Chelan Co. Sheriff Brian Burnett Skips Fiestas Mexicanas to Attend 'Christian Nationalist' Rally

Authored by and submitted by WashingtonCherryTree

Part of Post Falls ReAwaken Tour Sept. 16 and 17 event poster.

Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett’s campaign faced criticism last week for making it seem like he attended Fiestas Mexicanas when he was actually at the controversial “ReAwaken America” rally in Post Falls, Idaho. The rally featured Eric Trump, My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, retired Gen. Mike Flynn and Roger Stone – an all-star lineup of far-right figures who continue to peddle the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Burnett also made himself available for an interview with disgraced former Washington state legislator Matt Shea. Shea is the author of “The Biblical Basis for War” and was accused of domestic terrorism by the Washington House of Representatives due to his role in a series of standoffs with federal authorities. I’ve covered Shea and his extremist rhetoric at the “God and Country” campout in Marble, Washington before.

The issue came up after Burnett’s campaign posted photos on Facebook featuring the sheriff and his volunteers at what were ostensibly recent local events. Yet one image was a Wenatchee World photo from 2011 – another was simply a stock photo.

A screenshot of the post that got people asking questions.

Fiestas Mexicanas is an annual Chelan County event with the goal of raising awareness and promoting education about the history, lifestyle, and people of Mexico, according to the organization’s website.

The image of Mr. Tellez stood out because of its quality and composition. The other image that stood out was an oddly-cropped photo of dancers. What made it remarkable was that it didn’t look like it was taken anywhere in Chelan County.

And that’s because it wasn’t. A simple reverse-image search traces the likely source of that photo to be a stock image website.

Folks started calling the sheriff out, and the campaign had to clarify that Burnett was not at Fiestas Mexicanas and the campaign did not have a booth there.

Sheriff Burnett was actually in Post Falls, Idaho, at the “ReAwaken America” rally that weekend and admitted to it in another Facebook post on Sept. 22.

In addition to big names like Eric Trump and Gen. Flynn, the rally included speakers who identify as Christian pastors, including extremist politician-turned-pastor Matt Shea, who I have covered before. Shea did an interview with Burnett for his “Patriot Radio” podcast and radio show. That episode has not been released yet, but Shea confirmed he did interview Burnett, and it would be out soon. For context on Shea’s style of rhetoric, in his last podcast episode, he refers to the President of the United States as “PedoHitler.” The term is even included in the title of that episode as a hashtag.

In an article published in early September, a few Eastern Washington faith leaders spoke out against the event and the pastors who participated in it.

Rev. Rick Matters of St. Paul’s Episcopal in Kennewick called it “a rather toxic brand of Christian nationalism.”

“Christian nationalism misuses the Christian faith to gain its influence,” he said.

Matters said the focus of the ReAwaken America Tour isn’t on Jesus’ message of love and care for your neighbors.

“It works contrary to the values of the Gospel,” he said. “It misuses and misrepresents the teachings of Jesus Christ. Its message is divisive. It celebrates hatred and gives permission for violence.”

Rev. Gretchen M. Rehbergn, the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, also wrote an op-ed published by the Spokesman-Review on Sept. 4. In it, she called Christian Nationalism “heresy for Christians and dangerous rhetoric for all Americans.”

“To state that is not a denial of Christianity, or a denigration of patriotism, rather the call to a proper relationship between church and state,” she wrote.

In her piece, she stressed the ReAwaken America rally was not a Republican Party event but something else altogether.

“The Reawaken America event coming to Post Falls on Sept. 16-17 is not an event of the Republican Party, if it was I would not say anything. Whether I am a Republican or Democrat or Green or independent is irrelevant, all political parties are freely able to engage in the public sphere,” Rehbergn wrote. “This event, however, is a Christian nationalist event. It is wrapping the flag and the cross together in a way that misappropriates both. God is not in any political party, and it is wrong of any political party, or any country, to claim that God is on their side.”

Sheriff Burnett’s political activism is well documented. In 2016, Burnett was named as one of many elected officials and candidates in the Northwest who embrace an extremist “Patriot” agenda, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

On June 14, 2016, Burnett showed up in uniform at a Wenatchee School Board meeting to sign a petition forcing students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex at birth. It was a part of a wave of anti-transgender political activism that swept the country in 2016-17. Wenatchee World Opinion Editor Kelli Scott called Burnett out in a column the following May:

“Burnett told the board that he was mostly worried about public safety issues,” she wrote. “But then he asked the board to think about the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase ‘under God.’” “‘What does that mean to you?’ Burnett asked the school board. ‘What do you want our community to be like?’” A quick exercise in empathy: Picture yourself as a 16-year-old trans kid in Chelan County. Life is not super easy for you. You try to shake off the slurs. Maybe you’ve been kicked around a bit. Now you just heard the man in charge of protecting you imply that you are somehow against God.”

The group of pastors, politicians and rightwing activists who joined together to sue Washington State Governor Jay Inslee over Covid-19 mandates in 2020.

Matt Shea is not the only militia extremist Sheriff Burnett has ties to. I’ve documented his involvement in the failed lawsuit against Washington State Governor Jay Inslee led by Grace City Church Pastor Josh McPherson before. The photo above was taken in the basement of the BPOE building in Wenatchee, owned by Jeff Kurpius, a member of the local militia, according to current and former employees of his company, Orchard Corset.

During the Black Lives Matter marches in the summer of 2020, Kurpius and his heavily-armed militia buddies used the BPOE as a staging ground and lookout location to observe the unarmed peaceful protestors.

Kurpius is on the far-right (no pun intended).

But Burnett’s support among the local militia goes deeper than that. At least one member of the “Wenatchee Militia QRF” (quick response force) that used a private Facebook group to make plans to stalk and harass those peaceful protestors (as well as openly fantasize about murder) donated to Burnett’s campaign, according to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

That man’s name is Nate Fusselman and he donated $500 to Burnett’s campaign.

Fusselman’s name caught my eye when reviewing Burnett’s PDC filings way back in July, so I reached out to Burnett’s campaign via his website at that time. Here’s what I wrote:

“Hello Sheriff Burnett and campaign staff, I had a few questions about the campaign so far. Who is producing your videos? And how is Drew Zabrocki involved? Is he your campaign manager? I see you got a $500 donation from Nate Fusselman. To your knowledge, have other members of the local militia donated to your campaign? To your knowledge, have any militia members volunteered for your campaign? Did you know Nate was one of the militia members who brought guns onto the streets of Wenatchee and stalked peaceful protestors exercising their First Amendment rights during the Black Lives Matter marches in the summer of 2020?”

Neither Burnett nor anyone from his campaign staff responded to my questions, either about his financial support from local militia members or his decision to skip Fiestas Mexicanas to attend the ReAwaken America tour stop in Post Falls, Id.

If Sheriff Burnett or members of his campaign respond to my questions, I will update this piece.

unreliablememory on September 27th, 2022 at 01:35 UTC »

Nazis in Idaho? Who ever heard of such a thing?

Financial_Resort6631 on September 26th, 2022 at 23:38 UTC »

Of course… he probably got more popular because of this.

WashingtonCherryTree on September 26th, 2022 at 19:29 UTC »

"This month Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett skipped Fiestas Mexicanas in order to attend a Christian Nationalist rally in Post Falls, Idaho, and appear for an interview with Matt Shea, the disgraced former Washington legislator who was labeled a "domestic terrorist" by an independent report from the Washington State House of Representatives. I reached out to Burnett's campaign to ask about that, as well as his rightwing activism and ties to the local militia, and then wrote this."