The Hard Right Gains Power In Enid Oklahoma

This New York Times article by Sabrina Tavernise shows how the hard right wing is organizing. The star of the story is Melissa Crabtree. The initial controversy is whether the city council of Enid Oklahoma should impose a mask mandate in the Summer of 2020, as Covid raged across the nation.

According to the article, Crabtree is the daughter of very religious parents, and is herself a deeply religious person. We get this anecdote:

Gender is blurred in ways that she said [Crabtree] believes God did not intend. She said a man in her church comes to Sunday services dressed in women’s clothing. When she was shopping this fall, a cashier at T.J. Maxx who checked her out looked like a man but, as she saw it, had feminine mannerisms.

“I wanted to shake him and say, ‘You can be the man you are!’” she said. “‘It’s OK to use your strong voice.’”

She doesn’t like teaching anything about race to kids. She doesn’t like the rising number of immigrants. She thinks these things are “pulling our Republic apart at the seams.” She home schools her four children to protect them from these cultural changes. Her oldest son went with his father to Trump’s January 6 speech. She says they didn’t participate in the insurrection.

[Crabtree’s son] graduated from high school last year but did not want to go to college and “pay $100,000 to fight indoctrination.” She said he now works at Chick-fil-A and wants to teach his peers about patriotism.

After states and cities responded to the pandemic with lockdowns, mask mandates, and other public health measures, she began to research.

The more she researched online, the more it seemed that there was something bigger going on. She said she came to the conclusion that the government was misleading Americans. For whose benefit she could not tell. Maybe drug companies. Maybe politicians. Whatever the case, it made her feel like the people in charge saw her — and the whole country of people like her — as easy to take advantage of.

When she found out that Enid was considering a mask mandate, she decided to get involved. She used Facebook.

She felt contempt radiating from the other side, a sense that those who disagreed with her felt superior and wanted to humiliate her. She said she was taken aback at how people were ridiculing her on a pro-mask group on Facebook. She said she remembers one person writing that he hoped she would get Covid and die.

She can’t believe people are mean on the internet. She thinks “fear” is at the root of the meanness. (The articles doesn’t explain what that fear is.) The theme of victimization recurs throughout the article. This is new Council Member Whitney Roberts, a California transplant who runs a photography shop in Enid:

Ms. Roberts, who is 34, said that when she came out as a Trump supporter on Facebook in 2016, “I had a lot of friends delete me, without saying anything,” behavior that she said told her that they thought they were better than her, that she was not worth bothering with. Mr. Ezzell reminded her of that, she said, doodling instead of listening to people, “not even acknowledging that they’re there.”

Crabtree reached out to like-minded friends, and then created a Facebook page for the Enid Freedom Fighters. The first big action of the group was to attend the city Council meeting to speak against the mask mandate. Tavernise gives us a flavor of the meeting:

The meeting was unlike any [Councilman Jonathan Waddel] had ever attended. One woman cried and said wearing a mask made her feel like she did when she was raped at 17. Another read the Lord’s Prayer and said the word “agenda” at the top of the meeting schedule seemed suspicious. A man quoted Patrick Henry and handed out copies of the Constitution.

“The line is being drawn, folks,” said a man in jeans and a red T-shirt. He said the people in the audience “had been shouted down for the last 20 years, and they’re finally here to draw a line, and I think they’re saying, ‘We’ve had enough.’”

The mask mandate failed. Council members who supported it were shunned at Church, lost friends, and faced low-level threats. They lost their reelection bids. Former council member Waddell is thinking about leaving Oklahoma. The Enid Freedom Fighters have elected four people to the School Board, and put four people on the library board after a display of LGBTQ books during Pride Month.

The religious side of this story begins with Crabtree’s faith, but there’s more. She attends a Church led by Wade Burleson. Burleson

… whose church, Emmanuel Enid, is the largest in town. Enid has a substantial upper middle class, with large homes and a gated community near a country club and a golf course, and many of those families are part of the church’s 3,000-strong congregation,

Burleson is a supporter of an anti-vaxx doctor. (This link is amazing.)

Mr. Burleson used apocalyptic language, invoking Nazi doctors as a specter of where mask and vaccine mandates could end up. Mandates, he argues, are the first steps toward complete government control, and he feels called to warn people.

Burleson invited the right-winger Charlie Kirk who is touring churches around the country.

