Oct. 10, 2008 PALMER, Alaska — | On the afternoon of Sept. 24 in downtown Palmer, Alaska, as the sun began to sink behind the snowcapped mountains that flank the picturesque Mat-Su Valley, 51-year-old Mark Chryson sat for an hour on a park bench, reveling in tales of his days as chairman of the Alaska Independence Party. The stocky, gray-haired computer technician waxed nostalgic about quixotic battles to eliminate taxes, support the “traditional family” and secede from the United States.
Though Chryson belongs to a fringe political party, one that advocates the secession of Alaska from the Union, and that organizes with other like-minded secessionist movements from Canada to the Deep South, he is not without peculiar influence in state politics, especially the rise of Sarah Palin. An obscure figure outside of Alaska, Chryson has been a political fixture in the hometown of the Republican vice-presidential nominee for over a decade. During the 1990s, when Chryson directed the AIP, he and another radical right-winger, Steve Stoll, played a quiet but pivotal role in electing Palin as mayor of Wasilla and shaping her political agenda afterward. Both Stoll and Chryson not only contributed to Palin’s campaign financially, they played major behind-the-scenes roles in the Palin camp before, during and after her victory.
The AIP was born of the vision of “Old Joe” Vogler, a hard-bitten former gold miner who hated the government of the United States almost as much as he hated wolves and environmentalists.
Let me try to condense this part a bit, kids. Old Joe ran for governor unsuccessfully in 1982 and again in 1986. AIP’s became more powerful when Old Joe convinced Republican Walter “Wally” Hickel to run for governor of Alaska under the AIP banner. Hickel was previously the second governor from 1966-69 and then Richard Nixon’s Secretary of the Interior. Jack Coghill, an archconservative Rethug/AIP member, was elected lieutenant governor.
Hickel wouldn’t call for a vote on Alaskan independence, which made Old Joe a bit pissy. Sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran, he was going to bring his case for secession before the United Nations General Assembly. That was made impossible when Old Joe was murdered by another secessionist. Then again, let’s not call it murder. Old Joe was helped to secede from life.
After Old Joe’s secession from breathing, Hickel went back to being a Rethug. Coghill ran as the AIP candidate for governor and lost. The Rethuglican candidate, Jim Campbell, lost enough votes to Coghill to lose the whole ball of wax to Democrat Tony Knowles.
Despite the disaster, Coghill hung on as AIP chairman for three more years. When he was asked to resign in 1997, Mark Chryson replaced him. Chryson pursued a dual policy of cozying up to secessionist and right-wing groups in Alaska and elsewhere while also attempting to replicate the AIP’s success with Hickel in infiltrating the mainstream.
Instead of acting like a crazy lunatic poopyhead like Old Joe, Chryson presents himself as a typical Alaskan, focusing on guns and property rights. Under him, the AIP’s platform was shortened. It emphasized what the members call traditional family values. Of course, that means they are against gay marriage. They no longer call for secession. Instead, they insist on a vote for independence. The party is linked to other independence movements, as well as the Constitution Party, whose platform reads:
It is our goal to limit the federal government to its delegated, enumerated, Constitutional functions and to restore American jurisprudence to its original Biblical common-law foundations.
The AIP is also (that also was borrowed from Princess Sarah, by the way, as was this wink–> ) aligned with white supremacists and neo-Confederate organizations.
In Wasilla, the AIP became powerful by proxy — because of Chryson and Steve Stoll’s alliance with Sarah Palin. [Stoll is a John Birch Society activist known in the Mat-Su Valley as “Black Helicopter Steve".] Chryson and Stoll had found themselves in constant opposition to policies of Wasilla’s Democratic mayor [John Stein], who started his three-term, nine-year tenure in 1987. By 1992, Chryson and Stoll had begun convening regular protests outside City Council. Their demonstrations invariably involved grievances against any and all forms of “socialist government,” from city planning to public education. Stoll shared Chryson’s conspiratorial views: “The rumor was that he had wrapped his guns in plastic and buried them in his yard so he could get them after the New World Order took over,” Stein told a reporter.
Chryson did not trust Palin when she joined the City Council in 1992.
Palin was well aware of Chryson’s views. “She knew my beliefs,” Chryson said. “The entire state knew my beliefs. I wasn’t afraid of being on the news, on camera speaking my views.”
