Every time Toledo City Councilor Bill Dalbey drives down US Highway 20, which winds through the tiny wooden town he calls Hometown and stretches all the way to Newport, Oregon, 7 miles west, he remembers it the hornet’s nest that he knocked over.
That stretch of the freeway that leads into Toledo, as well as shops along the city’s main drag, is littered with more than a dozen Timber Unity signs, Dalbey says. But it is not the signs themselves that disturb Dalbey. It’s what he thinks they symbolize: right-wing extremism.
“It’s a black eye for the city of Toledo to have 15 goddamn 4 by 8 foot signs in this city promoting an organization with these associations,” Dalbey said during a meeting of Toledo City Council on Jan. 27. “I would think anyone venturing into our town would assume that this town is literally owned by Timber Unity.”
A meeting of the Toledo City Council is usually not of national interest. The lumberjack town of around 3,500 people on the Yaquina River is perhaps best known for its wooden boat show, which takes place every summer.
But last week’s hearing drew testimony from across Oregon.
That’s because 70-year-old Dalbey turned it into a referendum on one of the fastest growing activist movements in the state, and whether it enabled the same anti-democratic mindset that led a lot of Trump loyalists to the U.S. Capitol stormed 6 in a failed riot. The conversation in the tiny town of Lincoln County was a rare example of people on either side of a festering argument sitting in the same room together to talk. And while this dialogue nominally concerned the character of a local political movement, it highlighted the rift that divides the country.
Dalbey looked at Timber Unity – a conservative protest group that regularly gathers at the Oregon Capitol to support loggers and truckers – and saw the seeds of local extremism. WW reported this Your spokeswoman Angelita Sanchez took part in the uprising of the US Capitol. It was streamed live from the State Capitol in Salem on December 21 when Conservative protesters broke into the building.
Last month, Dalbey began circulating a letter calling Timber Unity a “magnet for fringe groups” like QAnon, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
In Toledo, where Mayor Timber Unity once gave a key to the city, it didn’t go down well, according to the group’s founder, Jeff Leavy.
“I honestly think this was a colossal waste of time,” said Toledo Councilor Heather Jukich towards the end of the two-hour meeting. “Honestly, I’m disappointed with Bill for upsetting so many people about it, and we all have to come here and get upset and angry, and that’s what upsets me.” (She later apologized for calling the forum a waste of time.)
Dalbey disagrees. He says that the group at least tolerates racism on their Facebook page and that they don’t really represent his hometown.
“Domestic terrorism is currently the greatest threat to our country, as confirmed by everyone at the federal level,” Dalbey told WW. “You have to act in your local sphere of influence. And I looked around and saw all that Timber Unity stuff and researched it. I understood that they are linked to some really bad actors and I had to protest.”
Timber Unity was founded in 2019 in direct response to House Bill 2020, the unsuccessful law to reduce carbon emissions commonly known as “Cap and Trade”. The group that says it’s a non-partisan grassroots organization representing working lumberjacks and truckers in Oregon created the populist wave behind the republican strikes that brought legislation to a standstill in 2019 and 2020.
There’s money for candidates too: at least $ 78,000 since its inception, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s website. The vast majority of Timber Unity’s donations were made to Republicans, including recent contributions to Clackamas County Commissioners Tootie Smith and Mark Shull and a $ 45,000 contribution to Oregon Secretary of State Senator Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer).
“Through its online presence and in-person events, Timber Unity attracts people with white nationalist and paramilitary views,” said Lindsay Schubiner, program director at the Western States Center, which tracks extremism in the Pacific Northwest.
Former MP Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), a key organizer of Timber Unity, says the group “absolutely” condemns white supremacy and that it is a bipartisan organization with no links to the far right.
“We’d like to have more Democratic lawmakers and county officials, especially in the urban core, willing to step out of their bubbles to really understand who members of Timber Unity are,” Parrish told WW. “Our members, our board of directors and our families are diverse because raw material workers come from all races and races. I would never personally dedicate my time to a group that supports racism.”
Several members of Timber Unity, including Sanchez and Leavy, testified during the Toledo City Council meeting on Jan. 27. Peggi Rush, moderator of the 64,000-member group’s Facebook page, found the group receives 25 to 50 requests from members every day: “We have to do something right,” she says.
Toledo Councilor Betty Kamikawa, a Democrat who advocated Timber Unity during her run for Lincoln County’s Commissioner, suggested that any Facebook page with that many members would post inappropriate comments on any Facebook page with that many members.
“As with any other organization, you can always get a sucker in a punch bowl. You can’t throw them all out. It’s just the way it is,” Kamikawa said during the meeting.
Others found it puzzling that Dalbey would try to separate a lumberjack town from a group that advocated wood interests.
Logging and trucking are the city’s economic lifeblood: Hundreds of people in Toledo work for Koch Industries’ Georgian-Pacific milling and recycling facility, which contributed over $ 55,000 to the campaigns of eleven Oregon state senators in 2019 left the Capitol.
“I have to shake my head a bit here. I had three citizens tonight who called me racists for the sign on the side of my building,” said Charlie Cyphert during the council meeting. “This is a wooden city.”
Cyphert owns the Timbers Restaurant & Lounge in Toledo – where legend has it that a tipsy Paul Newman saw the legs off a pool table once in town to make the movie Sometimes a Great Idea. Cyphert says he posted two Timber Unity signs on the building.
In an interview with WW, Cyphert said he bought the restaurant in September 2020 and the signs were already on the building. He and his wife decided to keep it up.
“Every lumberjack, fisherman, road builder, stone hauler – everyone comes through this restaurant,” says Cyphert WW. “For God’s sake our name is Timbers Restaurant & Lounge. We have part of the Timber Unity name in the name of our restaurant. We don’t get advice when lumberjacks come in with work boots pulling mud and scratches in. We say,” Hey guys, you just came out of the forest, you must be cold. Here’s your cup of coffee. “We’re here for you.”
If he were presented with solid evidence that Timber Unity is linked to white supremacy and extremism, he’d be happy to take the signs off, says Cyphert. But now they stay. Cyphert says he has had “a barrage of support” since the city council meeting, and since then, more people in the city have posted Timber Unity signs.
Dalbey doesn’t regret creating the excitement.
“I see that my members of my community are being betrayed by it. They drank the Kool-Aid that Timber Unity is good for them,” Dalbey told WW. “It’s a microcosm of the whole country. It’s the same phenomenon at the local level: the misdirection and outright lies that people have fed to make them believe they are part of a grassroots movement.”