyke turd," read one comment. Another added, "Oregon voters would like to ask Kate LesBo to go swim in the Pacific with a pair of cement slippers." The report also cites "an alarming number of comments that threaten or endorse personal harm to public officials."
Parrish says the group has a good working relationship with Oregon State Police and has contacted them about at least one person. She also said the group is ethnically and religiously diverse and encouraged Facebook group members to report comments so "moderators can evaluate them."
2. Timber Unity's marketing overlaps with the rhetoric of groups engaged in extremist conspiracy theories. The report traces similarities between a flier for the Timber Unity rally and one for the Charlottesville, Va., "Unite the Right" rally in 2017 that attracted white nationalists. When that allegation first surfaced, state Rep. Bill Post (R-Keizer) took to Twitter to display a different poster. One problem: That poster featured the flag of the conspiracy group QAnon, which alleges high-profile Democrats are part of a child sex-trafficking ring. Oregon Wild's report says such conspiracy theories are dangerous: "They fuel belief among the group's supporters that [carbon] bills are part of a looming tyrannical government threat that seeks to enslave or destroy rural communities."
Organizers dismiss that claim. "Hell, I still don't know what the whole QAnon thing is," Parrish says. "I doubt most if any or our members do, either. So whatever that is, that's not us."
3. Extremists are welcomed to join and organize Timber Unity protests. Oregon Wild's report singles out Angela Roman, a Republican candidate for Congress and member of the Three Percenters anti-government militia group, who served jail time for a gun charge and has been active in Timber Unity. At a Republican dinner, she posed with a member of the right-wing men's group the Proud Boys (who made the "OK" hand gesture associated with white nationalism), and Timber Unity vice president Todd Stoffel, who photobombed the shot and engaged in friendly banter online afterward: "Couldn't resist. You're such a great sport. Thank you for being you."
Organizers say the group is ethnically and religiously diverse. "I love my country," Roman says. "I believe in firearms, and that scares people. Putting extremism on Timber Unity is just gross reporting. Timber Unity is one of the most bipartisan, diverse grassroots groups that this state has ever seen."
The report warns that by fraternizing with extremists, Timber Unity risks making them more acceptable to Oregonians.