March 05. 2016 6:53PM

Granite State's libertarian streak fuels support for Jerry DeLemus

New Hampshire Union Leader

Jerry DeLemus posed for a photo near the Bundy ranch in Nevada in 2014 amid a standoff with federal agents. He was in U.S. District Court in Concord on Thursday to be arraigned on a raft of federal charges related to the standoff. (FACEBOOK)

Jack Kimball was working the phones hard on Friday morning. The Tea Party organizer and former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party was drumming up support for his friend and Tea Party associate Jerry DeLemus of Rochester.

DeLemus, a Marine Corps veteran and former candidate for Strafford County sheriff, faces a slew of federal charges in connection with his role in a 2014 stand-off between ranchers and federal authorities in Nevada over grazing rights on public lands. The 60-plus-page indictment handed up Thursday against DeLemus and others involved in the standoff can be read here:

Within minutes of DeLemus's Thursday arrest in a surprise raid by federal agents, word had spread on social media, thanks to a Facebook post by Kimball. By the time DeLemus arrived at Federal District Court in Concord a few hours later, more than 50 people had gathered to show support. They filled the courtroom and sang “God Bless America” as he was led out in handcuffs.

Grazing rights are hardly an issue of much consequence in New Hampshire, but the fate of DeLemus and his fellow defendants has captured the attention of many in the Granite State, where the libertarian streak runs deep. After all, the state Constitution recognizes the “Right of Revolution” in Article 10, which exhorts patriots to resist when “the ends of government are perverted.”

Kimball expects a much larger crowd for a detention hearing Monday afternoon, which will determine whether DeLemus is granted bail or ordered jailed until trial. For now, he's in the custody of U.S. Marshals and is being held at the Strafford County Jail.

“We're calling all patriotic Americans in the state to be visibly recognized on 2:30 Monday at the federal courthouse,” said Kimball, who points to Thursday's crowd as an example of the support DeLemus enjoys. “We got that turnout in only two hours. So I expect we'll do very well on Monday. Every single person I know is outraged by this.”

Kimball said he expects the crowd to fill the courtroom, hallways and spill out onto the sidewalks if necessary. “We were standing room only (on Thursday) as you know,” he said. “If we can't fit in the courtroom, we fully expect to support Jerry from outside or wherever we need to be.”

Support for DeLemus is not limited to Tea Party activists, according to Kimball.

“I'm part of the Tea Party and proud of it” he said, “but that's not what this is about. People in that courtroom came from every walk of life. They tend to be more conservative than most, but Jerry has friends that run the gamut. This is just a large segment of the population that is upset with this kind of activity and over-reach by the federal government.”

Criminal or patriot?

According to the federal government, DeLemus and the hundreds of other like-minded individuals who travelled from all parts of the country to join the standoff on the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy were engaged in a criminal enterprise, not a patriotic protest.

In his petition to order DeLemus held without bail, the U.S. Attorney for Nevada describes him as “a gunman and mid-level organizer who joined in a conspiracy to commit an unprecedented and extremely violent and massive armed assault on federal law enforcement officers on April 12, 2014, while those officers were performing their duties.”

The officers had impounded Bundy's cattle grazing on federal land after a 20-year effort to make him comply with court orders. With guns pointed at them from all directions, the officers relented.

“The fact that no one was shot, does not mitigate either the level of violence used that day or the intent behind it,” according to U.S. Attorney for Nevada, Daniel Bogdon. “DeLemus's actions on April 12 and in the aftermath of the assault and extortion betrayed his desire and willingness to kill cops. This alone compels the conclusion that DeLemus is a grave danger to the community and a flight risk.”

DeLemus's wife, state Rep. Susan DeLemus, R-Rochester, and his attorney did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment.

Rallying support

Despite such serious accusations by law enforcement, those rallying in support DeLemus include members of the state Legislature, like Republicans John Burt of Goffstown and Al Baldasaro of Londonderry.

Baldasaro described DeLemus as, “the most law-abiding citizen I know.” Both are active supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, with DeLemus serving as co-chair of Veterans for Trump in New Hampshire.

“If there was something illegal going on, he would have walked away,” says Baldasaro.

Burt, who says he'll be among those protesting Monday on DeLemus's behalf, says it's no surprise that one of the most prominent members in the militia movement comes from New Hampshire. “I think there is a sentiment that we are living in a tyranny state, and some have told me our forefathers would have marched way before today,” he said.

DeLemus more recently traveled to visit a similar occupation in Burns, Oregon, which may have contributed to his surprise arrest on Thursday, according to Burt.

“The only reason they are rounding up these people is to send a message to anyone else thinking of opposing the government in any fashion — that over time, we will arrest you and put you in a federal prison and lock you away to send a message to the rest of America,” he said.

Libertarian traditions

DeLemus and his supporters reflect a libertarian streak that has always been present in New Hampshire, where decentralized government and local control are taken as gospel, not to mention the state's “Live Free or Die” motto.

There's a reason the Free State movement chose New Hampshire to take its stand in 2003, encouraging liberty minded individuals to move here so as to push state policy and political culture even further in the libertarian direction.

That's not to say all Tea Party members, Free Staters and Libertarians support the militia movement or Donald Trump. But all five forces enjoy undeniable strength in the Granite State and, in some part, explain why hundreds of otherwise responsible citizens are rallying around a man facing felony charges in federal court.

“The Live Free or Die mentality has been a longtime presence in New Hampshire,” says Dartmouth associate professor Joseph Bafumi, who has done extensive research on political culture and polarization in the United States. “The country was founded on libertarian philosophy and limited government.”

As other states grew more diverse and became more urbanized, those traditions began to wane, especially in states with a large percentage of the population employed in government-related enterprise.

“There is not the enormous number of government employees or government projects in New Hampshire,” said Bafumi. “For the most part, people here are engaged in private enterprise. Our biggest employers are small businesses and tech start-ups.”

For his part, DeLemus, a self-employed construction worker, says he takes the state motto literally. In a videotaped interview during the Bundy ranch standoff, still posted on YouTube, he said he's willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

“We're reactionary,” he said of the militia movement. “We don't want to start a fight, but we will take a stand; we will fight and we will die if the government tries to oppress or attack us, because we're Americans and we are called to do that.”

Then, wiping away tears, he finishes one more sentence before losing his composure: “We have spouses at home who are crying themselves to sleep because they don't know if they're going to see us again.”