The American Redoubt Series by the Sandpoint Reader

Note: Ben Olson, publisher of the Sandpoint Reader, won an Idaho Press Club Don Watkins Mid-Career Scholarship of $500 to aid in this project. You, too, can apply for the mid-career scholarship, which is available for any Idaho Press Club member to use for any training or project that will benefit the working press in Idaho. The deadline to apply each year is Feb. 15; there’s more information at our website, www.idahopressclub.org.

By Ben Olson

Every January, the alternative weekly Sandpoint Reader newspaper invites its 5,000-plus readers to participate in a media survey. While the survey helps define what print, radio and television media our readers follow in North Idaho, it also gives them a chance to suggest possible story ideas. One of the more frequent requests for stories last year was an in-depth analysis on the American Redoubt movement and its impact on North Idaho.

Thanks to a $500 grant awarded by the Idaho Press Club, the Reader was able to dig in a little deeper and produce an eight-week series of articles, profiles and analyses on the Redoubt. The series ran in eight consecutive issues from Nov. 11 to Dec. 28, 2017.

The American Redoubt is a political migration movement first proposed in 2011 by James Wesley, Rawles (sic), who maintains SurvivalBlog.com. Rawles calls for conservative Christians to migrate to eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (collectively called the “Redoubt” by Rawles) in order to live off-grid with “like-minded” people concerned that an “end of days” event might occur. Those who identify with the Redoubt are encouraged to store supplies and practice preparedness, as well as to promote limited government and a religious-minded approach to communities.

Before this series, the loaded term “Redoubter” generally referred to someone who was anti-refugee, pro-church, anti-big government, anti-public education and was opposed to social issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, among others. After this series, I believe many understood what the movement was all about and stopped using the term in a pejorative fashion, instead focusing on the tenets of the movement they disagreed with.

The goal of this series was to take an even, documentary look at the movement and its parts: geographic isolation, preparedness and religious and political ideologies. Instead of casting judgment, we decided to explain the movement from the perspective of those who identify with it. Toward the end of the series, we then analyzed the movement’s impact on the region.

From the beginning, it was difficult to arrange interviews with those who identify with the Redoubt. Most distrusted the media and believed it unfairly treated the Redoubt movement in the past. Many believed their lifestyle choices were being mocked, emphasizing the “mad prepper in a gas mask” angle over the ideological reasons behind such a movement. Of those we contacted for interviews and were denied or ignored: Idaho Rep. Heather Scott, Washington Rep. Matt Shea, the editors at RedoubtNews.com (who seemed to take offense that we would compare them with the Redoubt movement, though they use the term in their name) and a handful of local politicians and pundits who claimed we were “fake news” for even asking.

Those who did agree to interviews were more moderate and not exactly the stereotypical Redoubter. One even claimed to be left of center when it came to politics.

However, after the first two installments of the series were published, the immediate opposition slowly turned into begrudging acceptance that the series was starting out fair and accurate. While Rawles denied our request for an interview, he did acknowledge on his blog that the work we had done thus far was “surprisingly fair.”

Along with Rawles, there are two other spokespersons for the Redoubt movement: Alex Barron of  CharlesCarrollSociety.com and John Jacob Schmidt from RadioFreeRedoubt.com. Schmidt failed to respond to interview requests, as did Barron at first. However, convincing him the series was an earnest attempt to understand the movement from a non-partisan point of view, Barron ultimately agreed to an interview, so long as it was conducted in writing and that we agreed not to edit his responses (except for grammar).

Barron’s two-page interview published in the Nov. 30 issue. This was only the second time Barron, the so-called “Bard of the American Redoubt,” has ever consented to be interviewed by the press. Many of our readers were thankful to have been given an inside look at the specific ideology Barron and others were promoting.

Much to our surprise, the feedback we received throughout the series was overwhelmingly positive. Even more surprising, those on the left were just as complimentary about the series as those on the right. While there were a handful of points made by both sides of the aisle, we appreciated the fact that our readers took our cue and attempted to put their own personal biases aside to learn more about this movement.

The series concluded with an excellent feature on religion and a two-part analysis of North Idaho politics, with a special emphasis on the mid-1990s when Idaho began shifting farther to the right of center. All of our editorial staff contributed pieces for this series: editor Cameron Rasmusson, staff writer Lyndsie Kiebert and myself. We also included two pieces from Bill Harp, a guest contributor who has intimate knowledge of the movement.

At the start of the series, we at the Reader set out to learn more about this movement and share our knowledge with our readers. As we concluded the series in our last issue of the year, I look back through all the articles and can say that I am happy with the outcome. We even had one reader go so far as to officially submit the series to the Pulitzer Prize Board (despite our best efforts to convince him otherwise).

The most common conclusion readers shared with us was that they had more in common with Redoubters than they originally thought. Many said that if you removed the religious and political ideologies, they would themselves be considered Redoubters.

We thank the Idaho Press Club for the assistance they gave to make this series possible. To read the series, go to www.sandpointreader.com and click on the “Redoubt Series” tab along the top.

Ben Olson is the publisher of the Sandpoint Reader.