This Republican Prosecutor Stood Up For Black Lives Matter Protests. Haters Ran Him Out of Office.

This Republican Prosecutor Stood Up For Black Lives Matter Protests. Haters Ran Him Out of Office.

When Arian Noma ran for prosecutor in a rural Washington county in 2018, he was a newcomer who vowed to stop the over-prosecution of crimes and seek bail only when necessary. Standing inside the wood-paneled Okanogan Grange, Noma gripped a microphone and told the crowd, “If you want to make change, I’m your candidate. If you want things to remain the same, I think you know who to vote for.”

“As we continue to make regulations and over-regulate our citizens nationwide, over-criminalize everything … before you know it, we all have badges of conviction,” Noma said. “And if you don’t have a family member or you yourself or a friend that’s been through the system … you have no idea how difficult it is to function and reintegrate into society.”

The 44-year-old Republican wanted to create a reentry support group for people released from incarceration and had other grand ideas, too, which he said would ultimately save taxpayers money. “My office will not only work with law enforcement regarding cases, we will offer trainings, discussions, and other opportunities to cooperate to solve cases together,” Noma, a former prosecutor in Maryland, told the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune before winning nearly 60 percent of the vote in Okanogan County. “Rapport and comradery are essential to forging relationships.”

    But halfway through his four-year term, Noma resigned. In a letter to voters, he cited a “woefully deficient” budget and case backlog as reasons for his departure. One of his deputies was forced to handle more than 200 criminal cases at a time, while another was grappling with 140 cases. Noma described his predicament as fighting “tanks and guns with bows and rocks.”

    The final straw, Noma continued, was a series of “racially motivated attacks.”

    Speaking publicly for the first time since his resignation, Noma—whose ancestry includes Black, Native American and Filipino heritage—told The Daily Beast that he believes the online harassment campaign had help from law enforcement and county colleagues, including people within his own office.

    He says the online smear campaign—which included anonymous critics snapping photos of his vehicle and asking for “information,” sharing internal county emails with complaints about him, and the sale of anti-Noma merchandise—ramped up after he supported Black Lives Matter protesters last summer. And after he wrote to Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley regarding a mob of armed civilians who flooded the city of Omak to confront “antifa” during summer protests. Noma said armed groups should be prohibited from future demonstrations because they could be in violation of state law.

    Look at this this way, if these people can run him out of town, what about us? I’m scared. I don’t trust any of them.

    Noma said he and his supporters suspect, but cannot prove, a coterie of county employees organized an anonymous Facebook page against him. They point to leaks of official correspondence and the wording of certain posts as proof.

    “How much of it is racism and the good old boys system that was there?” Noma said. “I don’t think they’re inseparable. I’m still trying to digest how much of it was because I’m an outsider and how much of it was my race but I think both of them played a role.”

    “It was a concerted effort by employees, non-employees and other departments, and the 9,400 residents who voted for me have no idea what’s going on,” he added. “And I didn’t either. I’m too new to this. I’m not a politician. I’m not going into politics again.”

    The harassment campaign “started the moment I took office but it started to gain steam by attacking me on the Second Amendment,” Noma said. “I hate how they say you’re picking sides. There’s no side to human life. My side is human life, I don’t want to see anybody get shot. I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, Black or white. “

    In late July, someone created the anonymous Facebook page, titled “No More Noma,” and went so far as selling shot glasses and coffee cups with a red prohibition symbol over Noma’s name. The designs included the words: “No more Noma” and “Vote Anyone The Fk Else!!” One glass had a cartoon Leprechaun above the words “I’m a liberal republican!”

    The now-defunct Facebook page mockingly referred to Noma in quotation marks as a “prosecutor” and a “man.” One Aug. 23 post called him a “chameleon” and suggested he was “two-faced” because he attended a Black Lives Matter rally.

    “We are aware ‘Prosecutor’ Noma attended a BLM protest in the county recently boasting himself as an ‘African American’ to support the cause,” the Facebook page read. “The background information listed below does not include anything of the sort. It appears ‘Prosecutor’ Noma is just a chameleon blending in to whatever group he can to gain trust; something we assumed was happening during his campaign as well.”

