Like most right-wing authoritarians, “Patriot” militiamen are fond of portraying themselves as moral beacons, people whose adherence to the law and to social standards is beyond reproach, mainly because it’s essential to their self-conception as heroes. Ah, but then reality kicks in.
James Russell Bolton Jr. was one of those militiamen. Living in rural Stevens County in northeastern Washington state, an hour north of Spokane, where he had organized a local militia called the Stevens County Assembly, Bolton was widely admired as an upstanding citizen. He even ran for sheriff once.
Yet according to Stevens County sheriff’s detectives and the county attorney, Bolton is the same man who tried to extort members of his militia with threats of violence and murder, supposedly at the hands of a Mexican cartel drug lord. He also tried to claim that his own wife had been kidnapped and held for ransom. Later, he allegedly pushed an associate down a flight of stairs and attempted to suffocate him.
When the charges came down last week, Bolton fled the region. He was arrested this week in West Virginia, and waived extradition back to Washington state. He faces six charges of extortion and attempted theft.
According to the charging documents, Bolton engaged in an elaborate scheme that targeted members of his militia. Several of them found letters demanding sums ranging from $10,000 to $250,000 in cash and threatening that harm would befall their families if they failed to comply. They claimed to be from a drug lord in a Mexican cartel named Alessio Don de Grande.
Bolton allegedly assaulted another of his militia members at a home in Spokane, pushing him down a flight of stairs and then putting a plastic bag over his head before getting up and telling the man that his wife had been kidnapped and was being held for $100,000 ransom. The victim at first believed Bolton’s story and had written out a check for that amount to him.
Northeastern Washington over the past several decades has gradually become home to some of the most militant far-right extremists in the nation, much of it revolving around the community of Marble and the singular community church that dominates the tiny town. Led by the Rev. Barry Byrd, who once cowrote a Christian Identity manifesto that called Jews “anti-Christs” and denounced interracial marriage but who nowadays decries racism and says his Identity ways are behind him, it has nonetheless become a powerful magnet for far-right ideologues.
Among the regular speakers at the Marble Community Fellowship’s annual gathering is Rep. Matt Shea, the militia-loving Republican from Spokane Valley whose associations with other people in the Marble community have created problems for his political career. Shea recently drew widespread condemnation for participating in chats with other “Patriots” that included violent talk aimed at their political opponents.
Meanwhile, Bolton ran for sheriff of Stevens County in 2010, and even had the backing of “constitutionalist” guru Richard Mack, who told an audience in Chewelah that he hoped a “constitutional” sheriff would someday begin arresting IRS agents. Bolton finished last in a field of four in that contest.
The website of the Stevens County Assembly, now offline, featured typical “Patriot” rantings about “socialism” and the “New World Order.” It also included a more aggressive approach, with sections dedicated to “Insurgent Political Change” and “Counter Insurgency for Real American Citizens.”