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Nye County GOP chairman’s conspiracy letter attracts criticism

PAHRUMP — Nye County officials on Monday attempted to distance themselves from a conspiracy-laden letter written last week by the chairman of the Nye County Republican Party Central Committee.

Among other things, the lengthy letter sent to the committee’s members by Chairman Chris Zimmerman claims that President Donald Trump will serve four more years, accuses Vice President Mike Pence of treason and blames antifa for the invasion of the Capitol last week.

Nye County District Attorney Chris Arabia issued a statement Monday in response.

“My office will not tolerate political violence of any kind,” Arabia said. “This office represents all the people of Nye County regardless of political affiliation. If you are a victim of political violence, I would urge you to contact law enforcement. We will then decide how to handle any cases submitted to us based on the evidence not the politics.”

However, Arabia said that neither he nor law enforcement officials were aware of any specific threats and that all the claims Zimmerman made in his letter are unfounded.

“Regardless of what you may have heard or read, people should know that Sheriff (Sharon) Wehrly and I are unaware of anyone in Nye County planning political violence or any illegal action against any political opponents or governments, either here or outside the County,” Arabia said. “I’ve reviewed Mr. Zimmerman’s letter in light of the widespread concerns that it was a call to insurrection or violence. First, neither Chairman Zimmerman nor the Committee speak for my office or the County government. That said, the letter does seem mostly to consist of predictions and commentary. In my opinion, it doesn’t incite the reader to engage in unlawful violence and as such, it falls under the protection of the First Amendment.”

The Nye County Commission also issued a statement Monday notifying the public that it is not in any way affiliated with the Republican committee.

Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo said that although many might not agree with Zimmerman’s letter, he has the right under the Constitution to say such things.

“You may or may not agree with Mr Zimmerman’s letter, however, it illustrates the political divide we have seen unfold in our country,” Blundo said in an email. “I watched on Jan. 6th as our Capitol was stormed. I condemn these actions. It is a reflection of the political unrest and divide we are facing. Congressman (Steven) Horsford’s comments rise to the same level. You may or may not disagree with them, however, again, they illustrate the same divide.”

Horsford, whose district includes Nye County, tweeted a statement condemning Zimmerman’s letter. He chacterized it as “seditious” and called on Republicans “to condemn Zimmerman’s letter, affirm the election results, and reject any and all forms of insurrection against our federal government.”

Blundo, who ran for the House seat last year against Horsford but came in sixth in the eight-person Republican primary, questioned Horsford’s comments, saying it’s still unclear who was involved in the Capitol riot.

“A key difference is Congressman Horsford’s ‘crystal ball’ — him seemingly knowing the political affiliation of those being arrested and charged for storming the Capitol as he stated on twitter (it’s not just POTUS who tweets),” Blundo wrote. “The political rhetoric and divide, the lack of reason, patience and responsibility must come to an end. We are watching the unstoppable force collide with the immovable object. The fibers of America, of our Constitutional Republic are being torn to shreds and the people with it.”

According to numerous media reports, FBI Assistant Director Steven D’Antuono has said there is no evidence that left-leaning antifa groups were involved in the storming of the Capitol. The fact-checking website PolitiFact rated claims to the contrary as “pants on fire.”

Zimmerman and other representatives of the Nye County Republican Central Committee weren’t available for comment.

Nye is Trump country

Nye County voted overwhelmingly in favor of Trump in November’s election, with Trump garnering 69 percent of the vote.

Signs supporting Trump are still displayed on various homes and businesses around Pahrump, the county’s most populous town. Many motorists driving in the area Monday had Trump 2020 flags attached to their vehicles.

Pahrump resident Michael Butler, 72, sporting a red Make America Great Again hat Monday in a local shopping center, said he refused to believe that Trump lost the election.

“I think Trump should be president,” Butler said. “They’re trying to impeach him. I don’t like that at all, and it’s very disgusting.”

Butler said he believes Trump is being painted in a bad light and said he’s not what others are making him out to be in his last days in office.

“They put all this stuff together and add junk to it to make him seem wrong and make him seem like a bad man, when he’s not a bad man,” Butler added.

In Mesquite in eastern Clark County, pro-Trump sentiment was strong. Outside the Smith’s grocery store on one of main drags Monday, locals weighed in on the recent events in Washington, D.C.

Gordon Everett, 76, said that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and “a bunch of Democrats ought to be hung” for sedition, adding that he thinks people planted by the Democrats instigated trouble at the Capitol, not Trump.

