In St. Paul, Minnesota
“Please welcome our favorite warrior: KrisAnne Hall!”
More than 250 people, mostly conservative Christians, clap and whoop as Hall takes the stage in the ballroom of a suburban Minnesota hotel with a 32-lane bowling alley and a huge mermaid statue on the roof.
Hall, a radio host, former Florida prosecutor and Army veteran, tells the crowd that the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group that tracks extremism, has included her on its list of 998 anti-government groups in the United States.
She just loves that.
“Did everybody know I’m on that list?” she says, to loud applause and laughter.
“How amazing is that? I teach the Constitution of the United States, the document that created government. How could I be anti-government? See, the problem is, I am not anti-government. I am anti-lawless government.”
Her fans, who know from her popular website, radio show and half-dozen books, yell out: “Yes!” and “Right!” One man turns to another and whispers: “Wow!”
Hall, 47, started firing up rage at the federal government six years ago, driving around the southeast in her old Saturn car, sometimes speaking to church groups of five or ten people.
But in this era of Donald Trump, her message fits the moment and her popularity has exploded. She is a chief circuit rider for liberty, spending more than 260 days a year preaching against federal government overreach. She appears at conventions of doctors and lawyers, local officials, universities and law enforcement agencies, as far away as Alaska and Hawaii.
And she’s going global, speaking next year in Great Britain, where she enthusiastically supported that country’s vote to leave the European Union, and Peru.
Her radio show has listeners in Russia, South Korea and South Africa.
KrisAnne Hall, right, talks with Mandy Benz, left center, after Hall's speech in St. Paul, Minn. Hall spends more than 260 days a year preaching against federal government overreach. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
“The rest of the world is watching,” she says. “They are very interested in what’s happening here because we are the example of limited government and liberty for the world. And they’re waiting to see what we do with it.”
Hall is a registered Republican but says she blames both major parties for creating a corrupt federal government colossus that taps citizens’ phones, imposes national health care and “steals” Americans’ rights on guns, land, speech and religion.
She won’t say whether she will vote for Trump. But many of her supporters interviewed at recent appearances in Minnesota and Missouri said Trump, while not their ideal conservative candidate, represents change while Hillary Clinton represents the establishment. They said the nation is at a tipping point and that Hall is showing the way to fix a broken system.
“When someone does try to cross the status quo, they are seen as either lunatics or troublemakers or crazy,” said Sandi Schmitt, 62, who came out to see Hall speak in September in Branson, Mo. “We’ve got to get the word out that what KrisAnne is saying is what will save our nation.”
Hall urges people to force a nonviolent revolution by refusing to obey federal laws they consider unconstitutional. Citing the 10th Amendment, she teaches that almost every federal agency, other than the military, is unconstitutional and illegally performing duties that the Constitution reserves for the states.
“I am not anti-government. I am anti-lawless government.” KrisAnne Hall
Ten days ago Hall last week said “liberty was vindicated” in the acquittal of seven people charged in last winter’s occupation of a rural wildlife refuge in Oregon. The case was largely about federal ownership of land, which Hall argues is severely limited by the Constitution, so she supported the occupiers’ defiance of federal authorities. In the final days of the Oregon standoff, Hall spent hours on the phone with the last of the occupiers, helping to talk them into giving up rather than risk injury.
Federal land ownership is just one on Hall’s nearly infinite list of unconstitutional federal actions:
The federal government proposes background checks for gun-buyers? The Food and Drug Administration tries to restrict the sale of raw milk? Federal officials define marriage, require schools to have unisex bathrooms, ban prayer in schools? The FBI wants to investigate crimes in your state? NASA wants to explore outer space?
“All you need to do is say, ‘I will not comply,’” she says on the St. Paul stage, her voice rising.
She tells the crowd to confront federal officials and say: “We will not comply, because your stolen power has no legal effect on us.”
The crowd chants with her: “We will not comply!”
Then, louder: “WE WILL NOT COMPLY!”
