By CHERI ROBERTS for Challenging the Rhetoric
In addition to federal charges stemming from the Oregon Standoff, it seems pretty obvious that Peter Thomas Santilli, host of The Pete Santilli Show, will also be facing federal charges in the state of Nevada for his actions during the 2014 Bundy Ranch Standoff in Bunkerville along with 3 other currently detained, yet still unnamed co-conspirators listed in the Cliven Bundy complaint. The other 3 are believed to be: Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and Ryan Payne.
They are all currently being held in the Multnomah County Inverness jail in Portland, Oregon, with many others. Of the 24(+) Oregon Standoff arrests thus far, Santilli’s case is the most noteworthy because its fingers could reach out and touch anyone who uses social media as well as anyone who considers their selves to be an activist and/or an independent journalist or other media person.
You don’t need to know who Pete Santilli is. And, if you do, it doesn’t matter if you are a lover or hater of what he does. His case is complex and at this time of technology relevant to all.
Assimilation, Osmosis & Arrogance, Oh My!
When the 2014 Standoff took place, it was Santilli’s very first time being an “in the streets activist”. He had never done anything like that before. The experience had excited him greatly. The cause itself excited him even more. He inserted himself as the mouthpiece for the movement using his show and online reach as a vehicle to rile the masses to both arms and arrogance. Santilli’s YouTube channel boasts more than 66K subscribers with countless other listeners because of others re-streaming his feeds.
The following video from April 2014 is an audio clip from Santilli’s show that aired 3-days before the intense armed face-off between “protesters” and BLM officials in Nevada. This is a very incendiary speech and no doubt one of many pieces of audio evidence prosecutors will use against him.
I can personally attest to how much pride Santilli felt for his Bunkerville efforts from many long and rambling phone calls we shared over the late fall and early winter of 2014. The light ignited by the Bundy cause, and his perceived notion of what they had achieved, was still burning bright. He was like a man newly on fire for Christ.
But, what most don’t know is this was also a personally devastating time for Santilli. His relationship with co-host Deborah Jordan, known at the time as Susanna Cole, was going through big changes.
They had met a couple of years before that on a role playing site called, Second Life and although Santilli was married and living in California, he and Jordan fell in love. By that fall they were planning to make their relationship official and finally meet face to face after years of working together remotely. By December Santilli was ready to leave his wife and start his new life with Deb, but after booking a flight, Deb never showed up.
He was freaking out and falling apart. His entire existence was suddenly thrust into limbo because the situation was attached to both his home and his work.
In between his heartache over being abruptly “dumped” without warning or explanation, Santilli’s honed paranoia often took time to consider whether the “Feds” or one of his haters had somehow gotten to her. This is how Santilli’s mind really works. No simple logical answer could possibly be the truth when a conspiracy could be pointed at. He seriously thought the Feds might have kidnapped or otherwise harmed Deb for his role at Bundy Ranch and the other things he allegedly exposes on his show. The idea of it enraged him and played into his already established anti-government feelings. For those who have heard him rant on his show, it was similar, but with plenty of tears and self-doubt.
Because there were still no arrests or reprimands to acknowledge any wrongdoing in Nevada, Santilli felt not only vindicated, but absolutely validated. This fueled his sense of empowerment which clearly emboldened him during a very vulnerable time in his life. It was an odd dynamic to witness. He was a broken-hearted man with a huge and obnoxious chip on his shoulder careening forward, feeling he had nothing to live for, but living anyway. Live on YouTube.
His viewership skyrocketed as was the case every other time he ramped up his mouth thinking his words were protected and he could say what he wanted without repercussions. Views equal dollars, but they also equal approval and Santilli was getting plenty of it from an angry base of listeners.
And then, Deb came back and all was rosy once again for Santilli as he cut the chains of California and embarked on their new adventure together. This time Santilli’s partner was truly by his side and having a woman who fully supported him and his beliefs – like Bunkerville, fed into his own stamp of approval.
The Bundy’s rhetoric and cause was now Santilli’s baby. The war on government had become tangible to him and the small taste of confrontation he had in Nevada left him wanting more. He liked it, but he also thought he was on the right side of the “supreme law” i.e. the Constitution and that it absolutely protected him and that’s no joke.
