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Teens in Moscow, Idaho, Face 13 Criminal Charges for Posting Protest Stickers Opposing Mask Mandates

Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska/Unsplash
Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska/Unsplash

The small town of Moscow, Idaho is continuing to live up to its name.

This latest dust-up — the second in less than a year — centers on 18-year-old Rory Wilson, a college-aged student whose educational aspirations were sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in him enrolling in classes at the close-to-home New St. Andrews College.

Rory Wilson and his 14-year-old brother are now facing 13 criminal misdemeanors — charges that flow from an ordinance that has reportedly never been used to prosecute anyone in the city.

The teenagers’ dad, Nate Wilson, who is also facing a charge for “aiding and abetting” his kids, told Faithwire over the phone Tuesday he believes there’s “no way” the trumped up charges are anything more than, as he put it, “[The city attorneys] want to get a Wilson trophy. They want to bag themselves a Wilson.”

What’s the background?

Rory Wilson, the valedictorian of his graduating class, was walking across campus last semester when police officers pulled him aside and allegedly threatened him with jail time for standing too close to his cousin, according to a press release published Monday.

That encounter with police sparked within Rory Wilson an opposition to the ongoing mask mandate in Moscow, an order the mayor, Bill Lambert, has indefinitely extended using his emergency powers. Rory Wilson has asked the city council to allow the mandate — and its criminal enforcement — to sunset, or “set clear limits” on what legally constitutes an “emergency,” noting allowing Lambert to take unilateral action without any check results in “no objectivity.”

It wasn’t long after Rory Wilson voiced his concerns at a city council meeting that hundreds of protesters, as Faithwire reported last September, gathered in the city hall parking lot to object to government overreach. Many of the participants, led by Gabriel Rench, who was, at the time, running as a Republican for county commissioner, began singing Psalms.

Police arrested Gabriel Rench and two others, accusing them of failing to follow social distancing guidelines and violating the city’s mask mandate — which includes religious exemptions. Those charges were later dropped by the city.

“It was an entirely peaceful and lawful protest, and the escalation to arrests was outrageous,” Rory Wilson recalled of the demonstration. “I’m only 18, so I haven’t seen much. But one year ago, I never would have guessed that I would live to see Americans being arrested while worshipping in public, let alone in my own hometown before I even managed to get off to college.”

What happened next?

Like Rory Wilson, Aaron Rench — Gabriel Rench’s brother — was outraged, too.

“Those arrests really pushed me over the brink,” he said. “Watching my brother being cuffed at a Psalm sing was rough. It’s still hard for me to comprehend that our local police department would do something so clearly unconstitutional and illegal, no matter how much the city council wanted them to.”

So Aaron Rench, a literary agent and film producer, and his business partner, Nate Wilson, who is an author, tossed around the idea of a lawsuit against the city, but, ultimately, decided on something “more low-key,” as Nate Wilson described it.

The duo’s company, Gorilla Poet Productions, created protest stickers, some of which read, “Soviet Moscow,” while others bore the city’s official mask mandate motto: “Soviet Moscow — Enforced Because We Care.”

Nate Wilson explained to Faithwire that he printed 650 of the vinyl stickers, which are designed for outdoor use and can be easily removed. He said he and Aaron Rench handed many of them out to people who then put them on their water bottles and vehicles.

While Nate Wilson made clear he opposes the mask mandate, which he described as “draconian,” he explained he takes greater issue with the “wildly thin-skinned” nature of government leaders willing to step on the constitutional rights of citizens, including those of his two sons, referring specifically to their right to peacefully protest laws, mandates, and ordinances.

“My sons decided they would extend the peaceful protest,” the dad said, referring to the night his 18- and 14-year-old sons were placing stickers on poles around Moscow.

He went on to explain that police received a tip about the two boys and decided to stop the teenagers. Nate Wilson said neither of his kids ran away from the officers, who asked Rory Wilson to show them his I.D. In response, he explained to the cops that Idaho is not a state in which citizens suspected of crimes are required to identify themselves.

“It annoyed the officer, and so he cuffed [Rory] and put him on the sidewalk at that point,” said Nate Wilson. “[The officer] did not Mirandize him. They arrested him and began to interrogate him without any Miranda rights or anything else. They took his minor brother away from him, separated them, arrested him without Mirandizing him, [and] put him on the hood of a cop car and interrogated him.”

“Neither of them were free to leave,” he continued. “Both of them were in custody at that point. And the whole thing was handled illegally.”

Ultimately, Nate Wilson, who had been asleep, was called to the scene, where he picked up his sons and took them home. The officers didn’t write up citations for the boys, whose treatment by the cops can’t be proven because — as their father put it — the dash-cam and body-cam footage has “magically disappeared.”

A few days after the incident, which the Wilsons thought was over, Moscow City Attorney Liz Warner, whom Nate Wilson described as “very hostile toward conservative Christians,” informed the Moscow Police Department she wanted charges brought against the boys and their dad.

Each of the 13 misdemeanors brought against Rory Wilson, who would be tried as an adult, carries with it a maximum sentence of up to six months in prison. The younger son would be tried as a juvenile.

“Honestly, they’re burning so much money,” Nate Wilson said. “I don’t know if there’s just not enough crime right now because of COVID. They’ve got nothing better to do than this? It’s kind of ridiculous.”

He may, though, know the answer. Nate Wilson made the case that the city has long had a vendetta against him and his family — a possibility made obvious, in his eyes, by the “stretch” to charge him alongside his sons.

“I think they are as closed off in their little universe as they could be,” he said. “So I’m sure they believe all sorts of weird things about my family and my church. … They really think that we’re just that horrible for society. You know, conservative Christians are just a real plague that have to be removed. That’s why, I think, they’re trying to leverage this into stretching after me.”

Now what?

While the case is working its way through the legal system, Nate Wilson is encouraging Christians and conservatives around the country to stand up to “jackbooted enforcement” of orders and mandates he argues are in direct violation of Americans’ constitutionally protected rights.

“This isn’t about mask science or mask efficacy,” he said. “This is about the Constitution and the arrests and police enforcement that shoots first and asks questions later, or cuffs kids first and then decides later on, ‘We did that because we found an ordinance that none of us knew about.’”

The author went on to urge believers to seek out churches meeting in-person — even, and maybe especially, if they are doing so against government edicts, “because this is a constitutional right, and, if you give it up, you’re not gonna get it back.”

Nate Wilson also called on Christians to “stop having knee-jerk loyalties” on certain issues, like support for the police.

He explained that police abuse “is a real thing.” And, although Nate Wilson is “grateful for police forces,” “believe[s] in the rule of law,” and has no desire to “defund the police,” he isn’t going to blindly “back the blue,” he said.

“I’m not gonna pick my side and just cheer like a football fan,” he explained. “That’s foolish. We have to be critical thinkers and we have to react with wisdom to every different situation. And the best thing and the nicest thing we can do for good cops is to not support bad cops.”

“But we do want to be pro-police and respectful of police when they are acting lawfully,” Nate Wilson added.

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