“Feels awesome, doesn’t it? Stir that inner rebel!”
“Amen!” someone shouts.
During Hall’s talk in St. Paul, audience members shouted “Yes!” and “Right!” at times. “We’ve got to get the word out that what KrisAnne is saying is what will save our nation,” says Sandi Schmitt, 62, who attended Hall’s speech in September in Branson, Mo. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
History, according to Hall
Most mainstream legal scholars think Hall’s views are off-her-rocker wrong. She knows that.
“Galileo said, ‘The Earth is not circled by the sun,’ and everybody thought he was insane,” she says in an interview. “Criminally insane. So he was thrown into prison.”
Hall teaches that the drafters of the Constitution intended a nation of 50 sovereign states tied together with only the thinnest ribbon of federal government — and that we have the opposite today.
But she says those who disagree with her reading of history are either ignorant of the founders’ intentions or “federal supremacists” who ignore the Constitution. She said most mainstream law scholars mistakenly rely on decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, which she contends is a branch of the federal government that has little or no authority over the sovereign states.
“The problem with her approach is that it ignores 240 years of history,” said David Cole, who teaches constitutional law at Georgetown University.
Cole said the debate over states’ rights has raged since before the Constitution was drafted and “the Constitution did not resolve it in the way that she suggests.”
“Not a single justice on the Supreme Court — not even Justice [Clarence] Thomas, who’s the most extreme of the originalists who ever sat on the court — would take the position that Congress can’t spend to create the Department of Education, or the EPA,” he said.
States’ rights issues rose to prominence during the Civil War, the New Deal era and the civil rights era, and each time the question was settled by the Supreme Court in favor of a strong federal government, Cole said.
“I think people are looking for simple solutions to complex problems,” said Cole of Hall’s popularity.
Hall is on the SPLC’s list of anti-government groups because she is “making claims that are absolutely false,” said director Mark Potok.
“She is giving people reason to believe that there are a cabal of evil malefactors in the federal government and in the federal courts that are seeking to steal Americans’ liberties away,” he said. “So while she may not be advocating violence, there are certainly people out there who will think this is a situation that requires violence.”
From her hotel room in St. Paul, Hall record an episode of the “KrisAnne Hall Show,” her radio program that airs six days a week. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
For some, an awakening
Hall grew up in St. Louis in a liberal Democratic household, the daughter of a union sheet-metal worker and a mother who leaned toward socialism. She said her political perspective started changing just after college, when she said she noticed able-bodied people choosing to live on welfare.
“The government was taking my money and giving it to somebody who simply didn’t want to work,” she said.
She worked as a bio-chemist for about five years, then spent two years in the U.S. Army, where she learned Russian and worked as a Russian linguist—and met her husband, J.C. Hall, a Russian linguist who became a Baptist pastor. She also suffered a hip injury in military training that ultimately resulted in a hip replacement; she is a disabled veteran.
Then she enrolled in law school. In 2001, when she was 32, she said she “gave my life to Christ” and started seeing rights and liberties as granted by God not men, which became the basis of her Constitutional teaching.
She took a job as a state prosecutor in north Florida, near her home. She was fired in 2010. She had started public speaking on her views of the Constitution, often to tea party groups. Her boss, a Democrat, demanded that she stop, saying that his office needed to remain politically neutral.
“KrisAnne gets people’s attention. She has a gift for making things real clear.” Kirk Launius, Republican candidate for sheriff in Dallas County, Texas
Hall sued, saying she was merely exercising her right to free speech. She and her former boss reached a settlement in 2011, in which she was given $1,000, and her boss paid her attorney’s fees.
The dispute made her a heroine to local patriot groups, and Hall launched full time on her Constitutional speaking.
During her two-hour talk at the Mermaid Entertainment & Event Center in the Twin Cities suburbs, the crowd is rapt and many take notes.
The North Metro Tea Party group is almost all white, conservative and Christian, a mix of young and older, a couple of them wearing “Don’t Tread on Me” baseball caps.
