The Independent American Party of Nevada, for which Sharron Angle once campaigned, believes that Jesus Christ is mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. (It’s right there in Article VII, where, before George Washington et al. scribbled their signatures, they noted the date in “the Year of Our Lord” 1787.) The party also believes abortionists “deserve neither life nor liberty”; that the right to bear arms is necessary because “political tyrants … always prefer unarmed victims”; and that “the Marxist graduated income tax and the fearful IRS” must be abolished. Also, it’s time to “prohibit the financing of the New World Order with American taxes.”
These principles are listed on a petition that Angle, now the Republican nominee against Sen. Harry Reid, signed in 1992. Angle’s signature appears twice on the page filed with the Nye county clerk’s office: once as one of the registered voters signing the petition, and again at the bottom of the page, as the person circulating it. Angle was part of the effort to revive the then-dormant party, one of a small core of activists who believed its voice and views needed to be heard. She was a registered party member from 1992 to 1998.
Now that Angle has spent two months on the national stage, countless stories have been written about things she’s said. She’s told interviewers that God asked her to run against Reid, that the separation of church and state is unconstitutional, and that victims of rape or incest will eventually be grateful they couldn’t get abortions. She’s suggested that armed revolt is percolating and accused Democrats of violating the First Commandment, committing “idolatry,” by expanding government.
Where does she get this stuff? Many of the ideas Angle has espoused, from her religious interpretation of policy to her desire to radically curtail an overbearing government, are traceable to the philosophies of the Independent American Party (IAP). The time of her membership in the party coincides with her first elected office, when she was a Nye County school board member. She left the party and became a Republican in 1998 not because her views had changed but because she didn’t think she could get elected to the state Assembly on the IAP ticket. The IAP, Nevada’s third-largest political party, may be the Rosetta Stone that offers the key to Angle’s beliefs.
Despite the long shadow it casts over her career, Angle has never spoken publicly about her time in the IAP. A campaign spokesman didn’t respond to e-mailed questions about the party’s role in her history. Some have recently sought to tie Angle to a philosophy known as Christian Reconstructionism, which emphasizes bringing government into line with Biblical teachings. Howard Phillips, a Christian Reconstructionist, founded the national Constitution Party, of which the Independent American Party, though founded separately, is the Nevada affiliate.
The attempts to link Angle to Christian Reconstructionism aren’t surprising considering Reid’s campaign has given reporters a 27-page packet making the case for such a connection. But Angle can plausibly deny she’s ever heard of the obscure movement. What’s undeniable is that for six years at the beginning of her political career, she was an active member of the Independent American Party.
Anyone involved in Nevada politics has run across the IAP—which is to say the Hansens, the Mormon siblings who are its driving force. Daniel Hansen, who founded the party in the 1960s, died in a car accident in 2002; he refused to wear the seat belt that might have saved his life, family members have said, because he didn’t think the government had the right to mandate it. Janine Hansen, a grandmother who raises heritage turkeys on a seven-acre spread in Elko, is a presence in the state capitol during each legislative session; when Angle was a legislator, Janine could usually count on her as an ally, she said recently. Christopher Hansen is the in-your-face activist; instead of the candidate financial disclosure he was supposed to submit to the secretary of state a few years ago, he submitted a 14-page letter decrying “these tyrannical forms” as unconstitutional and making the case for the gold standard. Joel Hansen is a Las Vegas attorney who takes the party’s claims to court and often wins: For example, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Christopher’s son be allowed to register to vote and run for office despite not having a Social Security number, which, Christopher explained recently, is a “100 percent voluntary” opt-in to the nanny state. Joel was Angle’s lawyer in 2006, when she challenged her close loss in a congressional primary. Together with several offspring, the Hansens are perpetual candidates, omnipresent gadflies and sincere people passionate about state government.
In 1990, when Janine Hansen met her through an anti-abortion campaign, Angle was living in Tonopah, substitute teaching part time and had just been elected to the school board. Angle’s husband, Ted, worked for the federal Bureau of Land Management. The IAP petition calls for all federal lands to be given to the states, meaning Sharron was petitioning to put her husband out of a job.
Dormant during the Reagan years, the party sought to regain its access to the ballot in 1992 by collecting voter signatures across the state. It had just 300 members to collect more than 10,000 signatures. That’s the drive, eventually successful, for which Angle circulated the petition.
The IAP stirred up a controversy in 1994, when Angle was a member, by distributing a 16-page pamphlet, under the banner “The Independent American,” warning about the “homosexual agenda.” “Sodomites,” it claimed, were determined to legalize pedophilia and to advance their cause, which the Bible tells us will lead to national ruin. One article was titled, “Can the HIV Virus Survive in Water?” The publication was part of an attempt to get an amendment on the ballot that would have allowed anti-gay discrimination.
Janine Hansen does not back down from the views in the pamphlet, saying all you have to do is look around to see how the homosexual agenda has advanced. These beliefs were part of the party’s “pro-family” stance at the time Angle was a member, but Hansen said Angle “had nothing to do with that newspaper,” which was really “a project of my brother Danny.” Hansen was emphatic about this, despite saying she couldn’t recall many other details about Angle’s involvement in the party.
In 1998, having moved to Reno, Angle set out to run for Assembly and joined the GOP. “She joined the Republican Party because she wanted to get elected,” Christopher Hansen said bitterly. “She sold out principle for power.”
Janine Hansen agrees with that analysis of Angle’s reason for leaving the party. But she points out that Angle never became a mainstream Republican. “Sharron has a lot of courage and strength,” Hansen says. “She was willing to buck the Establishment. Very few people don’t succumb to the party pressure. There’s a lot of pressure to do what the party wants them [legislators] to do.”
In her four terms in the Assembly, Angle was known for standing on principle to vote against uncontroversial measures on constitutional or limited-government grounds; the resulting votes were commonly termed “41-to-Angle.” Angle was one of the legislators who sought to block a 2003 tax increase, provoking a constitutional crisis; the IAP was on her side.
Perhaps inspired by the IAP’s near-constant petition drives, Angle has thrice tried and failed to get a Proposition 13-style property-tax limitation amendment on the ballot, most recently in 2008. In the Legislature, she stood up for conspiracy theories about poisonous fluoridation and abortion causing breast cancer. In her current campaign, she’s famously called for getting rid of Social Security and the departments of energy and education, while warning that “the nation is arming … to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways.” Since 2006, when she left the Assembly, Angle has been running in Republican primaries, always as the far-right candidate out to convince voters that the establishment candidate in the race was not conservative enough.
This is shaping up to be a banner year for the IAP. With more than 60,000 registered voters, it is bigger than ever, and fielding an all-time high of 54 candidates. Janine Hansen is running for an open Assembly seat and likes her chances. She doesn’t use the words “Tea Party,” but she says people are coming out of the woodwork to join the IAP because they are worried for their country and don’t trust the major parties.
For U.S. Senate, Janine Hansen plans to vote for the IAP’s candidate, Tim Fasano. “He’s running on our ticket and I’m an officer in the party,” she says. “We’re trying to keep building the party for the future, and I don’t see any hope in the Republican Party—they always betray us.”
But if Angle can pull off a win against Reid? “That would certainly be a historic day,” Hansen says. “I wish her well.”