FAIRBANKS — The organizer of a protest against the federal government tonight in Fairbanks says he does business with the government even though he doesn’t like what it’s doing in Alaska.
“People say, ‘If you’re angry, then don’t sell to the federal government,’ but we’re not stupid,” said Craig Compeau, owner of Compeau’s, a local boat, snowmachine and ATV retailer. “We’re going to bid on this stuff.”
Compeau organized tonight’s “Fed Up with the Fed” rally at the Pioneer Park Civic Center.
Compeau has for years done business with the federal government. In 2008, Compeau’s sold more than $215,000 of merchandise to the federal government, including more than $20,000 to the National Park Service, according to the website FedSpending.org. Between 2005-08, Compeau’s sold more than $600,000 of boats, snowmachines and ATVs to the federal government.
Compeau’s beef with federal authorities and the business he conducts with them are “two totally separate issues,” Compeau said.
“This is an access issue,” he said. “At the rate things are going, I won’t have a business if people can’t access anything. Four-wheelers will be the next endangered species in Alaska.”
Besides, tonight’s event is about more than just “bashing” the federal government, Compeau said.
“It’s an educational forum,” he said of the rally, which will feature appearances by two of Alaska’s top elected officials: U.S. Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “It should be an informative, engaging event.”
Young, Alaska’s lone congressman and an outspoken critic of the federal management agencies in the state, is scheduled to speak at the rally sometime between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Murkowski will attend the rally but won’t be able to speak, her spokesman, Matthew Felling, said Tuesday. Murkowski had rescheduled an earlier flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage to attend the rally, but the speakers’ slots were pushed too late for her to participate, Felling said. Compeau had listed Murkowski as a speaker.
The rally is being sponsored by the Alaska chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a statewide wildlife conservation group based in Palmer. Compeau serves on the group’s board of directors.
Rally organizers toned down their language on Tuesday by eliminating references comparing the National Park Service to the Gestapo on websites and emails advertising the event. The Gestapo reference came from trial earlier this month of Jim Wilde, whose 74-year-old wife, Hannelore, testified that the only other time she had had a gun pointed at her was when the Gestapo showed up at her home as a child growing up in Germany.
Wilde, 71, was arrested by Park Service rangers last summer after reportedly failing to stop for a boat inspection in the middle of the Yukon River.
As part of a fundraiser to help Wilde pay his legal bills, rally organizers said they will award prizes for the best guesses about how much money the Park Service spent on the Wilde trial. The top prize is a free picnic lunch and scenic tour of “Gestapo Point,” the spot where Wilde was tackled by rangers and handcuffed. Other prizes include a Taser, handcuffs, a box of shotgun shells and a replica Gestapo badge.
Young has asked the Park Service for a full financial accounting of the case.
Compeau said the reference to “Gestapo Point” was actually coined by residents in the village of Eagle and that he used it “to make a point.”
“We felt it was the most powerful point of the trial and it never made the press,” he said. “Now that we’ve got the message out there, we’ve dropped it.”
No one asked him to stop using the term, Compeau said. He chose to do so after reading some blog entries about the rally.
Young’s spokeswoman, Meredith Kenny, said Young did not endorse the use of the term “Gestapo” to describe Park Service rangers’ actions and that his attendance at the rally “serves only as an endorsement of his passionate stance against over-regulation and against this abuse of power.”
Murkowski declined comment when asked if she was comfortable appearing at an event that associates Park Service rangers with the Gestapo, according to her spokesman.
While tonight’s rally has been billed as a protest against “unprecedented overreach” by the federal government, focusing on the recent trial of Wilde, it really is about much more, Compeau said.
Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.