Selah’s mayor and a city councilman have publicly defended City Administrator Don Wayman’s right to call the Black Lives Matter movement a “neo-Marxist organization.”
Mayor Sherry Raymond issued a proclamation Wednesday “regarding recent rallies” declaring that all residents, including Wayman, have a right to engage in free speech.
“Mr. Wayman continues to have my full support as our city administrator,” the proclamation states. “His personal political views are his own. He is entitled to his opinions, no different than how each rally attendee is entitled to his or her own opinions.”
Councilman Kevin Wickenhagen, in a letter on city letterhead he sent to people who wrote about Wayman’s comments, also defended the city administrator’s right to express his opinion.
He also said Wayman’s description of the Black Lives Matter movement as communist-inspired was justifiable, based on a definition of “neo-Marxism” he found in an open-sourced online slang dictionary.
“Whether or not being called a neo-Marxist is seen as a negative would all depend on your point of view,” Wickenhagen said.
But an organizer of Black Lives Matter protests in Selah said the proclamation and the letter did not grasp the principles the group is fighting for.
“It’s just a lot of ‘I support Don Wayman,’” said Courtney Hernandez.
Wayman and Raymond did not return phone messages seeking comment by press time.
Yakima City Councilwoman Holly Cousens wrote in a Facebook post that during a Black Lives Matter protest June 6, Wayman told her and her stepfather that Selah “did not have problems like Yakima because everybody has a concealed,” while patting what Cousens believed was a gun under his jacket.
Wayman said he told Cousens that Selah had a high percentage of concealed pistol license holders, but denied patting his jacket. A retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel, Wayman said he has a CPL but declined to say if he carried a gun at the event.
Cousens also said Wayman accused the Black Lives Matter protesters of engaging in “communist indoctrination.”
In a later interview, Wayman said Black Lives Matter was a “neo-Marxist organization.”
Wickenhagen said he and other council members received more than a dozen emails critical of Wayman’s opinions and his actions as described by Cousens.
In her proclamation, Raymond said the city does not discriminate against political rallies or attendees based on political views. She said Wayman never asked city workers to disrupt any rallies or only allow those that supported his viewpoints.
“Quite the contrary, he specifically instructed city personnel — weeks prior to the recent Black Lives Matter rallies — that viewpoint-discrimination must never occur,” Raymond’s proclamation said “Consistently, all of the recent rallies occurred without disruption because, as I say above, those rallies were peaceful.”
Both Raymond and Wickenhagen wrote that they are against racism, and that everyone’s life is important.
Hernandez, an organizer of the Selah Black Lives Matter protesters, said Raymond’s proclamation appeared to be an attempt to calm things down in Selah, while also downplaying the Black Lives Matter movement.
“If they believed it, they would understand why we are there,” Hernandez said. “Black people are being disproportionately killed by the police,” Hernandez said.
In his letter, Wickenhagen said Wayman and city police were not trying to intimidate anyone but responding to rumors that other groups were going to use the protest as a pretext to engage in vandalism and violence in the city.
Similar rumors in Yakima led to the closure of the Walmart store on East Chestnut Avenue on June 5.
“Selah police and Mr. Wayman would have been remiss in their duty to protect the citizens and our businesses had they not prepared for such a possibility,” Wickenhagen said.
Wickenhagen’s letter also defended Wayman’s assessment of Black Lives Matter as neo-Marxist by citing a definition from the Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary of slang expressions that anyone can submit. The online definition said neo-Marxism goes beyond Karl Marx’s traditional rich-versus-poor class struggle and instead places people in hierarchies of oppression based on demographics such as race.
“Using that statement as a basis, and reviewing BLM’s own website, BLM policies fall well into neo-Marxist philosophy,” Wickenhagen wrote.
However, the Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry defined the philosophy as “an amalgam of theories of stratification by Marx and Max Weber,” a political economist who argued that the Protestant view of hard work contributed to economic success for its practitioners. It noted that the neo-Marxist philosophy died out with the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
Wickenhagen said he had looked at multiple sources for the definition of neo-Marxism, but he thought the crowd-sourced dictionary offered what he believed to be the most concise way to explain it.
“In hindsight, it was not the best thing to quote from,” Wickenhagen said.
Wickenhagen said Wayman should not be removed from office because his views offend people, warning that such a move “would be a very slippery slope” leading to a government that is driven by the loudest voices.
However, Hernandez noted that Wayman had the power at the Selah Civic Center’s outdoor outlets cut when Black Lives Matter protesters used them but permitted a rally by Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp. She said she’s also been denied access to add reactions or post comments on Selah’s official Facebook page.