State lawmaker with checkered past faces new criminal charges in line with old beliefs

Rep. Jason Gerhard stands outside the State House in Concord, N.H. He is not seeking re-election to the House but is instead running for county sheriff.

Rep. Jason Gerhard stands outside the State House in Concord, N.H. He is not seeking re-election to the House but is instead running for county sheriff. TODD BOOKMAN—NHPR

By TODD BOOKMAN

New Hampshire Public Radio

Published: 06-06-2024 11:30 AM

Nearly all federal court buildings around the country, including the Warren B. Rudman Courthouse in Concord, have a blanket policy: no recording, no electronics.

It’s a policy Jason Gerhard knows well, but doesn’t accept.

This past September, Gerhard, a Republican state representative from Northfield, arrived at the federal courthouse to attend the sentencing hearing for Ian Freeman, who, like Gerhard, is a player in New Hampshire’s freewheeling libertarian politics.

Freeman was being sentenced that day for his role in what prosecutors called a money-laundering scheme involving Bitcoin.

Gerhard entered the courthouse, but refused to turn off his phone and stop recording.

In a video Gerhard would later post on his social media account, a court security officer asks him to stop recording.

“I’m standing on my constitutional rights to record in a public building,” Gerhard responds.

In the video, Gerhard is largely respectful to the court security staff, but standoff-ish.

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As he said in a recent interview, the federal courts are wrong to block filming of their proceedings.

“It's absurd, though, when you really get down to it,” he said. “We're paying these government employees to do a job, but we can't see what they're doing.”

Gerhard himself is in government these days. In 2022, he won a seat in a Republican-leaning state legislative district, collecting 55 percent of the vote.

In office, he’s been on-brand, if ineffective.

He sponsored a bill to trigger the secession of New Hampshire from the union, and another to allow people to sell their own organs for a profit.

He also pushed to restore gun rights for ex-felons and sponsored a bill to explicitly permit recording in all public places in New Hampshire, including the federal courthouse.

Every one of them failed to find traction in the State House, but it’s perhaps the issue of recording bans that’s closest to Gerhard’s heart these days. As he sees it, forbidding recording in public buildings like courthouses puts too much authority in the hands of judges, lawyers and stenographers. They, in effect, control the historical record.

“I have a problem with the idea that I'm supposed to trust in an employee of the court, officer of the court, whatever you want to call it. They might be great people. That's fine. But I don't think that we should be putting all of our trust into one person who's clicking away at a typewriter,” he said.

He added: “A lot of shady things happen in courts. That's all I'm going to say.”

Despite his position as a state lawmaker, Gerhard’s arrest last September has largely gone unnoticed, which stands in contrast to a previous arrest, which would make national headlines.

‘That’s what I’m willing to do’

In 2007, Ed and Elaine Brown — she a dentist, he an exterminator — holed up in their Plainfield, N.H., home after refusing to pay federal income taxes. The couple alleged the tax wasn’t valid; their months-long armed standoff with U.S. Marshals turned into a cause celeb for other federal income tax deniers from around the country. For a period that summer, the Browns’s property became a gathering of the anti-government right.

Federal authorities eventually arrested the Browns without incident. Then they would also arrest Gerhard, who was just 21-years old at the time. He would be accused and ultimately convicted of supplying thousands of rounds of ammunition and weaponry during the standoff. Court records show he also purchased materials to make pipe bombs, which were later found buried around the Brown’s 100-acre property.

Gerhard would serve more than 12-years in prison for the crimes.

Trying to film inside the courthouse — believing he has the right to do it — even though the rest of the public just largely shrugs and moves on could be viewed as a continuation of the Ed and Elaine Brown siege. Gerhard sees a system hellbent on protecting itself, one he’s willing to buck, no matter the consequences.

“We have these people that say, ‘oh, I'm fighting for this, or I'm fighting for that, but what does fight mean if you're not willing to put yourself in the line of fire?’ ” he said. “And I don't think enough people are saying, ‘this is wrong’ and just willing to say no. So that's what I'm willing to do.”

In the running for sheriff

This January, Gerhard was back in federal court for a hearing on the charges from his September arrest. He again pulled out his cell phone in the courthouse lobby, and was again arrested.

These are low-stakes crimes: Essentially a $100 slap on the wrist, though Gerhard says he won’t pay any court ordered fines.

His next hearing is in July, after the current legislative session ends. It will be his last term, for now, in Concord; he’s not running for reelection. He says he’s become disillusioned with trying to make change from inside the system he always viewed skeptically from the outside.

Instead, Gerhard intends to run for sheriff of Merrimack County.

Despite his history of fringe anti-government activism, he now says he sees a common denominator that he wants to work towards.

“We all kind of want the same things,” he said. “We want clean air. We want a clean environment. We don't want corrupt government. We want, you know, it's all basic things. And it comes down to how do you get there?”

He said that “average people need to step up to the plate” and start taking on the role of government.

But Gerhard is not your average person. On his website, GoHardWithGerhard.com, he posts about government weather control and the risk of 5G wireless connections. He describes the COVID-19 vaccine as a “death lottery.”

And he still questions the legitimacy of the federal income tax.

These ideas weren’t all formed during the siege at the Browns’s home, but the ideological rigidity is the same. Gerhard has gone from antagonist to inmate to elected official, and now back to antagonist. And if he wins in November, he’ll add “county sheriff” to that list.