“They want to crush you,” Mr. Kirk said at an evening talk at Emmanuel Enid, referring to an unspecified “metropolitan elite,” and to government leaders, including Republicans. “They call you the smelly Walmart people. They do. You should hear the way your leaders talk about you. They have contempt for you. They want to try to turn Oklahoma into nothing more than a producing colony for the rest of the country.”


1. Tavernise frames this story in standard liberal dressing. She quotes social scientists saying thing like: people whose identity is threatened feel threatened and react forcefully. She says this is a story of two groups of people who both want what’s best for Enid.

That’s not what this is. Crabtree and her group follow standard right-wing Republican tactics: they go to meetings and scream at officials. They rile people up leading to low-level but deniable violence aimed at their opponents. It isn’t about being heard. It’s about bludgeoning officials into doing what the screamers want.

Tavernise doesn’t push on obvious questions. If Crabtree feels threatened, what exactly is she afraid of? Is it some kid at a TJ Maxx, or a guy in a dress at her Church? If so, what does she think should be done, exactly? How would she use the government to force that kid to talk like Johnny Cash? What is her vision for Enid? Are the Enid Freedom Fighters fighting for the freedom of anyone besides themselves?

2. The argument that opponents act superior is preached by the likes of the scold David Brooks in The Atlantic. See this post.

Democracy is founded on the willingness of all of us to listen respectfully to the arguments of others. I’d be delighted to hear how I can politely discuss the claim that Covid is a hoax designed to enable some unknown persons to exert control over other people for some unknown reason, or the claim that vaccines kill people.

3. At the end of the article, Tavernise quotes Crabtree:

““There are a whole bunch of people who are realizing, oh, apathy didn’t serve us well. Look at where we are. I think we better wake up and get involved. I think people are waking up.”

We’d better wake up to what the anti-democracy forces are doing. And by “we” I mean Democratic Party Politicians: their indifference to anyone except consultants and donors, and their happy decades-old memories of a vanishing US democracy, have put them soundly to sleep.

31 replies
  1. ducktree says:


    While I always greatly appreciate your analysis and synthesis of your readings, I must take exception to your cheap shot at “talking like Johnny Cash”.

    Considering his iconic hit, he delivered a very important message that was long overdue. It kept me centered growing up.


    • RMD says:

      come on.
      the reference to talking like Johnny Cash was a reference to the directive

      “‘It’s OK to use your strong voice.’”

    • Ed Walker says:

      I certainly wasn’t taking a shot at Johnny Cash. He has a great voice, deep and rich and powerful and I love his songs. I could have used Samuel Ramey, but I didn’t think anyone would get the reference.

      • Dopeyo says:

        In the 60s, Dylan said Cash’s voice sounded like it came straight up from deep under the Arkansas soil.

  2. Eureka says:

    To “do your own research” is non-trivially solipsistic and thus alienating by definition. (True regardless of topic or intentions/identity of the researcher.) The internet just creates a much larger space/wider opportunity net for that alienation to land in some soft social spot (say, with scientists on one hand for some folks or wellness influencers on another hand for others, x combos) which can then be enacted with live, co-present humans. Dunno the demographics of Enid but all of that internet research can help bring the fear of vanishing whiteness (etc.) to places where it might not “have happened” “yet”, and self-styled researchers can spread the message face-to-face to the less-plugged-in.

    See here (& scroll up to starting point) for part of the context I’m coming from wrt such organizing you excerpt and (in my observations) its association with and roles in the new Trumpist violent extremism, as I just (re-) used a similar example re locales studded with anti-safer-COVID activism and (violent) insurrectionists, which also follows the Orban/Hungary model of spreading fascism first from areas more rural into urban centers:

  3. Leoghann says:

    I fully agree that Democrats need to get their heads out of their (and Nancy Pelosi’s) posteriors, especially considering the possible ramifications of the elections this year and 2024. But I believe Enid, Oklahoma, to be a weak example. The Democrats in north central Oklahoma could spring to a degree of activism that would make a Black Lives Matter protest look like an installment of Sesame Street, and it might net them 20 additional votes. There are some areas that have been extremely right wing for decades, and that’s one of them. As well, right-wing people move from liberal areas to right-wing, more rural communities, like Crabtree’s ex-California photographer friend.

    Years of living in the midst of a hopeless cause can make party members hopeless. Trying to enthusiastically support a slate of barely-qualified, inexperienced candidates, or argue issues with a general public who is already convinced by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, or Greg Abbott, or Charlie Kirk, can be soul-wrenching. I’ve found it works much better to direct people who want to be active to organizers of multi-state efforts. E.g.: in 2008, rather than knocking on doors for our county party’s slate of only three candidates (out of 12 offices), I made calls for Obama in swing states. In December 2020, I did my part to elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (the Texas accent helped). Party workers stay enthusiastic when they see the effects of their work.