    “Have you seen something you think is unorthodox from your ‘Prosecutor’?” an Aug. 1 post read. “Please share via Facebook message or at our e-mail…”

      Noma didn’t identify the Facebook page in his resignation letter, but detailed the fear it instilled in his family. “I routinely received vile attacks about my race, ancestry, and even the color of my skin,” Noma wrote. “My home and minor children have been watched, my vehicles have been followed and photographed, and a Facebook page was set up for the sole purpose of harassing my home, family, voters and friends that supported me. Within this racist campaign against me, I am referred to sarcastically and disrespectfully as a ‘man’ instead of a man.”

      “It is worth noting that such a page never appeared about any of the White prosecutors who preceded me,” wrote Noma.

      Noma’s critics, however, told The Daily Beast the campaign against him had nothing to do with racism. Instead, they say Noma was targeted because of the hostile work environment he had allegedly created within the prosecutor’s office. They blame Noma for mismanagement and unprofessional conduct in court and around victims, including one child victim, which they laid out in their Facebook crusade. They say the media has transformed Noma’s resignation letter and what they believe is only a small-town workplace dispute into an unnecessary national controversy.

      None of the accusations leveled against Noma via the Facebook crusade—such as a public defender’s letter alleging “unprofessional and erratic behavior in the court room”—resulted in any discipline or official investigation by the county.

      The defense lawyer, in a letter to the county’s human resources director, claimed Noma asked her child client “if he was choked ‘like the police do when they put you in a chokehold and strangle you.’” She added, “That was a terrible message to send a child who will likely need law enforcement assistance in the future.”

      The anonymous page also posted a letter from Noma to Sheriff Hawley regarding the armed civilians at protests this summer, and an email written by one of Noma’s employees, victim’s advocate Stacie Nicholson. “I know in my gut what was happening,” Noma told The Daily Beast. “One of the people that was doing this—I come into work one morning and she had written me an email saying I was creating a hostile work environment. I knew it was written for the Facebook page, and a few days later I saw it on the Facebook page.”

      Participants in the anonymous page were also listening to Noma in court. During a gun possession trial last November, Noma used the “duck test” analogy in his opening and closing statements. Soon after, a Facebook post advertising anti-Noma glassware declared: “This just in! If you quack like a duck, and waddle like a duck; will you show your support like a duck??? We are still a non profit organization and wanted to add some fun support for our followers.” Noma says Nicholson was in the courtroom that day but a county recording system also allows authorized users within the prosecutor’s office to listen to audio of court proceedings.

      I think the general feeling was fear on both sides.

      Nicholson declined to comment for this story but described her accusations of a toxic work environment in the August email, which was also sent to other prosecuting attorneys in the office and leaked to the Facebook site.

      “I’m tired of being afraid of you Arian,” Nicholson wrote, adding, “I don’t deserve to be treated the way you have treated me. If you’re busy and I interrupt you just tell me don’t through [sic] your phone down and scream at me.” Noma replied, in part, “This is a stressful job, but I do not agree that I treat you unprofessionally or the narrative you are attempting to create.”

      Shauna Field, who was an administrator for the prosecutor’s office for 10 years, commented on the page saying Noma had fired her in September 2019 “without notice or reason for my termination.” In another comment, Field said, “Like a stereotypical politician, Mr. Noma can be whoever he needs to be on the surface but I’ve seen how he behaves behind closed doors and how he treats others. He is petty and vindictive and immature.” She added that Noma “is a perfect example of the dangers of voting solely based on party.”

      Field declined to comment for this story but said she had nothing to do with the Facebook page other than sharing her experience and that she doesn’t know who’s behind it.

      Still, the Facebook page itself seemed to lend credence to Noma’s suspicion that members of law enforcement, or at the very least people connected to police, had it out for him.

      My stepdaughter started hyperventilating and didn’t want to march because she thought she ‘was going to get shot.’

      “While many elected officials would not make statement against Arian Noma due to the political repercussions, let it be known; we have a long standing history of relationships within the county,” the No More Noma page declared in December. “We have never heard such grumbles of disgust and anger towards any one person like we heard about Arian Noma. This includes county officials, citizens, elected officials, law enforcement, fire fighters and his employees alike.