“They pick on him, where it’s just ridiculous,” Everett said. “He’s done more for this nation than any president for the last 50 years since (Ronald) Reagan.”

But according to 64-year-old Rocke Acree, Trump should resign, be impeached or receive another punishment in line with what anybody else would receive for inciting people to storm the Capitol. Acree said he typically votes by candidate and not party and was “appalled” by images from last week.

“I’m certainly not a Trumper,” Acree said, adding that he remained cautiously optimistic about America’s future post-Trump.

“I really hope it gets better,” he said.

Janis Garrett, president of Mesquite Nevada Republican Women, said she believes that the election was stolen from Trump. She said she was speaking personally and not on behalf of the organization. “I personally and everyone I know is very upset with this election and how everything’s been handled,” Garrett said.

County parties respond

Clark County Republican Party Chairman Dave Sajdak said he thinks the 2020 election was “manipulated” but not stolen.

“They changed the rules,” he said, criticizing the use of mail-in ballots and so-called ballot harvesting. “‘Stolen’ is a tough word.”

Sajdak also found himself wrestling with the contentions of Zimmerman. He said he does not envision how Trump would serve four more years or how Pence committed treason, nor has he seen any evidence to suggest that satellites were used to change votes.

However, he said he believed that a “bunch of anarchists” were responsible for the mayhem at the Capitol and that tech companies, which have acted in recent days to remove Trump and others from social media for inciting violence, have discriminated against Republicans in an effort to control the narrative.

“I’m very, very concerned about where we’re going to be headed” with Democratic leadership, he said. “I’m just telling people to exercise restraint and be smart. Don’t do anything that hurts us in the long run. We have to think about the future of the party, too.”

County Democratic Party Chairwoman Judith Whitmer said that Zimmerman, like anyone else and regardless of party, is obligated to call out domestic terrorism and white supremacy, not encourage it.

“I just think it’s always a shame when community leaders decide to take the stance that it’s OK to incite violence or incite any kind of negativity or undue influence on the community,” she said.

Following Zimmerman’s letter, the county Democratic Party put out an alert to warn the public about an escalation of language and online activity by white supremacists, which indicated potential violence at the Nevada Capitol and others on or around Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

Democrats shared the information with authorities and elected officials.

Whitmer said the alert was not meant to frighten the public but instead to ensure that people stay aware of their surroundings, avoid large groups and keep safe in general.

For Whitmer, false claims such as the one that the election was stolen only keep people divided and distrustful in government processes and systems.

“If we can’t trust in our government, then it all starts to fall apart, and that’s what we’re seeing right now,” she said.

State, federal officials respond

In addition to Horsford, Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen responded to Zimmerman’s letter Monday, saying in a letter of their own that the missive “may be inciting violence and insurrection against elected leaders.”

“In light of the events of January 6, 2021 that have resulted in the death of six people, including two U.S. Capitol Police officers, we are urging that the threats described in this letter be taken seriously. Please let us know if there is any other assistance we can provide,” the senators wrote.

Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died Thursday of injuries suffered in the Wednesday riot.

Authorities on Sunday announced the death of 51-year-old Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood. Two people familiar with the matter said the officer’s death was an apparent suicide.

Liebengood had been assigned to the Senate Division and was with the department since 2005. It was not clear whether his death was connected to Wednesday’s events.

At the start of a news conference on an unrelated subject, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Monday that the letter is “dangerous.”

“Language from party officials and community leaders that incite insurrection and violent uprisings and promote blatant falsehoods are dangerous at a time like this,” Sisolak said. “The false allegations against the integrity of the election, which lack all evidence of fraud or wrongdoing, need to end.”

And Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, said the portions of the letter that he read are full of conspiracy theories.

“I think his tin foil hat is on a little crooked,” Wheeler said of Zimmerman.

Wheeler said he doesn’t think that Zimmerman’s letter is reflective of the Republican Party at large. “I think 90 percent of the people in this party have common sense,” he said.

Specifically to Zimmerman’s claim that antifa members were in the crowd imitating Trump supporters, Wheeler said he believes the federal authorities who said that they’ve seen no evidence to support that claim.

UNLV constitutional law professor Ian Bartrum said he doesn’t think Zimmerman’s letter rises to the level of prosecution and is likely protected under the First Amendment.

“I think the bar on that is pretty high. You’ve got to be able to prove that they intended to incite violence,” Bartrum said. “While it’s ridiculous, I don’t think you can go after them for that.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Shea Johnson, Colton Lochhead and Bill Denter contributed to this story.

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