Hall quotes Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Samuel Adams to support her teaching that people must not be complacent as a creeping government “tyranny” slowly takes over their lives.
“The worst form of servitude is the self-inflicted one where you never even see the chains and shackles,” she says, pacing the stage. “The ones where you believe that government is your provider and your protector, and that good citizens simply obey.”
“Rise and shine, liberty-loving patriots!, Hall says at the start of the taping of her radio show. “Liberty classroom is now in session.” (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
“I think we’re finally getting awakened,” says Brad Perrin, 50, who said Hall inspired him to quit his real estate appraiser’s job recently to become a Christian high school government teacher. “She strikes a chord, connecting the dots that people hadn’t seen before. She’s reigniting our passions.”
He uses Hall’s books and DVDs in his classroom, and brought four of his students to see her speak, including Michaela Thompson, 17. “I really like how she clarifies liberty as the power of the people, and shows me just how much power we have,” says Thompson.
Hall has spurred others to action, including running for office.
“KrisAnne pretty much rides along with me every day,” said Kirk Launius, the Republican candidate for sheriff in Dallas County, Texas, who said he always carries Hall’s book, “Sovereign Duty,” in which she argues that the “federal system is broken at every level.” Launius, who received the endorsement of the Dallas Morning News in the primary, is a member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a national group of officers who vow to refuse to enforce federal laws they consider unconstitutional—including any regulations of firearms.
In her book, Hall praises a Florida sheriff, Nick Finch, who in 2013 freed a man arrested by one of his deputies on charges of illegally carrying a loaded, concealed pistol without a permit. Finch said the Second Amendment trumped Florida gun laws.
Finch was charged with misconduct, but later acquitted. (The man Finch freed, Floyd Eugene Parrish, was arrested in September on charges of second-degree murder after shooting a man to death during an argument.)
Launius said he first heard Hall speak at a CSPOA meeting, and she inspired him to run for sheriff.
“KrisAnne gets people’s attention,” he said. “She has a gift for making things real clear.”
Hall urges people to force a nonviolent revolution by refusing to obey federal laws they consider unconstitutional. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
'Rise and shine'
An hour before her appearance in St. Paul, Hall pulls her roller-bag into a hotel room with walls the color of a week-old tangerine. Her day started with a 3 a.m. wake-up call at her north Florida home, and now it’s 6 p.m.
She has just about enough time to record an episode of the “KrisAnne Hall Show,” her radio program that airs six days a week. Twice a week, she videotapes her show for television broadcast on the Christian Lifestyle Network, but her webcam isn’t working, so today it’s radio only.
She sets up her smartphone and laptop, adjusts a few dials on a portable sound-mixing box, pulls on her big-eared headset, takes a deep breath, and starts:
“Rise and shine, liberty-loving patriots! … Liberty classroom is now in session.”
For 38 minutes she rails against Hillary Clinton and President Obama and says they both should be impeached. She offers some bipartisan red meat, blasting Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina for failing to score more points against Clinton in the hearings he led into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Hall says she accepts no speaking fees and pays all her own travel expenses. She earns money from donations and sales of her books and her DVDs. She and her husband are homeschooling their 10-year-old son. The family regularly goes to Haiti to work as missionaries. She says she’s just about broke most of the time but is called by God to keep traveling and educating.
At 6:45 the next morning, Hall steps out of a car into the blustery pre-dawn darkness at the Minneapolis airport. She was up late putting final touches on this morning’s radio broadcast, and having a late-night dinner of chicken wings left over from lunch.
She sold enough books and DVDs to clear $700, but she says that money will be eaten up quickly as she books trips in the coming weeks to Indiana, Alabama, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah, Arizona, Texas and Florida.
“Gotta go,” she says, and disappears into the airport.
Hall prepares to depart from the Minneapolis airport. She says she accepts no speaking fees and pays for all of her travel expenses. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)