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Nome Woman Arrested After Confronting Governor at Airport

Evak was escorted away from the airport in handcuffs by Nome Police. Photo provided by Carol Gales (2019)

During Governor Mike Dunleavy’s visit to Nome yesterday, which was one of his scheduled “roadshow” stops around the state, he was greeted at the airport by Brenda Evak, who was ultimately taken away in handcuffs for alleged disorderly conduct.

According to witness accounts, Evak was loudly speaking to the governor upon his arrival into the terminal. She shouted the words, “what do we do when our lands are threatened? We stand our ground.”

After this point, two Nome Police officers escorted Evak outside and arrested her for disorderly conduct. Witnesses say violence was not used by either party, nor did they threaten each other with physical harm.

According to a statement from the Nome Police Department (NPD), Evak was closing the distance between herself and Governor Dunleavy, while pointing at him and balling her fist. NPD says Evak was asked to leave the airport but refused, so the officers had to escort her outside.

Evak was released from custody later that afternoon, and she attended the public forum hosted by Americans for Prosperity and Governor Dunleavy at Old St. Joe’s.

Senator Donny Olson of Golovin released a statement yesterday supporting Evak’s right to free speech, saying, “it is outrageous that an Alaskan expressing an opinion to the Governor is treated this way. Alaskans are angry, and they feel like their voice is not heard.”

A fellow legislator, Representative Neal Foster of Nome, spoke with APRN earlier today regarding the potential jail time Evak faces.

“If it were up to me, I would probably say let’s not prosecute this situation; there was no violence. It appears this person has no record, so I would probably publicly state that people have a right to say what they want, and we need to be more measured, I suppose, in how we do that. But sometimes, people become passionate, and I understand that.”

The City of Nome made an announcement after Evak’s arrest, saying the City Council supports freedom of speech; however, when another party rents city facilities like Old St. Joe’s, they have control over who can access the rented facility. Gathering and protesting in public places like Anvil City Square is still allowed, but that cannot interfere with access to or from OSJ.

When it comes to protesting at airports, though, the Supreme Court has ruled that First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, such as free speech, are somewhat limited.

As of this morning, charges from this incident are considered pending or not filed against Evak. Nome’s District Attorney John Earthman is reviewing the charging document.

Image at top: Evak was escorted away from the airport in handcuffs by Nome Police. Photo provided by Carol Gales (2019).

4 Comments

  1. Teri Paniptchuk on March 28, 2019 at 11:45 am

    Again FREEDOM OF SPEECH



  2. […] Brenda Evak, who has lived in Nome for the majority of her life but is originally from Kotzebue, addressed the public yesterday afternoon prior to her scheduled appearance at the Nome courthouse. Evak was arrested at the Nome airport on Wednesday on allegations of disorderly conduct in her confrontation with Governor Mike Dunleavy. […]



  3. Karen Trop on March 30, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    I’m glad to see KNOM reporting on this issue and I give many thanks to everyone at the station putting the good work, time, and effort into providing critical coverage on Dunleavy’s budget plan and the surrounding protests.

    Because I know how critical KNOM is in providing coverage on this, I have to say I find the use of the word “confront” in the title of the article to be troubling; in that I believe this word choice misleads and unfairly characterizes of the nature of Brenda’s protest. I do not believe this to be in any way conscious or intentional, but rather speaks to how our society has warped our perceptions of what is socially acceptable, especially in regards to a young native woman’s assertion of her right to protest. And I hope voicing my opinion on this matter could lead to an internal review of the choice to use ‘confront’ in the title.

    Confront implies to “meet (someone) face to face with hostile or argumentative intent,” with synonyms to ‘confront’ being ‘to challenge,’ ‘to attack,’ and ‘to assault.’ Confront implies violence, unruliness, and misbehavior. The use of the word confront supports the version of events the Nome Police Department suggest, which characterize Brenda as a miscreant, someone who allegedly disturbed the peace and someone who could have violent intentions because she allegedly ‘pointed her finger’ and ‘balled her fist.’ These alleged actions, by the way, do not have an inherent and unmistakable intention behind them that speaks to an unequivocal violent nature. Nor were these alleged actions paired with any spoken intentions of violence on her part in her protest rhetoric.

    While uncomfortable, demanding attention by speaking assertively and loudly is exactly what a protest is. Protesting is not meant to be comfortable, nor is it used lightly. People protest because they are not being heard and they protest to demand attention when their voices have been otherwise silenced, ignored, or belittled. Protest, by definition, means “a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something.” It’s a word that I believe describes Brenda’s actions much more accurately than ‘confront.’ The synonyms for ‘protest’ include “objection,” “complaint,” “dissent,” and “disagreement,” all words that are free from violent connotations, that directly reference the spoken word nature of her protest at the airport. The Nome District Attorney himself has decided to not pursue the ‘disorderly conduct’ charge, which at least implies that her actions, even as described by the NPD could not soundly be judged as being disorderly, reckless, or violent in nature.

