About 120 people gathered in R.A. Long Park Saturday for a “Bill of Rights Bash,” an event intended to celebrate American freedom and the Constitution.
“The foundation of this country and the foundation of this state is unique in the world for recognizing the value and dignity of every human being,” said State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen. “There is no other system that is as good at protecting you and allowing you to protect your own as the United States.”
He was among 10 different speakers who celebrated individual freedoms and at times veered into discussions of other right-wing topics, such as government overreach and immigration.
Speakers often remarked that the United States is superior among nations in protecting citizens’ freedoms.
“I love our country, and I love the freedoms that we enjoy, especially the right to free speech and bear arms,” Longview Councilwoman MaryAlice Wallis said. “The recognition of these rights by our government is what makes our nation the greatest in the world.”
Other speakers touted the power of the First Amendment — which safeguards freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to assemble peacefully, and prohibits the government from establishing any religion.
Kevin Hunter, the host of online news source Northwest Digital News, said when he was with the Army in Brainerd, Minn., during the conflict in Afghanistan, his colonel encouraged nearby war protesters to express their views.
“If we were in Afghanistan, I would have to order my soldiers to have you shot,” Hunter said, quoting his former colonel. “The fact that we’re in the United States of America, you’re free here to protest.”
The event was planned about two months ago and was not a response to a protest last weekend opposing the Trump administration’s rescinded policy to separate children from illegal immigrants, according to organizer Kelburn Koontz.
Two of the advertised speakers — Sheriff Mark Nelson and Deputy Sheriff Brad Thurman — could not attend due to illness and attendance at a memorial service, respectively.
Several speakers said they are worried the Second Amendment is under attack. Multiple speakers railed against Initiative 1639, which would require purchasers of semi-automatic firearms to be at least 21 and to go through enhanced background checks. It remains to be seen whether the measure will be on the fall ballot.
Joey Gibson, leader of right-wing group Patriot Prayer and a U.S Senate candidate, said the U.S. Constitution has been “trampled all over” and claimed that there are more than 20,000 laws regarding the Second Amendment.
“Does that sound like, ‘shall not be infringed’? It sounds like it was infringed 19,999 laws ago,” he said.
Gibson also advocated for fewer laws and slammed federal government agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, saying it is in league with drug manufacturers to fleece consumers.
U.S. Senate candidate Keith Swank, of Puyallup, spoke in support of President Trump’s Mexican border wall.
Some attendees sported “Don’t Tread on Me” articles of clothing or flags, and several attendees wore shirts and hats supporting President Trump. One person carried a large flag in support of LaVoy Finicum, who died when Oregon State Police shot him during the 2016 occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon.
Longview resident Jason Culbertson, 44, said he attended to support the Bill of Rights and Constitution. He said he hoped the speeches could educate attendees on their rights.
“It’s not a Second Amendment rally,” he said, sporting a hat that read “American Badass.” “This is our country’s Bill of Rights, and I think that everyone should be out here, if not for anything else than a history lesson.”
Joe Green of Kalama stressed the Bill of Rights’ importance, particularly the Second Amendment.
“It’s everything to me,” Green, 71, said. “It defines our country. It makes it what it is today.”
Portland resident Leo Stratton, 50, attended to support Gibson. He called the Bill of Rights “the end-all, be-all.”
“It’s what the country was founded upon,” he said. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts or reading into it. It is how it is, and we need to retain that and not change it.”
In his speech, Walsh said the government’s role is to uphold its citizens’ rights.
“They don’t exist for their interests. They don’t exist to affect broad social experimentation. Those governments exist to protect your individual liberties and your individual rights. And when they stop doing that, they have failed.”