    Tavernise’s piece also failed to identify a major factor in the changes people are seeing in Enid, as well as many other small cities and rural counties. It isn’t just that some big, evangelical or prosperity-gospel church is throwing its weight around. That’s been happening everywhere for two or three decades. What’s different now is the power of Q. Melissa Crabtree may have been too savvy to admit it during interviews, but many of her talking points are pulled directly from Qanon groups. Although some people are addicted to conspiracy theories and adopt them one after another after another, I believe that the draw of Qanon and its strong political influence will begin waning soon. In a short enough time, the “regular” conservatives of Enid and all the other small cities in Oklahoma, Kansas, the Dakotas, Idaho, will be able to have their town back. That’s the cyclical nature of things.

    What’s incumbent on all of us is to make sure that democracy survives long enough for another of those inevitable cycles.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Your point that the normal Republicans will get their party back is maybe a bit more optimistic than I feel right now. The hard right seems to be driving the train in Enid, and as they listen to the rabble-rousers, people like Burleson and Kirk, it’s only going to get worse. The Q influence will, I hope, die of its own insanity, but Burleson is an authority figure in that community, and he vouches for the anti-vax guy and Kirk, giving them the sheen of his authority.

      Still, I hope you are right.

    • Alan Charbonneau says:

      I used to travel to Enid for business. It’s a great city to see in your rear view mirror.

  4. joel fisher says:

    “Democracy is founded on the willingness of all of us to listen respectfully to the arguments of others. I’d be delighted to hear how I can politely discuss the claim that Covid is a hoax designed to enable some unknown persons to exert control over other people for some unknown reason, or the claim that vaccines kill people.”

    Bless you Ed Walker; bless you.

    • Troutwaxer says:

      For someone who’s got a Masters in Public Health or something similar, Melissa Crabtree talking about masks, vaccines or COVID must sound like “‘science-word,’ ‘unrelated science-word,’ 2 + 2 = 5, ‘utter misunderstanding of statistics,’ ‘unrelated science-word,’ followed by ‘conclusion so awful it’s not ever wrong.'”

      • Leoghann says:

        You see it all the time in the Bible belt. “Well, yes, I learned all that in school. But mah faythe in Jaeez-huss!! . . . ” Never underestimate the power of a Southern Baptist minister doing exhortations from the pulpit. (That’s POOOL-pitt.)

    • OldTulsaDude says:

      Tolerance of opposing ideas is antithesis of religious belief. The dogma of the Enid faithful requires inviolate belief in “the way”. In those people, belief and ego are inseparable. The only point of attack is to separate church from GOP.

  5. Bobster33 says:

    The press is trying to drum up the idea that we are in a civil war, north against south, Republican vs. Democrat, etc.The civil war is between pre-rational and rational. Pre-rational never progressed beyond their teenage years. Some call them stupid, some call them authoritarian, and famous psychologists/researchers (Maslow, Beck, Wilber) call them 4th order. Pre-rational people have two fundamental weaknesses. The first is that they cannot solve problems rationally because they never developed a rational skill set. Pre-rational people solve problems by reviewing history OR by following the most confident carnival barker that reinforces their fears.

    Pre-rational are the people who say things like, “I don’t want to think. Just tell me what to do.” A larger percentage go to church and will believe the most ridiculous ideas (because they were presented by a confident carnival barker that reinforced their fears). The way for Biden to beat them is to just tell them what to do. Biden should say (like George Bush), “I am the decider. And here is my decision.” Mandates work.

    Churches, police, fire, military are all examples of organizations filled almost completely with pre-rational people. Rational people are appalled and confused that pre-rational people cannot think for themselves. And rational people think that rationally explaining things to pre-rational people will eventually convince them.

    The reason we have tRump is that he projects the most confidence of ANY candidate. Pre-rational people cannot see beyond the veneer. Rational people see tRump and do an extra step. Instead of believing tRump, they rationally review his past experience.

    • Troutwaxer says:

      “I am the decider. And here is my decision.”

      Exactly. Biden should declare a state of emergency, mandate vaccines for everyone, and arrest the next judge who rules against his public health mandates. (And maybe arrest a few governors for some kind of public-health crime.)

