By Warren Cornwall and Scott North
A Snohomish County councilman grabbed a shotgun and stared down supporters of a breakaway government Tuesday night after two of them arrived at his farmhouse in the dark bearing documents seeking $750 million.
And the sheriff congratulated him for his actions.
County councilman Mike Ashley said he took an unloaded 12-gauge shotgun and escorted the men off his property after they arrived at his house unannounced. One shined a flashlight in his face, refused to identify himself and didn’t leave after he was asked to, Ashley said.
It was the latest and most heated encounter between Snohomish County officials and a loose-knit group of people who claim the northern half of the county has become "Freedom County."
The angry councilman denounced the visit and similar appearances at the homes of three other council members as intimidation tactics by extremists and troublemakers.
"We should not be afraid of these guys. These guys are bullies, and I won’t have it," he said.
But Thom Satterlee, who claims to be a commissioner of the new county, showed up at a county council meeting Wednesday morning to demand Ashley’s resignation over the incident, "since he’s obviously not emotionally stable enough."
"If I did that, I’d be cooling my butt in jail," said Satterlee, who lives near Darrington.
Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart, however, didn’t see it that way.
"Mr. Ashley did exactly what he should have done, except load the shotgun," Bart said. "I’m proud of him."
Bart said he is investigating whether criminal trespass charges can be brought against the people who showed up at the council members’ homes. He’s also asked prosecutors to determine whether anyone has engaged in illegal conduct by filing bogus liens, the type of documents given to the council members.
The latest flare-up revolves around property next to a one-lane wooden bridge northeast of Arlington. The county plans to replace the bridge, and the council Wednesday voted to move forward with that.
Floyd Timothy Ryan, a Freedom County supporter, said he helped organize delivery of the liens to council members’ homes for a landowner next to the bridge who doesn’t want to sell land to the county. Satterlee on Wednesday called the bridge project "a raid on the federal treasury."
The bogus liens delivered to Ashley, along with council members Dave Somers, Barbara Cothern and Gary Nelson, say the county’s action would damage the property owner. It claims $750 million from each council member.
Ashley said he was prepared for the men because Somers had called and told him they had already come to his house.
When a man came to his back door at around 9:30 p.m., Ashley said he asked who it was. The man said only, "My name is Bill." When Ashley asked for identification, the man just held up the papers, Ashley said.
Ashley said he then asked the man to leave. When the man didn’t move, Ashley said he picked up the shotgun he had stationed next to the door, pushed open the screen door and told him to leave again. Ashley said he then noticed another man behind a bush and ordered both to leave, hollering "Get the hell off my farm and don’t come back."
"I used techniques I’ve learned to motivate people in the military," said Ashley, a former Air Force sergeant. Ashley said he never pointed the gun at the men. Both men left together in a pickup truck, he said.
Ashley said he regularly helps strangers who come to his Silvana farm seeking help. But he had harsh words for the tactics, particularly on a night when people were already shaken by the East Coast terrorist attacks.
"The whole purpose of coming in the dark to your house, shining flashlights in your face, all that is intimidation," he said.
Somers, who lives in a sparsely populated area north of Monroe, had similar criticism.
"Showing up at your house is sort of a message that they know where you live," he said.
But Ryan said he considered Ashley’s response uncalled for when the people were just trying to serve legal papers on him.
"Somebody could get hurt, even unintentionally," he said.
This isn’t the first time Freedom County supporters have tried to get their way with legal-looking documents. In 1997, Ryan filed his own Superior Court criminal case against Bart, alleging "domestic terrorism" because the sheriff would not become involved in Ryan’s dispute with the Internal Revenue Service. The charges were tossed out of court and a judge ordered Ryan not to repeat the stunt.
Two years later, the state attorney general warned Satterlee when he sent state and county officials letters threatening to seize their homes if they didn’t recognize Freedom County. That followed an earlier run-in with U.S. Secret Service agents, who confiscated "public wealth rebate notes" that Satterlee had attempted to deposit at a bank, in part to fund efforts to create Freedom County, documents show.
Satterlee claimed the notes were worth $38 million. Their value supposedly derived from liens anti-government activists had filed against federal officials involved with the 1997 convictions of a Bellingham-based militia that was trafficking in illegal guns and explosives.
Satterlee’s appearance Wednesday came on the eve of a hearing in Skagit County Superior Court in Mount Vernon, where backers of Freedom County have filed a lawsuit attempting to force state and Snohomish County officials to recognize the breakaway government.
State and county officials have responded by filing motions to dismiss the suit.
Supporters of the group have posted messages on the Internet, urging backers to pack today’s hearing.
You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.