      “We stand firm on our anonymity and will never reveal our sources or implicate our beloved officials, rest assured; we had support from many places.”

      Voters, even those who didn’t elect Noma, told The Daily Beast the county’s conservatives turned on him after his Black Lives Matter support and positions on armed militias possibly violating state laws. (Noma told voters during his campaign that “it is imperative to elect local officials that will protect the citizens’ rights at all costs; especially their Constitutional and Second Amendment rights.”)

      One county resident in her 60s, who identifies as mixed Indigenous, told The Daily Beast that “much of the racism that Noma experienced was targeted and deliberate” because “he is a man of color who kowtowed to the very conservative and extreme far-right base of Republicans here.” She said, “Noma’s Republican cronies that he had courted so hard felt betrayed and conned” by his position on armed counterprotesters.

      Okanogan County is nearly the size of Connecticut at 5,300 square miles but has just a little over 41,000 residents—65 percent of whom are white, 20 percent Hispanic and 9 percent Native American, according to Census data. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation occupies roughly 700,000 acres of the county land.

        The area is no stranger to racial tensions. Last year, county commissioner Jim DeTro was under fire for sharing a meme on his personal Facebook page that showed a photo of a semi truck covered in smears of blood and the words: “Just drove through Minneapolis. Didn’t see any protesters.” Some members of the community circulated a petition calling for DeTro, who didn’t apologize for the post, to resign from office.

        In January 2019, a former police officer named Jose Perez claimed the mayor of Tonasket, a tiny city in Okanogan County, asked him to start going by “Joseph” because his real name sounded too Hispanic. Last year, Perez settled with the city for $80,000 and the mayor, Dennis Brown, resigned shortly after.

        Several residents interviewed by The Daily Beast detailed racism they experienced in the county, including a farmer’s market vendor telling one young woman’s partner to “Go back to Mexico.” They said they didn’t doubt racism played a role in the online campaign against Noma. One Native American voter in her 50s told us a cop called her a “dumb fucking Indian” during one encounter several years ago.

        “Look at this this way, if these people can run him out of town, what about us?” the woman said. “I’m scared. I don’t trust any of them.”

        Like many places in America last year, Okanogan County saw protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by a Minneapolis cop, and at least one June event was met with hordes of armed civilians in tactical vests.

        More than 400 anti-racism protesters marched in Omak, a city of about 4,700 residents, while a militia guarded buildings and watched from rooftops like snipers. Some of the roughly 200 gun-toting civilians cruised around in trucks, while others lined the streets with weapons in their hands or slung over their shoulders. People who attended the march told The Daily Beast that police officers were scattered among the armed counterprotesters, many of which wore green armbands, and appeared to be collaborating with them. (In a Jan. 6 letter to Hawley about the Facebook harassment, Noma mentioned “… by your own admission you placed arm bands on an organized group of armed individuals at a peaceful protest so that the group could defend property and persons if needed.”)

        Hawley denied rumors that he distributed armbands and said the counterprotesters came up with the idea to differentiate themselves from any out-of-town agitators. “As I pointed out to Arian, you don’t wait six months to memorialize a conversation, you do it immediately,” Hawley told us of the letter. “I didn’t do that and I didn’t tell anyone I did that.”

        The sheriff said he warned the armed group to let law enforcement handle the situation should the demonstration turn violent. “We do not need your help, is what they were told,” Hawley said, adding that he spoke to both groups prior to the march “to make sure it remained peaceful in the community.”

        He was well aware of the fact that it would be the end of his career…He told me and he said it to us. As part of his speech, he said, ‘I know that speaking out about this will have repercussions.’

        “I think the general feeling was fear on both sides,” said Sandy Vaughn, a 72-year-old nurse who, along with her husband, attended the BLM rally. “For armed people it was, as I understand it, fear fomented by baseless rumors of ‘antifa’ coming in busloads to ‘loot and pillage,’ and to ‘be sure’ that local activists did not do the same—local activists who were neighbors, co-workers, friends, and even some family.”

        Jeremy Moberg, a business owner in Omak, said at the start of the march, he saw multiple Omak police officers lined up and watching the protesters as they gathered at Civic League Park. “Hey, guys, this isn’t your problem,” Moberg told them. “Do you know you’ve got an armed militia over there in the parking lot?” An officer, who didn’t appear concerned, allegedly replied, “It’s good. We’ve got that under control.”