      I’m just so tired of this, and I’m trying very hard not to be pleased at how convenient it is that my political opponents are auto-darwinating… I don’t want to be that guy, but the Melissa Crabtrees of the world are making it very hard not to to cheer every time one of these assholes goes down with COVID.

  6. Troutwaxer says:

    ~checks watch~ Cue Melissa Crabtree or a family member dying of COVID in 4, 3, 2, 1… ~sighs, shakes head~

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Tavernise, like her paper, ignores that victimology is an essential part of the right wing attack on democracy. The right pursues it relentlessly, as an act of faith and precondition for other objectives. Appeasing it will create a downward spiral. As Gingrich did with Democrats in the 1990s, this victimology demonizes any election result but a Republican win, while legitimizing any effort to obtain it. Victimology creates the illusion that the right is in a battle for physical survival: it shuts off critical thinking and reduces the world to fight-or-flight. The right is creating a Lord of the Flies moment: norms are self-destructive and all rules are expendable.

    • Ruthie says:

      Bart Gellman, on Chris Hayes’ podcast, said he had an uncomfortable realization with respect to his role and responsibilities as a journalist; as he put it, journalists have a couple of obligations that supersede the need for “objectivity “, one being to accept and acknowledge that there are some absolute truths, and the other that it’s ok to be in favor of democracy. Few newspapers / journalists are anywhere near acknowledging that explicitly.

        • Ruthie says:

          I think it was Gellman who likened the treatment by most outlets as “shenanigans”, or something to that effect, rather than the red alert situation he considers it to be. His description of the situation rings true to me, at least.

      • Rayne says:

        This is one of the points which bothered me about Jonathan Karl’s book Betrayal. He makes a point early in the text of accusing journalists of acting like opposition party members but journalists in a democracy which rely on free speech to do their work ARE partisans. They are pro-democracy, anti-fascists, or they are fascist propagandists.

        “But the first obligation of a journalist is to pursue truth and accuracy,” Karl wrote. How do journalists fulfill that obligation when a fascist regime relies on the upending of truth to ensure its narrative is the only narrative? How is reporting verbatim, committing stenography for the regime, pursuit of truth even if the Is are dotted and Ts crossed for accuracy?

        Pick a side — journalists are partisans whether they like it or not. The parties just aren’t as clearly delineated as Democrats or Republicans.

    • Artemesia says:

      I taught political science/American Gov to college freshman nearly 50 years ago and well remember the two fundamentalist roommates having a crisis of faith because they had slight doctrinal differences and each thought the other was going to hell. It had something to do with being washed in the blood of the lamb — and I who was raised in a Baptist Church was still befuddled by the nature of the conflict. They were hysterical about it. But one thing that united them was the belief that any criticism of any idea they had was ‘persecuting’ — We were not discussing religion in class although we did deal with the religious protections in the first amendment and they were both upset by the ‘persecuting statements ‘ made by their fellows — most of whom were pretty conservative. The need in a nation where about 80% of the citizenry identifies as Christian, to still believe one is a persecuted minority is strong.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Democratic Party elites seem to prefer a simpler time, when hobnobbing with wealth elites and their lobbyists generated the cash and electoral support they needed to keep the game going. They seem to have long ignored the little people who actually vote and depend on government to do what they and local and state governments cannot or refuse to do.

    The GOP, on the other hand, has been relentless at local organizing. Karl Rove’s organization of the local judiciary in Alabama is a stellar example, one that has become a national template. Rove succeeded decades ago in creating a monolithic right wing judiciary in Alabama, which buttressed a hard right wing legislative majority. One of the key objectives was so-called tort reform, which closed the courthouse door to many claimants and defunded the plaintiffs’ bar, a key source of support and income for Democrats.

    Republicans have moved on. Wresting control from Democrats is only a start. They are now a fully-fledged anti-democracy efforts. Gerrymandering, voter suppression persist, but the goals has moved on to explicitly disrupting the management and administration of voting and the vote count.

  9. mospeck says:

    “..wake up to what the anti-democracy forces are doing. And by “we” I mean Democratic Party Politicians: their indifference to anyone except consultants and donors, and their happy decades-old memories of a vanishing US democracy..”
    Ed, it’s a worry for sure, but WaPo just said Kazakhistan has now been stabilized, thank God. But then the EBS hit and I got real worried that it was maybe the time that the Man comes around. But thanks to Mother Russia the rule of law has been reestablished.
    Was all just a test of the emergency broadcast system. If this had been an actual emergency, you would have been instructed where to tune in your area to news and official information.

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