This article is the third in an ongoing series documenting the intervention of the far-right People’s Rights network into the Klamath River Basin drought situation. You can find the earlier pieces in the series here. For more on the People’s Rights network, make sure to check out the IREHR and Montana Human Rights Network special report, Ammon’s Army: Inside the Far-Right People’s Rights Network.
People’s Rights Oregon and State Secession Efforts
As noted in “The People’s Rights Oregon Insurrection Blueprint,” the network’s plan extends far beyond attacking COVID-19 health measures and the Klamath Basin crisis.
People’s Rights Oregon plans to create a secessionist state in East Oregon. These efforts highlight another aspect of the group’s politics – a commitment to a nationalist and revolutionary political project that is potentially insurrectionist.
The Great State of East Oregon and People’s Rights
Believe it or not, this is not the first attempt to carve Oregon in pieces.
In 1941, the Mayor of Port Orford, Oregon, Gilbert Gable, said that the Oregon counties of Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath should join with the California counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc to form a new state, later named Jefferson.
In 2013, efforts to rekindle the State of Jefferson mystique took off in a few northern California counties. They were joined by a range of far-right groups, including Tea Partiers, far-right paramilitary groups and militia advocates, various stripes of libertarian, and opponents of tribal rights.
Today, there are two overlapping efforts to divide Oregon. One effort, the State of Greater Idaho, is an attempt to join parts of southern Oregon (and parts of northern California) with Idaho.
As of June, seven Oregon counties have voted to consider the “Greater Idaho” effort. In November 2020, four Oregon counties voted on the measure, with Jefferson and Union voting to approve and Wallowa and Douglas against the measure. On May 18, Sherman, Lake, Grant, Baker, and Malheur counties voted in favor of the measure that requires county officials to discuss moving the Idaho border west.
The other effort to split the state is the People’s Rights Oregon-led effort known as the “Great State of East Oregon.”
Aware of the Greater Idaho efforts, a message went out to People’s Rights chapters across the state that “9 counties are considering petitions to split from Oregon.”
While the Greater Idaho effort is currently making its way through counties in Oregon, fundamental differences between the two right-wing projects are visible in the October 2020 organizational structure document. Announcing the creation of a subunit called The Great State of East Oregon, the group elaborates:
“We understand that the issues we face will never end until we restore our foundational values. The current state of Oregon is heading in the wrong direction, and we must draw a line in the sand and create a secondary plan if restoration is impossible. This group’s focus is to create and promote the foundational documents and guiding principles that can be used to create a new State if or when the People decide that their only option left is to alter, reform or abolish their current form of government” [italics added].
Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution creates a framework for establishing new states as members of the United States, describing that “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”
Even if People’s Rights sought this process through state legislatures, the group’s language describing the State of East Oregon is not rooted in the process of state creation found in the U.S. Constitution. Instead, People’s Rights Oregon 5 draws repeatedly from the language in the Declaration of Independence. An October 2020 People’s Rights Oregon 5 document stated that the East Oregon project is intended to “create a new State if or when the People decide that their only option left is to alter, reform or abolish their current form of government.”
This is not the Constitutional process of state formation.
It is revolution.
The Revolutionary Nationalism of People’s Rights Oregon
People’s Rights Oregon Area 5 quickly set about developing plans for the revolutionary secession of Eastern and Southern Oregon from the state.
BJ Soper, a Three Percenter and the People’s Rights Oregon State Assistant, emerged as the leader of these efforts, which began in earnest in February. The group grappled with the “wanted roles of government in the New State,” delineated the “executive agencies we need,” took to “writing clauses to be added to the States new Constitution, focused on controlling the executive branches authority over delegated tasks,” and worked to delineate “the legislative branch authorities and processes of electing.”
While such rejection of existing government and opposition to its policies and, ultimately, its legitimacy has led some analysts to characterize groups such as People’s Rights as “anti-government,” the reality is quite different. In addition to the core plan of creating a new government in East Oregon, this effort is coupled with activities dedicated to shaping and becoming the government.
