ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Kittitas resident John Lukrich was born in Yugoslavia in 1956, after a communist regime had been established the decade before.
Lukrich came to the United States as a boy where, as a refugee, he was separated from his parents. He later served in the military. Those experiences taught him the value of the U.S. Constitution, he said.
“I am an American, a veteran, and I believe that the Constitution is the greatest thing in the world,” Lukrich said.
Lukrich was one of a small group of people who gathered to listen to Patriot Prayer’s rallying cry for gun rights and returning power to the people at a “flash rally” in Ellensburg on Saturday evening.
Patriot Prayer, a pro-Second Amendment group, kicked off its “weekend party for freedom” on Friday with a march through downtown Ellensburg. Friday’s events drew a small group of supporters and quiet opposition from a group of about 50 Central Washington University students, who wrote messages of disapproval for the group’s presence in chalk on the campus sidewalks.
One sign posted on a coffee shop in downtown Ellensburg along the Patriot Prayer route read: "Our entire community is healing. Our loss is not for political use. Please be respectful." The sign referenced the recent loss of a Kittitas County sheriff’s deputy who was shot to death during a confrontation after a high-speed chase.
Saturday’s events followed that same trend. A unity rally, organized by CWU students for 11 a.m. on Saturday, was postponed until a later, undisclosed date, but Patriot Prayer’s scheduled flash rally still happened Saturday evening. About 25 people gathered in the park on Sixth Avenue, most of whom were members of Patriot Prayer or the local media.
Joey Gibson, founder of Patriot Prayer, opened his comments with the message that grass-roots efforts must start at the local level.
“Everything matters on a local level,” he said. “Right now, what we have to do, because the state has failed us, Seattle has failed us, is to bring power back to the people and back to the local level.”
Gibson’s speech, which included a period for questions, referenced Initiative 1639 but also heavily focused on people’s Fourth Amendment rights, which in part protects people against unwarranted searches and seizures of their property and homes. He spoke of a Fourth Amendment ordinance currently under consideration in Battle Ground and encouraged those in attendance to see whether their city council and county commissioners would consider passing a similar ordinance.
“We’ve seen the city of Battle Ground come together, as a new family,” Gibson said. “It’s about freedom, and once they get a taste of that freedom on a local level, they are going to want more.”
Gibson has said that the current political climate allows individuals only two choices: either to “fight for freedom and power to the people” or a side that “lets government get bigger and continue to oppress us and tax us to death.”
He mentioned that his group’s efforts – though enacted with a sense of urgency – are peaceful. He mentioned several sheriffs, including Klickitat Sheriff Bob Songer, have voiced support for not allowing those without warrants to enter their counties to take their guns.
Russell Schultz, a member of Patriot Prayer, then emphasized the importance of upholding constitutional rights.
“We live in the only country in the world that has protections against its own government,” Schultz said. “You should never believe that the government has your best interest in mind.”
Schultz said people can take action by encouraging other community members to vote and to attend council meetings or call elected officials and ask them where they stand on constitutional rights.
A group of four individuals stood quietly on the outskirts of the meeting, observing the proceedings. Gibson called them “the communists” and said they had been following Patriot Prayer around the entire weekend.
Adele Dorman, one of the four, who identified herself as a resident of Ellensburg and not a communist, said that she decided to attend the rally to be a “counter-voice.” The group came out to also ensure that everyone stayed safe.
“We’re just here to be a clear presence that says, ‘Your message is not welcome here,’” Dorman said. “They’ve done a good job so far of not physically attacking anyone, but their rhetoric style is bullying. They like to single out people they feel are opposed to them and then agitate.”
In the past, Patriot Prayer rallies have attracted white nationalist groups and groups classified as “far right,” including Proud Boys, that have sparked controversy and violence. Vancouver’s Clark College shut down for a day in October 2018 during a Patriot Prayer rally.
Gibson said last week that he does not identify his group as “far right”; he denounced white supremacists and neo-Nazis and said his group is no longer affiliated with Proud Boys, though he remained grateful for the work they had done in the past.
Blaine Walton, who self-identified as an Ellensburg activist and who also opposed Patriot Prayer’s presence in Ellensburg, took issue with the lack of specificity, particularly in terms of a call to action, in Patriot Prayer’s platform.
“It’s deliberately obscured,” he said. “They might not feel they are inciting racism, but as someone who was a former Nazi skinhead, I see similar characteristics.”
Haley Adams, who came to the Ellensburg flash rally from Portland to show support for Patriot Prayer, said that anyone who took the time to look around would realize the world was not fine and that action was needed.
“Most people are too comfortable in their day-to-day routine, and don’t take time to look at what’s happening in reality,” Adams said during the rally. “Anyone who stands up for their rights should be proud of themselves.”
The two law enforcement officers on site said that the weekend’s events have been peaceful and that they did not anticipate any violence or disruption during the group’s final downtown evening march. They said that their understanding is the college students in the area have been attempting to avoid the group or otherwise not engage.
The march’s beginning, at 8 p.m., had only gathered a few individuals. But Gibson said that was all it would take to start making a meaningful change.
“I want you to know that it doesn’t matter whether you have on person beside you or dozens,” he said to those who attended the flash rally. “You take this experience. You begin to feel the spirit. You begin to feel an energy. Take action. People are ready for change.”
Editorial Note: This article has been updated to clarify a comment about Patriot Prayer's message not being welcomed by an individual who attended the rally.