After intense evangelizing by Chryson and his allies, they claimed Palin as a convert. “When she started taking her job seriously,” Chryson said, “the people who put her in as the rubber stamp found out the hard way that she was not going to go their way.” In 1994, Sarah Palin attended the AIP’s statewide convention. In 1995, her husband, Todd, changed his voter registration to AIP. Except for an interruption of a few months, he would remain registered was an AIP member until 2002, when he changed his registration to undeclared.
Okay, where were we? This is so long, I had to go pee. Let’s see. Okie dokie, kids, set your time machines to 1996. Princess Sarah has decided to run for mayor of Wasilla as a Rethug against John Stein, the incumbent and also a Rethuglican, though the mayor’s office is supposed to be non-partisan. Chryson and Stoll figured they could push their own political ambitions if Princess was in the mayor’s office. They convinced Princess to run a nasty campaign filled with attacks on Stein’s character (sound familiar?). There were mailers sent throughout Wasilla portraying Princess as “the Christian candidate,” even though Stein was Christian, too. There were whispers that he was really Jewish (I guess he didn’t have a tanning bed in his house, so they couldn’t suggest that he’s black)! Meanwhile, Princess pushed her opposition to sales taxes and gun control, two of the AIP’s big no-nos.
When Princess won, it was time to pay back those guys she was pallin’ around with, and during her very first City Council meeting as mayor, she tried to appoint Stoll to one of the two vacanies on the council. Councilman Nick Carney had the deciding vote and blocked the appointment. He had had run-ins with Stoll before. Princess was going to get a lawyer to find another way of putting Stoll on the council, but she was forced to back down and pick someone else.
Well, Stoll figured that, if Princess would go so far as to try to appoint him to the City Council, then she must be willing to do some other favors for him. He demanded she fire John Cooper, Wasilla’s museum director, because of some personal vendetta. Princess eliminated the position.
The next year, Councilman Carney proposed a gun-control measure that would have prohibited residents from carrying guns into school, hospitals, government office, playgrounds, schools, and bars. Princess and Chryson conspired to kill the measure. Chryson and seven cronies stormed the council meeting, even though council rules prohibited ad-hoc hearings. Princess insisted Chryson be allowed to testify. The proposal died. Carney said that the plan was cooked up by Princess and Steve Stoll.
Chryson says that he and Princess worked together to cut property taxes and block a state proposal that would have used money from the Permanent Fund Dividend for public programs instead of the money going directly to Alaskans. In addition, Princess endorsed Chryson’s unsuccessful attempt to move the state Legisalature from Juneau to Wasilla, and supported his stand to change the state Constitution so that cities could not impose any gun restrictions and would better facilitate the formation of anti-government militias.
“With Sarah as a mayor,” said Chryson, “there were a number of times when I just showed up at City Hall and said, ‘Hey, Sarah, we need help.’ I think there was only one time when I wasn’t able to talk to her and that was because she was in a meeting.”
Chryson says the door remains open now that Palin is governor. (Palin’s office did not respond to Salon’s request for an interview.) While Palin has been more circumspect in her dealings with groups like the AIP as she has risen through the political ranks, she has stayed in touch.
When Palin ran for governor in 2006, marketing herself as a fresh-faced reformer determined to crush the GOP’s ossified power structure, she made certain to appear at the AIP’s state convention. To burnish her maverick image, she also tapped one-time AIP member and born-again Republican Walter Hickel as her campaign co-chair.
Chryson claimed, however, that Sarah and Todd Palin never even played a minor role in his party’s internal affairs. “Sarah’s never been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party,” Chryson insisted. “Todd has, but most of rural Alaska has too. I never saw him at a meeting. They were at one meeting I was at. Sarah said hello, but I didn’t pay attention because I was taking care of business.”
But whether the Palins participated directly in shaping the AIP’s program is less relevant than the extent to which they will implement that program. Chryson and his allies have demonstrated just as much interest in grooming major party candidates as they have in putting forward their own people. At a national convention of secessionist groups in 2007, AIP vice chairman Dexter Carter announced that his party would seek to “infiltrate” the Democratic and Republican parties with candidates sympathetic to its hard-right, secessionist agenda.
Carter pointed to Palin’s political career as the model of a successful infiltration.
Now, Palin is a household name and her every move is scrutinized by the Washington press corps. She can no longer afford to kibitz with secessionists, however instrumental they may have been to her meteoric ascendancy. This does not trouble her old AIP allies. Indeed, Chryson is hopeful that Palin’s inauguration will also represent the start of a new infiltration.
“I’ve had my issues but she’s still staying true to her core values,” Chryson concluded.
Boy, Captain Underpants, can you pick ‘em!