The “Yellow Vesters” of Oregon

I’ve written an energy blog for seven years. I’ve written this blog in The Times of Israel for three. Rarely have the two coincided, but they do now.

Last month, I submitted an article to another publication arguing that we Jews will pay the price for hastily thought-out climate policies. I never imagined that just a few weeks later the American state of Oregon would prove me right.

Nestled in the Pacific Northwest and producing very little energy itself, Oregon has had a disproportionate influence on energy affairs. Overall, the state is known for extremes. It superimposes a very liberal, leftist tendency on a reactionary, far right base. Democrats control all the branches of State government, but Oregon is known to be a strong breeding ground for neo-Nazis. All of that is playing out now before our eyes, and all of it relates to energy.

Citing climate concerns, in 2016 Oregon became the first State to ban coal production. It followed this year by banning an oil and gas extraction technique called “fracking” and by refusing to grant permits for a pipeline that would bring oil and gas to an export terminal in the State’s economically depressed southwest corner.

Each time, the business elite in Portland, Oregon’s largest City, and the intellectual elite in the college towns of Eugene and Corvallis broadly supported the moves. Each time, the less wealthy and more rural residents of the state looked askance. They saw each move as a burden being imposed on them by the Oregon aristocracy. The rich and the urban can insulate themselves from the costs of these “Green” programs. The poor and the rural cannot.

The dam burst last Wednesday. The Oregon Senate was poised to enact a “Cap and Trade” law, in which large creators of certain greenhouse gasses would have to pay for credits allowing them to emit. Some see this as a market-based way to save the planet. The poor and rural, who live in their cars and trucks, focus on how much gasoline and heating prices will rise.

Holding an 18-11 “super majority”, Democrats in the Oregon State Senate have the numbers to pass any legislation they want. What they need though is a quorum to conduct a legislative session, and 18 members is insufficient. Sensing an opportunity, Republican lawmakers fled the capitol. Governor Kate Brown called out the state police to round them up and bring them back.

 At this point, Republican State Senator Brian Boquist completely crossed the line. “Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” Boquist said. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon.”

The neo-Nazis then sprang into action. Groups like the III Percenters (“3 Percenters”), a notorious racist and anti-Semitic organization considered by Canada to be the most dangerous far right militia in that country, announced that they would be protesting at the State Senate in support of the Republicans. Incredibly, the Oregon Capitol Building shut down, fearing violence from the far right.

Boquist may not be the only Republican State Senator to associate himself with far right violence. Senator Dennis Linthicum was spotted at a restaurant eating pancakes. When asked why he was in public with the State Police looking for him, Linthicum is reported to have responded “I’m not worried, pretty sure the boys have me covered,” at which time four men raised their cups to acknowledge.

Oregon now has the equivalent of the “Yellow Vest” protests in France, where rural residents rebelled against climate policies pushed by the government of President Emmanuel Macron and supported by the Parisian elite. In response to Macron’s policies, which will drive up energy prices and force the burden disproportionately on the rural and the poor, protesters donned the yellow jackets worn by road crew workers and took to the streets. Soon they were joined by the nativist element in France. Now, anti-Semitic slogans and cries are a fixture of many Yellow Vest protests.

What makes the situation in Oregon even more troubling is that some of the Republican State Senators either have joined forces with the neo-Nazis or else acquiesced in the violent opposition against State authority. The Oregon Republican Party publicly refused the III Percenters offer of “security” and “refuge” and tried to disassociate itself from the militias, but the Party has not clearly condemned the comments made by some of its members. This comes as the Republican Party nationally is backing an effort to induce the Jewish community to change its traditional Democratic voting record, highlighting the continuing anti-Semitic comments of freshman Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

As in France, the Oregon “Cap and Trade” walkout really isn’t about energy policy at all. It’s about fear that a way of life is being destroyed. That fear is exacerbated by the belief that the people destroying it look down on you and care little about your concerns. 

This same story is being played out across the Western world. In Finland the nativist “Finns First” party rode an anti-climate change platform to finish second in Finland’s recent national elections. In Germany anger over Angela Merkel’s failed climate policies combined with her stance on immigration to allow the Nazi-inspired AfD into the Bundestag for the first time in over fifty years.

As the battle lines harden, we Jews will keep being caught in the middle. The left seems determined to continue moving toward radical progressivism, cloaking its increasing anti-Semitism as “anti-Zionism”. The right seems determined to move closer toward its radical nativist elements, reaching the level we see in Oregon today. To the right, Jews are part of the intelligentsia. To the left, Jews remain an expendable outlet, eternally the exception to their demands for tolerance. As the mandates to combat climate change become more intrusive they increasingly will be the flashpoint. Don’t be surprised if both sides blame the Jews.

Under these circumstances, it becomes essential for each of us to understand the issues and not just the slogans. Energy is an enormously complicated subject. We must make our voices heard in support of intelligent discussion and legislation. Both currently are in short supply.

More than the people generally thought of as having their lives threatened by climate change, it is we Jews who will find our safety once again being put into question. We need only look to Oregon to see how far this movement already has reached.

About the Author
Daniel B, Markind is an attorney based in Philadelphia specializing in real estate, commercial, energy and aviation law. He is the former Chair of the National Legal Committee of the Jewish National Fund of America as well as being a former member of the National Executive Board and the National Chair of the JNF National Future Leadership. He writes frequently on Middle Eastern and energy issues. Mr. Markind lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife and children.
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