        He was alarmed to see a mob of people armed with AR-15s in the parking lot behind his wife’s restaurant, hours after the march. The civilians with firearms stayed “under the false belief that antifa was coming in busses to burn the town down,” Moberg said, adding that he gave a speech to the militia people, complaining about the display of live weapons and telling them real police had it covered. “I said, ‘You could at least take the clips out of your guns, so you had to think for a second before you took a human life for property damage.’ Then they mocked me for calling it a clip: ‘It’s a magazine!’”

        Several minutes into Moberg’s speech, a police officer approached him and asked if there was a problem. “I said, ‘Yes, officer, there is a band of armed militia brandishing weapons,” he said.

        Moberg and other demonstrators noticed the armed militia wore green plastic armbands and communicated with cops. He and others asked the state attorney general to investigate what appeared to be coordination between the gun-carrying civilians and law enforcement but say they were told the AG’s office didn’t have the authority to do so.

        Video reviewed by The Daily Beast showed leaders of the armed group giving instructions to the crowd and handing out green armbands. One organizer told the group to stay in parties of three or more and to respond only to major property issues, not the destruction of planters, for example. “Listen to law enforcement’s direction and do not interfere with their arrests of either groups,” she said. She later added of the protesters, “Sheriff Hawley is asking us to give them room … so they do not feel intimidated. Spread out, be visible, have chairs if needed. Be ready.”

        Other residents went to Noma questioning the legality of the armed presence. Sam Howell, 65, said he was outraged by local press framing the protest as, in his words, “the community came out to protect the businesses” when the armed showing was potentially dangerous. “What if? Ask any one of these yokels with their weapons dressed up to look like automatic military weapons whether they would have raised the barrel of a gun if someone would have lit off a firecracker nearby. I felt like I was in a situation where something really bad could happen,” he said.

        One woman, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, wrote to Noma expressing gratitude for his letter to the sheriff. “When we arrived to a town over run with armed angry, mostly white, men we were stunned and terrified,” the woman wrote. “My stepdaughter started hyperventilating and didn’t want to march because she thought she ‘was going to get shot.’”

        Leone Reinbold, an attorney and activist, said she contacted Hawley and Omak police chief Jeff Koplin just before the protest started and warned them “that people were afraid and that the potential unlawful display of firearms was already intimidating people from attending.” She printed out flyers with a state statute that bars such a presence and tried to distribute them to cops and armed counterprotesters. Her complaints went unheard.

        She called Noma after the event “because I wanted him to do something to protect our right to free speech without intimidation.” She remembers telling him, “We need to feel like we can continue to gather and to march and not be afraid.” According to Reinbold, Noma replied, “You know I’m Black, right?”

        Reinbold said Noma was initially on the side of the armed civilians and didn’t want to interfere with anyone’s right to bear arms. Still, the prosecutor joined a Juneteenth vigil in Omak weeks later and gave a speech that didn’t seem typical for a Republican in a rural county. He said he was present as a citizen, not in his official capacity as prosecutor, and that he was inspired by the BLM protests.

        “He was well aware of the fact that it would be the end of his career,” Reinbold told The Daily Beast. “He told me and he said it to us. As part of his speech, he said, ‘I know that speaking out about this will have repercussions.’ But he said, ‘I think I have the darkest daughter in this county and what kind of father would I be if I didn’t speak up for her?’”

        Noma wrote to Hawley in September—weeks after the civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, turned deadly. Armed teenager Kyle Rittenhouse, who joined a crowd of armed civilians who believed they were protecting businesses from looting, shot and killed two demonstrators and injured a third. Noma had changed his mind on the legality of the armed counterprotesters after the Kenosha shootings, Reinbold said.

        “So much of the culture in this town is about being part of the ‘old boys club’ and whether or not you are willing or able to fit in within that culture and toe the line,” Reinbold said. “And Arian initially did. He was able to code-switch to a sufficient degree that people did not see him as the other. And when he came to the Juneteenth rally, I mean I use this term, he ‘came out’ as Black and people then saw him that way. And they were not able to unsee that. It changed the way people viewed him.”