Witness Santilli, not as a “shock jock”, but as himself as he explains what he believes while interviewed by Brian Engelman the day after the Bundy Ranch Standoff. It is clear in this one video alone that Santilli had participated in the capacity of more than a reporter.
If Santilli was a loud mouth ranting about Hillary Clinton’s vagina before hooking up with the Bundys he became even more inflammatory after because he felt his actions upheld. His reports on Ferguson, Missouri and his time on the ground in Baltimore, Maryland with Deb kept his self-righteous anger bubbling and his mouth running while his ties with the Bundy clan deepened during the time between Bunkerville and Burns.
Those ties, and his deepening beliefs, were further reinforced by support and encouragement from law enforcement like the “Constitutional” Sheriff’s and Sheriff Mack; political representatives like Nevada Assemblywoman Michel Fiore; and legal consultants like activist talk show host Kris Anne Hall, a former State prosecutor who now calls herself a “Constitutional” lawyer although she is not licensed with the Florida Bar Association where she lives.
When it is politicians and enforcers of the law that are propping you and your message up while feeding into it, why would you ever consider yourself to be wrong?
That’s a question we should all be asking the lawmakers of the United States, the courts and ourselves.
I know from my own experiences in other movements what it is like to be sucked into the belly of a cause and how easily, and without personal realization, radicalization can occur while socially surrounding yourself with only those who share and speak your beliefs; especially in the height of any kind of anticipated unrest. I often say, “Our worlds are as small as we make them” because that is the lesson I walked away with after having nearly followed an equally precarious, although different, path.
Pete Santilli never walked away and instead narrowed his view, sharing that pin-point perspective of the world to the world as if that was all there was to it.
There is a mental health aspect to all of this that I liken to cultism except the new isolation from reality is now caused by confirmation bias and technology brought on by anger and fear versus by some guru in Guana. There’s no question the American government has pissed off a lot of people in this country and those who have time and the inclination do easily find others speaking similar language; whether the words of that language are true or not makes little difference. The comfort of like-minds is an affirmation that rapidly becomes a self identity.
I Beg No Pardon
On his last broadcast, the night before the first round of arrests (including his own) — and before the death of Lavoy Finicum, Santilli, without his typical vapid delivery, told his listeners, he was indeed a “provocateur” trying to provoke “Constitutionality”. He continued, saying he wanted to “restore the constitution” and “rip everyone’s face off that’s trying to stop us.”
After weeks of calling on listeners to arm up and join their resistance in Burns, Oregon at the bird sanctuary Santilli further emphasize his believed bravado to his followers saying, “I told the FBI, if you harm one person out there then it’s on like a mo-fo. That’s what I told them right to their face. That’s what I’m trying to provoke.”
It surprised most people following the case when ACLU Oregon put out a written piece in support of Santilli’s First Amendment right. The response this garnered on social media was mostly harsh. In a later statement on their website, the Executive Director, David Rogers, defended the ACLU’s decision to support Santilli’s right to free speech. Further, he verbally separates Santilli from the “militia occupiers” at Malheur with his use of bold type, “In the face of misinformation and misinterpretation of our position, let me be clear. We believe the militia occupiers should be held accountable for their actions. We have questions about the government’s approach to accountability in the specific case on Pete Santilli, one of those arrested.”
Rogers also says, “We stand in solidarity with the thousands of Oregonians, particularly in rural communities, who are peacefully protesting the unwanted militia occupation in Harney County. We hear the reports that some of the occupiers have been intimidating and threatening community members. These are not social change strategies we support.”
To many it seems the ACLU is talking out of both sides of their mouths. How can they support the incitement of countless unknown individuals to participate in an armed occupation of federal buildings while decrying the intimidation and harassment of the residents of the town by said people? This makes little sense.
The First Amendment says we cannot yell fire in a theater. Santilli was not in Oregon (or Nevada) merely to report on the happenings as a journalist. He was equally there to participate, not just support, as a citizen who seriously believed in what he was doing who just happened to have a mouth, a camera and YouTube channel with tens of thousands of viewers. And, because he could, he yelled “Fire”.