    Using the word ‘confront’ over ‘protest’ implies an assumption that Brenda made unreasonable loud noise and acted recklessly. ‘Confront’ also implies a preference of the NPD’s unsubstantiated claims that her actions had an underlying violence beneath them — moreover, it implies Brenda’s actions were wrong.

    ‘Protest’, in my opinion, is a more accurate and fairer word choice than ‘confront’ and I hope that a second consideration towards the word ‘confront’ can be generated by my argument. Thank you, KNOM, for everything you do, I appreciate being able to voice my opinion in this matter.



    • David Dodman on April 2, 2019 at 3:38 pm

      Hi Karen,

      I really appreciate you so thoughtfully sharing your concerns about this. As KNOM’s web editor, I work with our news director and news reporters to strive to craft the best headline possible for every news story, so I figured I’d go ahead and respond to your comment here. As an editor, I agree how important just a single word can be, and how important it is to think about the words we use very carefully — all the more so for stories with as much weight and public interest as this one.

      In this instance, I want you to know that an “internal review” of the word choice for “confront” did indeed take place on multiple occasions within KNOM, prior to the publishing of our reporting on this story. (In fact, we use the word “confront” to describe Ms. Evak’s actions in two stories: this one and our follow-up, describing her charges having been dropped, on March 29.)

      For both stories, one of the priorities in deciding how we would describe Ms. Evak’s actions, within the story copy and within the headline, was expressing how Ms. Evak’s interaction with Governor Dunleavy was distinct from other protesters who were active in Nome that day. (As we later reported, more than 100 protesters were present outside Old St. Joe’s in downtown Nome at one point.) Another key priority in how we would describe the incident was maintaining neutrality, since various, somewhat contradictory accounts exist of the specific nature of the interactions between Ms. Evak and Gov. Dunleavy.

      “Confront” was chosen for these stories, in large part, because it describes an emotionally-charged interaction between two or more people (in this case, Ms. Evak and Gov. Dunleavy) without necessarily pinning blame or judgment (or condemnation or praise) on any party. I respectfully differ from your statements that “confront” implies “violence, unruliness, and misbehavior” and that it lends credence to the perception that Ms. Evak “made unreasonable loud noise and acted recklessly.” I honestly do not find these connotations inherent to “confront” when I look up the word in the dictionary. More consistent in the definitions I have found is that “confront” means, more broadly, a meeting or encounter that involves disagreement or challenge: dissent or objection, yes, but not the behavior of a “miscreant” as you describe. “Confront” can have positive, negative, or neutral connotations, such as the common use of the phrases “confront one’s demons,” “confront one’s self,” “confronted with a challenge,” or “confronted with the truth,” etc. Violence and/or wrongdoing are not inherent to the meaning of “confront” or “confrontation.”

      In all of these meanings, regardless of connotation, the idea of an *encounter* is key, which separates “confront” from the word “protest.” Ms. Evak directed her chants at Governor Dunleavy in the confined space of the Nome Airport, and she acted separately from the protesters who had gathered in other places within Nome. Given these facts, “protest,” in my view, would be insufficiently specific as a headline word for this story. Ms. Evak was protesting, yes, but she was protesting within the close confines of the small Nome Airport, directing her protests at a specific person who was present in the same room at the same time. Regardless of whether Ms. Evak approached Gov. Dunleavy or not — whether she “pointed her finger” or “balled her fist” or not — and regardless of whether one or either party was in the right or wrong in that moment, the event involved an interaction, an encounter. In my view, “confront” is a better fit for describing this incident because it describes just such an encounter. That’s in contrast with “protest,” which could describe an expression of dissent without describing the person-to-person interaction that “confront” implies. Protests can, and typically do, happen even when the subject of the protest is not present. A confrontation is different, more specific, and closer to the events that are agreed upon as fact in this particular story. And again, because “confront” can be used in various connotations — positive, negative, or neutral — the word also allows room for the reader to draw their own conclusions as to the nature of Ms. Evak’s public disagreement with Gov. Dunleavy. (“Confronters,” and those they confront, can be on either side of the spectrum of right or wrong.)

      For all of these reasons, Karen, I do stand by our use of “confront” in this case. I hope this helps. If you (or anyone else) would like to discuss this further, feel free to email me at david.dodman@knom.org. Thanks again for getting in touch about this.

      David Dodman
      Web & IT Director, KNOM