In fact, in the world of People’s Rights Oregon, the idea of building a secessionist state runs parallel to engaging in a range of political activities, including lobbying at multiple levels of government and recruiting candidates for office. Such actions have often been coupled to the Great State of East Oregon project in the group’s organizing efforts. The latter is seen as an alternative if other efforts at shaping public policies fail, as was hinted at in March when Oregon 5 described that its lead legislative activist
“Calista [Songstad] and B.J. [Soper] will be teaming up this week to create an action plan to fight back using our rights to amend the Oregon Constitution and write law. If our elected can not or will not, we WILL… B.J. will be presenting on the People of Oregon’s right to amend the State Constitution and submit laws to be voted upon in the general election. He will present a plan of action that we can all take part in to let the Oregon legislature know that if they will not do their jobs properly, we have the remedy to act upon to correct the process” [italics added]
Later that month, People’s Rights more explicitly coupled electoral activity and lobbying to their plans for secession. Oregon 5 made it clear that the “remedy…to correct that process” is secession:
“The Legislative Call to Action group and the State of East Oregon group will be together again for the first part of the meeting, working on the plan to draft initiative petition legislation to present to the People this November. If our legislators wont (sic) act on our behalf, then we will do their job for them. Once a brief organizing meeting is completed the 2 groups will break off into their own discussions to continue the individual work in progress. Calista is leading the effort to get folks signed up to to (sic) run for open public offices and work to combat the bad legislation coming out of Salem. B.J. is leading the further discussion and work to draft a constitution for the future State of East Oregon.”
The dual-track approach to governmental power – working both inside the system and preparing for its replacement – is a common feature of far-right nationalist political movements. Rather than a commitment to a philosophy of opposition to government itself, a core feature of People’s Rights is that’s its national identity, which includes ideas about who are its core citizens (property owners and racism-denying individuals, Christians) and the nature of institutions (built around a truncated version of the U.S. Constitution), has brought the group into fundamental conflict with federal, state and local governments as they are currently structured under their various constitutions and governing documents.
 Sunshine, Spencer; Campbell, Jessica; Rural Organizing Project; Political Research Associates; HoSang, Daniel; Besa, Steven; Berlet, Chip. Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement. Rural Organizing Project and Political Research Associates. 2016; IREHR. The Smell of Secession. Unpublished manuscript.2013.
 People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. Highlights from March 25, 2021. March 27, 2021. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/highlights-from-march-25th-2021&id=7d602268-2bfa-4dec-9f34-4fdd5cc77d41&pg=2.
 People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. How Oregon 5 has organized our group. October 14, 2020. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/how-oregon-5-has-organized-our-group&id=c9aa28c3-f2a3-4e73-a7d0-1ed8bc7847cf&pg=6.
 People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. Weekly Update PRO5 2-8 Cancelling Thursday 2-11 Meeting Due to Storm Coming In. February 9, 20201. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/weekly-update-pro5-2-8-cancelling-thursday-2-11-meeting-due-to-storm-coming-in&id=50d912c9-aee7-451c-aa23-3600ce7f22c8&pg=4; People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. Weekly Update PRO5 2-121. February 2, 2021. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/weekly-update-pro5-2-1-21&id=25d4b6b1-26c4-4904-a836-f893d52844db&pg=4; People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. PRO5 Weekly Update for 2/15. February 16, 2021. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/pro5-weekly-update-for-2-15&id=9541c2b0-7106-4417-8471-3bfd2f004091&pg=3; People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. Weekly Update for February 22nd. February 23, 2021. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/weekly-update-for-feb-22nd&id=e52c0b74-823f-44d7-b86f-82d76eea7df7&pg=3; People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. PRO5 Weekly Update for 3/1. March 1, 2021. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/pro5-weekly-update-for-3-1&id=fed86659-9f5e-48c1-b469-f2b05047db24&pg=3; People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. PRO5 Weekly Update for 3/22. March 22, 2021. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/pro5-weekly-update-for-3-22&id=1ef9e584-54fc-4322-af33-efdf0d70f723&pg=2.
 People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. PRO5 Weekly Update for 3/8/21. March 8, 2021. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/pro5-weekly-update-for-3-8-21&id=c88e9030-33ea-4409-a99e-7e3e84b77852&pg=3.
 People’s Rights. Area News. Oregon. PRO5 Weekly Update for 3/15. March 16, 2021. https://www.peoplesrights.org/news_view?/pro5-weekly-update-for-3-15&id=dda06461-b816-4dd2-8854-8f1255a8dd9b&pg=2.