          Noma sought the opinion of the state attorney general on the armed militias but the agency declined to weigh in. Noma wrote a Sept. 15 letter to the sheriff and noted his office “received a number of complaints based upon” two state statutes, including one law against people exhibiting a firearm or other weapon capable of producing bodily harm in order “to intimidate another” or create a situation “that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons,” and another law prohibiting crowds from organizing in public with firearms unless they’re “recognized militia organizations of this state.” The statute reads, “Any person participating in any such unauthorized organization shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

          “With the recent events that have occurred nationwide, specifically, the shooting of protesters in Kenosha, WI and the shooting of a man in Portland, OR, this office writes to inform you that it is this office’s position that if there are any future protests, any organized groups of armed individuals should be prohibited.” He added, “the Second Amendment does not protect armed groups, it is an individual right.”

          But on Sept. 29, Noma sent a followup letter to the sheriff and other local law enforcement reversing his view. “After contacting colleagues and looking more specifically at our State Constitution,” Noma wrote, the organized militia statute “is most likely unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

          “This office does believe in and will protect the Second Amendment at all times,” Noma added. “At the same time, it is still this office’s goal to promote public safety. In the event of future protests, this office hopes that you will engage this office for assistance, and also to engage our armed citizens prior to any protests to not only protect our community, but also our local protestors from any harm.”

          In an interview with The Daily Beast, Noma said, “My goal is to keep the gun guys and BLM protesters safe. That’s my job; everyone counts. We have Second Amendment rights here. I do believe in the Second Amendment, but at the same time you can’t wear and carry to intimidate.”

          “I try to be fair in my assessments. I would want someone to do the same with me,” Noma told us. “I was a good prosecutor for this county. I was probably the best one they ever had, because you do want someone that’s neutral and it’s rare you’ll find that. That someone is willing to support the gun rights guys as well as Black Lives Matter. People want legal rules to be black and white but it’s gray.”

          Around the same time, Noma had complained to the sheriff about the anonymous Facebook page attacking him, saying people behind the page were “stalking” him and sharing images of his truck and had referenced the town he lives in. The sheriff allegedly said there wasn’t anything he could do. “There’s no outright threats or anything,” Hawley allegedly told him, adding that “anyone could look at” the county’s tax assessment website for his address.

            Hawley told The Daily Beast he opened a complaint and instructed Noma to inform him if anybody appeared at his home and that he ordered extra patrols “out of concern for his family and himself, like we would do for any resident in the community.” Hawley added, “He did tell me he wasn’t concerned about the Facebook page but people he’s prosecuting learning of the Facebook page and coming after him.”

            Noma filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office Jan. 8, a week before his resignation went into effect, alleging it’s a crime to threaten and harass a public official into doing something—in this case, resigning from office.

            Looking back, Noma said, “I do question, ‘Are you being oversensitive? Are you crazy? Were you thinking these things happened but they didn’t?’ My instincts are usually correct. I’m not one to jump to conclusions based on emotions.”

            He said the “chameleon” post on the Facebook page hurt the most. “My mother is 100 percent Italian from Brooklyn, New York. My father’s family is from Mississippi: Black, Native American and Filipino,” Noma said. “My whole life I’ve gotten, ‘You don’t look this. You don’t look that.’ What does that even mean?”

            “I had family members who called me one epithet and other family members who called me another,” Noma added. “And that’s confusing for a kid. Those kinds of statements really hurt me. I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve been here before.’”

            Noma said he stepped down over concerns for his family’s safety. He and his partner, Kenita, had moved from Baltimore to Washington state for a simpler life. He went into private practice and dreamed of living on a mountain and making milk and cheese.

            But then, he says, he met acting prosecutor Branden Platter and decided to run against him. “I gotta run if my kids are growing up here,” Noma remembers thinking. “His boss retired, and I knew I can’t let this guy run the county.”

            One of the “No More Noma” page’s first posts was a screenshot from Platter’s campaign account suggesting Noma was soft on crime. “A law enforcement officer called me today and told me that a current defendant spoke to him and told him that he is holding off pleading guilty because my office offered him 55 months and he hopes Mr. Noma gets elected because he knows he will get a lower sentence,” Platter wrote. “This is not how the system is supposed to work.”

