We, the People…

Down With “The Wicked Tyrants!” Rallying to the Call of a Wisconsin Pastor, Michigan County Commissioners Declare Themselves a “Constitutional County”

In late spring, taking its cue from the writings and speeches of a Wisconsin pastor who formed an anti-abortion militia in the 1990s and has lately promoted the ideas of John Calvin who urged Protestant pastors to resist political tyranny, a Michigan county has declared itself a “constitutional county.”

By so doing, Ottawa County declares that it will uphold only the rights expressly established by the U.S. Constitution and the Michigan Constitution, and urged law enforcement and the judiciary to disregard any state and federal laws they deem unconstitutional.

The Board of Commissioners, all but one of whom were newly elected and took office on January on a platform of restoring Judeo-Christian values and fighting tyranny, injustice and government overreach, voted 9-1 in favor of the resolution. The vote, which followed six hours of public comment—the speakers by a 3-2 ratio begging the Board to vote against the measure—came after midnight, the lone dissenting vote by the one Democrat on the Board.

The new commissioners have asserted their Christian faith and their commitment to the idea that American has been blessed by God.

“We wish to highlight freedoms and constitutional rights which have been violated over the past few years as well as those currently at risk due to societal and political pressures,” said Ottawa County vice chair, Sylvia Rhodea, whose website asserts “No woke indoctrination” and promises to “defend against divisive teachings and policies in county government.” 

Among those divisive policies was a “required affirmation of a Marxist DEI value system for some county positions,” which she said conflicts with her religious beliefs. (DEI is an acronym for “diversity, equity and inclusion,” an organizational framework that promotes full participation of people or groups that have historically been underrepresented.) She also noted individual freedoms that were “repeatedly violated” during the coronavirus pandemic.

The tipping point for the new commissioners came after county and state health departments shut down a Christian school after non-compliance with the 2020 mask mandate resulted in an outbreak of the coronavirus at the school. With the backing of a new organization, Ottawa Impact, the group unseated eight of the nine incumbent Republican county commissioners to gain a super-majority of the 11-member board. The three remaining incumbents did not attend the public meeting.

Roger Bergman, the one remaining Republican incumbent commented, “They are about this far-right agenda of ‘We’re going to do things their way,’ and by the way, ‘we’re going to use Scripture to get there.’” He was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

According to Religion News Service Senior Editor Yonat Shimron, Ottawa County—rooted in a long Calvinist heritage dating back to its original Dutch settlers—has in recent times been “consumed by a more muscular form of evangelical Christianity. . .sometimes called Christian nationalism [which] maintains that preserving a Christian America may require overturning laws.”

Hundreds of Ottawa residents crammed the commissioners’ public hearing on the matter, many expressing horror and shock at the Board’s actions. One—a Michigan State University student who survived a February mass shooting that resulted in the deaths of three fellow students—begged the commissioners not to disregard the state’s new gun safety laws.

The pastor upon whose writings the Board’s resolution is based is Matt Trewhella of Brookfield, Wisconsin. Joe Moss the Board’s new chairman, and Rhodea, the vicechair, have both endorsed Trewhella and his writings, even making a YouTube video to promote his ideas.

“Understand, the wicked tyrants always count on the blithe compliance of the lesser authorities in order to get their evil down in the fabric of society,” Trewhella said at an Ottawa County GOP fundraiser this May, where his book was on sale. “The interposition of the lesser authorities is massively important to stop evil in a nation.

The hats worn by county commissioners are generally supervisory—plowing the roads, park maintenance, license issuances, health and safety. Constitutional discourse and enforcement of religious beliefs is not in their job description. Hence a resolution such as this and a similar one passed by another Michigan County—Livingston—earlier this year, have no real enforcement value.

“They’re assertions of ideological spleen,” said Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s a way for the counties to signal that they are unhappy with the direction the state is going. But legally the declarations are meaningless.”

Or as David Barosky, a retired pipeline surveyor and founder of the Ottawa Objects Facebook group—whose stated objective is, “to defeat Ottawa Impact and fascism in Ottawa County”—said, “They think they know everything. They’re not even close.”