The Washington, D.C., siege has Western roots and consequences
History and the growing power of right-wing extremism point to a volatile future for the West during the Biden presidency.
Five years and four days after armed militiamen took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, a remote federal wildlife preserve in eastern Oregon, for 41 days, supporters of President Donald Trump stormed and briefly occupied the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6.
It’s not hard to trace the links between Malheur and Washington; familiar insignia, instigators and ideologies fueled both anti-government actions. Extremist leaders and movement regulars from the Western U.S., including former Washington State Rep. Matt Shea, who supported the efforts from afar in Spokane, and recent U.S. Senate candidate Jo Rae Perkins, R-Ore., who joined the crowd that laid siege to the Capitol, helped fuel the melee. Backing their message, if not their tactics, was a bevy of Western legislators, who lent the movement legitimacy by supporting Trump’s baseless election-fraud claims.
Meanwhile, one of the most visible figures in the anti-federal government movement in the Western U.S., Cliven Bundy, expressed dismay that President Trump didn’t stick to his guns after he issued a half-hearted message calling for a peaceful end to the occupation.
The anti-government occupations bookending the rise and fall of Trump’s presidency show the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism in the United States. They also portend the potential for future conflicts here in the West. When President-elect Joseph Biden takes charge of the federal government and its vast Western landholdings, he will enter an already-delicate situation, where armed extremist groups stand ready to rise up against the federal government.