            Platter told The Daily Beast that after he moved on from Okanogan County, he continued to hear complaints about Noma from some of his former colleagues “but didn’t ask a whole lot about it.”

            From Platter’s perspective, Noma didn’t understand what the job would entail. “There’s always an enormous caseload and prosecutors are always overworked and need more bodies in that county,” Platter said. “The money’s just not there. We’ve always needed more attorneys but we all sucked it up and did our jobs.”

            “We answer to the public ultimately and we are never going to please everybody,” Platter said. “I know I made decisions when I was there that were not popular. But ultimately we are responsible for that and we have to answer to the public and that means people are going to say things about you online.”

            Platter said he doesn’t think it’s fair to say Noma was “run out of office” by county colleagues. The same core group of people was in the office for years and didn’t complain—at least in a public Facebook forum—of unprofessional conduct or verbal abuse.

            “I don’t think it’s fair to blame the employees in the office, if that’s who did it,” Platter said. “But if it was, maybe he should have reflected on himself and his behavior in the office and try to resolve those conflicts rather than reacting as he did.”

            After Noma’s resignation made headlines, the Facebook page wrote its final Dec. 10 post, denying it was racist because it targeted white officials, too.

            “This campaign had nothing to do with race and more to do with holding an elected official accountable for his actions,” the post read, adding, “Let it be known, any comments regarding Arian Noma’s biography or history were made with the intention of showing inconsistent tendencies, false statements and an overall lack of competency to carry out the responsibilities of his office. Nothing we do is race driven; we strive for accountability and integrity in our elected officials. After-all, they represent us as a people.”

            The anonymous site went on to criticize Noma’s pay, saying: “Note Sheriff Tony Hawley whom is only required by law to be present in his office a handful of days a year; Sheriff Hawley is present every weekday with very few absences. If we use salary as reasoning then we should lobby for Sheriff Hawley to get a considerable pay increase. Arian Noma took more absences than we have ever seen in a work place; this was prior to our creation or reporting.” (Hawley denied participating in the Facebook page.)

            “Our page will remain active until the end of time,” the site concluded. “We will always serve as a resource for the public to refer to. It is also important for all of Arian Noma’s disregard and integrity issues to be ever present as he continues claiming to protect his clients. Thank you all for the support and assistance over these last several months. Until next time, NO MORE NOMA!”

            The organizers disabled the Facebook page after The Daily Beast emailed their listed address seeking comment—despite promises to stay up for eternity.

            In recent weeks, the Okanogan County board of commissioners appointed Melanie Bailey, a deputy prosecutor who quit twice during Noma’s two-year stint, as Noma’s replacement. According to one local outlet, the Quad City Herald, Bailey “was serving as a contract public defender for the county at the time of her selection.”

            Voters and supporters say they’re outraged Noma was subject to online attacks that contributed to him leaving public office.

            Susan Speir, 69, voted for Noma because he had a vision: he cared about disadvantaged youth and changing the overcrowding of jails and arresting people for minor crimes. She said Noma’s values appealed to the area’s voters, no matter their political persuasion.

            “I’m heartsick about a person with integrity and broad support being run out of office but the real thing that is just sickening is the dismantling of human decency that’s happening in the corners and stepping out in full view on Facebook pages,” Speir said.

            She compared some of the posts on the “No More Noma” Facebook page—including the sale of anti-Noma shot glasses—to those created by MAGA supporters, a sort of online mob mentality of attacking public servants. Noma isn’t the only local official to come under attack.

            Last spring, Lauri Jones, Okanogan County’s Community Health Director, received phone calls and online threats from people across the country for doing her job to stem the spread of COVID. A mob took to Facebook to attack her, threatening to reveal her home address, because she reminded a resident who’d tested positive for COVID to stay in isolation.

            Meanwhile, trolls are targeting people who filed complaints with the governor’s office about businesses suspected of COVID-19 violations. Anti-lockdown groups obtained the names and contact information of the Washington residents through public records requests and began circulating an Okanogan County “snitch list” on social media last month.

            “We are living in two different universes these days and this is an example of that, and it’s heartbreaking and frightening,” Speir said.

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