“Freedom” Foundation Staffer Swaps Covid Conspiracy Theories With Right-Wing TV HostFebruary 23, 2021
Max Nelsen, a staffer at the extremist “Freedom” Foundation, appeared on right-wing One America News to downplay the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dan Ball, the host of the show, then links Nelsen’s claims to the debunked conspiracy theory that the pandemic was manufactured to ensure Trump’s loss in November.
Nelsen: So, there’s no question in my mind that the number of COVID-19 fatalities is definitely inflated.
Ball: Yeah, and I tie it to the election. I won’t go there with you, I know you probably don’t want to get into it. But, will we ever know the truth?
Both organizations have spread misinformation throughout the pandemic, toeing the original line of ex-President Trump that it was no worse than the flu, masks were unnecessary and it was being manipulated as a political tool by Democrats.
On December 21, 2020, Oregon Representative Mike Nearman (R – HD23) helped violent rioters to illegally enter the Capitol building in Salem. Almost immediately, the militants began clashing with State Police, a standoff that escalated into attacks on the officers with flagpoles and bear mace.
That same day, other militants broke windows on the Capitol and attacked journalists. It was a day of political violence and extremism, a dark stain on Oregon’s democracy. Rep. Nearman is now under criminal investigation by the Oregon State Police for his actions and faces possible expulsion from the Oregon Legislature.
Rep. Nearman is no stranger to extremism. He has long-held ties to scrubby white nationalists like Patriot Prayer, the Oathkeepers and OFIR, an anti-immigrant hate group. But it’s important to look at the full spectrum of Nearman’s radical associates, like his employers at the so-called “Freedom” Foundation and their partner organization, the Washington Policy Center (WPC). These are the types of extremists who wear ties and cash checks from billionaires. Both are members of the Koch brothers-funded State Policy Network.
The WPC is a Seattle-based far-right organization that has championed extremely harmful policies on a wide range of issues, especially those related to education and labor. WPC has been collaborating with Nearman’s “Freedom” Foundation on their failed anti-union campaign, a thinly veiled political maneuver to do the bidding of out-of-state billionaires and turn Washington and Oregon “red.”
With an innocuous-sounding name, the WPC often portrays itself as a legitimate, non-partisan think tank, but in reality, they are the Washington State policy arm for a national network of extremist right-wing funders and organizations.
It’s a funding network that contains voter suppression operations like the Bradley Foundation, which devoted almost a million dollars to spread fear about unsubstantiated mail-in voter fraud, purge state voter rolls and plan gerrymandering schemes. The WPC also shared funding with neo-Nazi Richard Spencer and his National Policy Institute via the Rotella Foundation. Spencer co-organized the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville which brought together white supremacists from across the country.
How has the Washington Policy Center responded to their partner organization’s employee committing such an atrocious act on camera? Did they condemn an elected representative for abusing his position to bring violence into a legislative assembly? They certainly haven’t yet. This silent complicity with political violence makes sense against the backdrop of who is bankrolling the Washington Policy Center. When you share funding with vote suppressors, white nationalists and insurrectionists, another attack on our democracy may just be par for the course.
Update 1/29/21: Just one day after our article hit, the “Freedom” Foundation put up their own blog trying to set things straight about Alek Skarlatos. It looks like he will be joining their losing team, but not as a development associate as they originally posted. Now he is listed as National Development Director. We do appreciate “Freedom” Foundation staff reading our website and responding so quickly.
First and foremost, we would like to offer our condolences to Mr. Skarlatos for the scarlet letter he is about to place upon his political resume. There’s a reason you don’t see any other politicians bragging about their relationship to the “Freedom” Foundation, an organization that has yet to apologize, or even comment, on the recent actions of a lead employee.
State Rep. Mike Nearman, also a Senior Fellow at the failing foundation, aided a violent attack on Oregon State Police at the Oregon Capitol on December 21. The invaders brandished assault rifles while threatening state lawmakers and shooting bear mace at police officers. Caught on camera opening the door for rioters, Nearman is currently under criminal investigation and faces possible expulsion from the State Legislature.
This is your new colleague, Mr. Skarlatos. Your once bright future may get a little darker by palling around with people that abet assaults on our democratic institutions. Best of luck, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
During the first week of January, a new face appeared on the extremist “Freedom” Foundation’s website. Alek Skarlatos, an Oregon politician known for thwarting a 2015 terrorist attack on a French train, was now listed as Development Associate. For a moment there, it looked like the fringe-right group had landed a minor celebrity on staff. That after a year of dwelling in the muck of covid-denialism and attacking workers they could finally hold their head high, and say, “See? We matter!” But it was not to last. One week later, Skarlatos was nowhere to be found on the staff list.
We don’t know why he quit. We certainly doubt he was fired. What we do know is that between his start and end dates, his co-worker, State Representative Mike Nearman was exposed, and publicly shamed, for aiding rioters in a December assault on Oregon’s Capitol Building. The revelation came days after the nation watched in horror as the U.S. Capitol was invaded by Trump supporters. Oregonians recoiled in amplified disgust to know that Nearman had pulled a similar stunt locally.
Despite Nearman being under investigation by the Oregon State Police, the “Freedom” Foundation had gone silent in addressing their Senior Fellow’s conduct. In fact, Nearman’s name was attached to a recent op-ed penned by their staff arguing against pay raises for Oregon Capitol staff during the pandemic. Their business-as-usual obliviousness may have given Skarlatos a big decision to make.
As news of his co-worker’s misdeeds spread state-wide, then nationally, then even internationally, we can only surmise that Skarlatos was having second thoughts about the impact of listing “Freedom” Foundation on his resume. Skarlatos lost a congressional race in Oregon last year, and may run again. Trying to run for office while forever linked to Nearman, a man who betrayed fellow legislators, enabled the assault of police officers and sought to overturn President Biden’s election doesn’t sound promising to us, either.
In a bittersweet tribute to his brief stay, the nostalgic “Freedom” Foundation has left Skarlatos’ photo and bio on just the Author section of their website. Perhaps leaders of the group look at it wistfully, feeling Skarlatos was the one that could have been. A hero, a solid Republican politician and a guest on Dancing With the Stars. He could have given the marginalized group some of the affirmation they thirst for. But that’s over now. It’s time for the organization to get back to what it knows – mocking citizens who wear masks as “sheep,” pushing children back into schools before it’s safe and failing to tear down the middle class.
Statement on Rep. Nearman Assisting White Nationalists in Dec. 21 Attack on Oregon’s CapitolJanuary 8, 2021
Northwest Accountability Project Statement on Rep. Mike Nearman Assisting White Nationalists in Dec. 21 Attack on Oregon’s Capitol:
“Mike Nearman is a disgrace to the great State of Oregon. He should be expelled from office immediately.”
– Peter Starzynski, Executive Director
Can we count on you to contact Oregon Legislative Leaders and ask them to hold Rep. Nearman accountable to the furthest extent possible?
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