In broadcast after broadcast and video upload after video upload and interview after interview, Pete Santilli said things like “we” and “us” in reference to him and the other occupiers. He didn’t verbally separate himself from the “militia occupiers” the way the Portland ACLU and his attorney are now trying to do for him.
As Laura Ludwig, a follower of Facebook’s Wake Up America group expressed regarding Santilli and his show, “We the People are fed up with manipulation and lies. That is different than free speech. Please do not manipulate with deception and propaganda.”
To be clear, I am not defending Santilli’s actions in Oregon or Nevada (or anywhere else). I do believe he did some things wrong. Some were intentional, but — and I say this because I know him, many of the things he did wrong was because he is “dumb as a box of paper clips” Pete Santilli bumbling along thinking he’s safe as a “journalist” with his pocket Constitution for back-up, just in case.
By the way, the “paperclip” reference is Santilli’s, not mine. It is his own self-deprecating observation, and one he makes often. Whether it’s paper clips or something else, it’s always a box of something “dumb” and he really isn’t trying to mislead you with some crafty reverse psychology. He means it. For someone who espouses so prolifically on so many “worldly” things, Santilli is basically a rather simple man.
I know him well enough to say, had he experienced what we collectively experienced with David Fry and the other refuge holdouts in real-time leading up to their surrenders, Santilli would have been just as shook-up as the rest of us; tears rolling along with his camera knowing it was YouTube gold.
Whether he would have felt then, or feels now, any responsibility or remorse for the part he has played in the Oregon Standoff is a question I do not know the answer to. I also do not know whether or not any of those who have been, or who will still be, arrested were involved in the armed standoff as a direct result of following Santilli or his show.
Those are good questions the court will inevitably ask and Santilli’s answers have the power to determine a lot of things inside and outside of the federal courtroom. Not just for himself and his co-conspirators, but for all of us.
Most of the country uses social media. There are also countless indie media folks just like him out there speaking on varying topics who are equally vulnerable to the grey areas of what they think is and isn’t OK. And, I am not just referring to other “shock jock” types like Santilli. I myself have not been immune to making a few mistakes over the years. I am sure to make many more as we navigate this vast and ever broadening world of technology and information.
The First Amendment is the most debated Amendment. The laws surrounding free speech are often viewed as both absolute and loosey-goosey depending on whether you are asking someone trying to follow it or someone trying to exploit it.
Leading? Or Led By Example?
We hear politicians and talking heads say some of the most heinous things. Other than a rash of meme’s and snarky posts, it seems what they do is perfectly OK, acceptable and even legal. Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, is a good example. There has never been a more openly and outwardly vile candidate in my living history. Not only does he spew hate while peddling governmental paranoia and get away with it, but each week he is loudly cheered-on another step closer to the White House lawn.
There is something very wrong with this picture, but that example is just one snapshot in a collage of too many that represents this burgeoning new culture.
Am I suggesting that Santilli be given a Get Out of Jail Free card?
No, I am not.
Yes, Santilli is a sensationalist who knows how to make a buck, but, I am not so delusional to not realize they are going to use him as a Poster Boy example to all on a national platform where rarely is anything fair and free from political influence and the very same kind of opinionated rhetoric Santilli himself pushes. If anything, I am praying for a small measure of leniency in consideration of some of the truths I have presented and an even greater dose of deliberation over the finer lines in between.
If Santilli is guilty for inciting anyone, then Sheriff Mack and CSPOA along with the likes of Fiore and Hall are also guilty of the same. One should not be punished without the others.
Not all speech is protected by the First Amendment. Even less could be if no one pays attention. Santilli’s case could set a legal precedent that may not be in everyone’s best interest. We should not downplay it because of some ill opinion we may or may not have about him or any of the other’s involved in crimes that bring these issues to the courtroom. We should be vigilant and participatory.
Social and independent media is still new to the courts and how they treat Santilli’s case and where they ultimately highlight those fine lines is going to be just as new to the public as it will be to history.
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