Heated public comments by Daniel Banyai prompted the Pawlet Selectboard to suspend a meeting Tuesday night as law enforcement escorted Banyai out of the building.
Banyai’s appearance came the same day an environmental court declined Pawlet’s request to extend an expired warrant for his arrest.
Banyai owns Slate Ridge, a West Pawlet training facility for military-like gunfighting that has hosted militia groups. The property has been the subject of local outrage, national media attention and yearslong legal battles.
Pawlet officials asked the environmental court to require Banyai to remove buildings that had not been issued town permits. Banyai later contended he had complied with that requirement. In July, the environmental court issued an arrest warrant, declaring that Banyai was in contempt of a March 2021 court order to dismantle unpermitted structures on his property.
Robert Kaplan, Banyai’s attorney, argued in a recent filing that because Banyai has appealed the environmental court’s actions to the Vermont Supreme Court, the lower court no longer had jurisdiction to impose an arrest warrant. Thomas Durkin, the environmental court judge, agreed with Kaplan.
In response, Pawlet’s attorney again filed a motion asking the court to extend Banyai’s arrest warrant.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Banyai claimed the court’s decision as a victory.
“I hope that stings,” he said to the selectboard, “because I’ve been losing, but now you guys lost.”
Banyai told the board he was filming a documentary, and wielded a spiral-bound book that he said would show the world what he hoped to expose.
“In this book, it speaks very specifically about what I’m uncovering of all you people,” Banyai said, referring to all selectboard members excluding Perry Brown. “Favoritism, nepotism and corruption.”
Two minutes into his comments, the selectboard assistant informed Banyai that because he had not requested in advance to speak at the meeting, he had only two minutes to talk, according to board procedures.
Banyai contested that request, before being told by board chair Mike Beecher to “wrap it up in three minutes.”
Continuing his comments, Banyai said, “The Second Amendment has been around for a long time. You’re not going to negate that.”
Beecher soon informed Banyai that his “three minutes” were up, at which point the two men engaged in a back-and-forth over whether the three minutes were indeed up.
“The three minutes are not up,” Banyai said. “You just said that because what I’m saying is the truth. It hurts.”
As the exchange escalated, another man made his way to Banyai’s side, followed closely by a constable.
“You did not say you’re a fucking police officer,” Banyai said, pointing his finger at the uniformed man. “You just got in our face. Tone it down.”
With Banyai’s argument with the officer continuing, the selectboard adopted a motion to suspend its meeting.
“You’re evil, racist fucking people,” Banyai told the board, his voice straining.
“We’re going to keep coming to every meeting, and holding you folks accountable,” he said.
As Banyai berated the board, multiple camera and microphone operators appeared to document the scene.
Beecher, the selectboard chair, directed a request for comment to the town’s attorney, Merrill Bent.
In an email, Bent wrote, “Like any other member of the public, Mr. Banyai is welcome to attend public meetings in accordance with the open meeting laws, as long as he comports himself with the rules established by the Board.”
But, Bent continued, “The Board will not tolerate disruption at the meetings, or participants conducting themselves in a manner that is out of order with the meeting rules.” And if a participant is called out of order by the board’s chair but persists in their actions, “that person may be removed from the meeting by law enforcement,” Bent wrote, and “Disturbances may also be referred to the State’s Attorney office for assessment.”
The state Supreme Court has not yet set a hearing date for Banyai’s appeal. Pawlet’s selectboard plans to meet next on Oct. 17.