Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: Republican gubernatorial candidate Lauren Culp speaks to patrons as rain begins to pour prior to his official speech at a political rally for his campaign Sunday in Eatonville.
Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: Republican gubernatorial candidate Lauren Culp speaks to patrons as rain begins to pour prior to his official speech at a political rally for his campaign Sunday in Eatonville.

Despite Gov. Jay Inslee’s continued restrictions, hundreds gathered Sunday at an Eatonville hayfield near the Mashel River to rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp.

Pierce County entered Phase 2 of Inslee’s Safe Start plan, Friday. The new phase allows recreational gatherings of up to five people but does not make room for large political gatherings. Social distancing and masks continue to be recommended by the state and county health departments, but the majority of Sunday’s participants were not concerned with either.

The rally, which was planned prior to Phase 2, included a band, several vendors, volunteers and a handful of political candidates, none of whom could be seen wearing masks or distancing themselves from others.

Culp said he was not concerned about the health and safety precautions or the spread of COVID-19 “because the truth is coming out that it’s been hugely overblown.”

“The thing I’m more concerned about is our governor is thinking he’s all powerful,” Culp said.

Resisting government regulations he finds unconstitutional has defined Culp. He rose to fame when, as chief of police for Republic, Washington, he declined to enforce gun regulation initiative 1639, which implemented increased safety measures, waiting periods and increased age requirements for semiautomatic assault weapons. Culp is now opposing restrictions around gatherings.

“I read the First Amendment, and it says we have a right to peacefully assemble,” Culp said. “It doesn’t say unless there’s a virus. The First Amendment is enforced no matter what government says.”

Most participants of Sunday’s gathering agreed with Culp and were not bothered about potential health risks associated with the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m not concerned at all,” Diana Blackwell, a local resident and volunteer, said. “Politicians don’t think we have any common sense by ourselves. I fear we are absolutely losing our rights.”

Nate Karnes, the owner of Lumberjack Popcorn Company, a vendor at the event, agreed.

“I think we’re all adults and we don’t need Emperor Inslee to tell us what to do,” he said.

Karnes said he’s voting for Culp because of his conservative views on liberty. Karnes said he appreciates Culp’s message about the freedom to assemble, run a business and practice religion freely regardless of current events.

Local resident Tim Delong also shared Culp's sentiment about public safety.

“In the COVID thing, (the government) has overrun our rights to keep us safe,” he said.

Delong came to the rally undecided as to whom he would vote, but after listening to Culp at Sunday’s rally, he now plans to bring family and friends with him to the next Culp rally he attends.

Carl Ramsey, America’s Vision vender owner, agreed with Culp's stance on personal freedom.

“You’ve got to balance safety and freedom,” he said. “We’re killing ourselves. We’re frozen.”

Ramsey said he first heard Culp speak on Fox News after his refusal to enforce initiative 1639 and subsequent political activity garnered him an invitation to speak on the Tucker Carlson Show, Fox and Friends and other programming.

“When I heard him on Fox, I thought, ‘That’s the guy.’ He’s got the courage,” Ramsey said. “I absolutely plan to vote for him.”

Culp’s Second Amendment stance has attracted other voters as well. Parkland resident Matthew Theo sold guns for over 10 years and quit because of Initiative 1639. Theo said he was not comfortable with enforcing a law he morally opposed so Culp’s work naturally resonates with him.

“As long as he’s tried and true on our Second Amendment rights, I’m all for him,” Theo said.

Theo said he is 90 percent sure he will be voting for Culp, but he is testing the waters by attending rallies and listening to Culp closely. Theo also said he was “absolutely not” concerned about COVID-19 and does not believe any one at a Culp rally would be.

During Culp’s speech, people hollered and booed at the mention of Inslee’s handling of COVID-19.

“No one person should have the power to tell us to stay in our homes, shut down our businesses or open our businesses,” Culp said to a loud applause. “No on should have that power.”

The crowd also booed at Culp's mention of the Inslee disarming the National Guard during the recent Black Lives Matter riots. While some cheered Culp after he said he would label BLM and Antifa domestic terrorists, others cringed at the idea of labeling the ideologies.

“I have an issue with that,” resident Kelly Donovan said. “Terrorists have no rights. That means no due process. The police could pick anybody up and haul them away and do what we do to terrorists.”

Culp also advocated for increasing state conservation efforts, returning to paper ballots and “showing tough love” to drug offenders by arresting them and giving them compassion after they have served their time. Culp's speech drew loud rounds of applause from the crowd before he left to travel to Rochester for another rally that night.

Marty Miller, the owner of the hayfield, offered his field for Culp’s use in the future at his request. Culp's next local rally will be at 3 p.m. June 20 in Puyallup at the Top Gun Bar and Grill, 16807 103rd Ave. Court E.

To contact Culp, visit www.culpforgovernor.com/contact, or go to www.facebook.com/CulpforGovernor.