After Bundy dismissal, anti-public lands extremists rise again

Familiar political faces reappear alongside the scofflaw rancher

Cliven Bundy by Gage Skidmore | Creative Commons

After a judge dismissed criminal charges on a technicality, Cliven Bundy is back in the pulpit with his usual cast of politicians and far-right anti-government extremists. The same leaders who advocate for turning national public lands over to the states shared the stage with the deadbeat rancher in Paradise, Montana last weekend.

The event, titled “Freedom and Property: Cliven Bundy’s Story” and organized by a group called the Coalition of Western Property Owners, included speeches from Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder, a prominent leader in the movement to dispose of national public lands to state control, and Shawna Cox, a co-conspirator in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover and “close friend” to Utah State Representative Mike Noel.

The Bundy family first rose to national prominence in 2014, when Cliven Bundy rallied militia groups to Bunkerville, Nevada after Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials attempted to round-up Bundy’s cattle following decades of unpaid grazing fees. The resulting standoff nearly ended in violence.

As Bundy’s self-described “on-the-ground” militia commander put it: “We locked them down… We had counter-sniper positions on their sniper positions. We had at least one guy — sometimes two guys — per BLM agent in there. So, it was a complete tactical superiority… If they made one wrong move, every single BLM agent in that camp would’ve died.”

The 2014 armed standoff in Bunkerville — and its 2016 counterpart at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon — provided the American public with a ringside seat to a disturbing trend on U.S. public lands: extremist and militia groups using America’s national public lands to advance their anti-government beliefs.

Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder | Facebook

But these events don’t happen in a vacuum. On the contrary, the armed insurrections in Nevada and Oregon share the same underpinnings as land transfer schemes promoted by some elected leaders in states throughout the West.

The American Lands Council, a prominent land transfer advocacy group with Senator Fielder at its helm, has increasingly served as the bridge between extremists like the Bundys and the mainstream political debate. Both the American Lands Council and the Bundys have connections to organizations that espouse armed resistance and each rely upon a philosophy based in vehement anti-government ideologies. In her capacity as an elected official and president of the American Lands Council, Fielder (who has been linked to the Militia of Montana, a paramilitary group founded by white supremacist John Trochmann) has pushed her radical anti-public lands proposals in state legislatures through the West.

Cliven Bundy’s free pass has not only energized followers, but emboldened elected officials to fully — and publicly — embrace the Bundy family and their rhetoric. To a room full of supporters and members of the press, Senator Fielder concluded her speech in Paradise, Montana with a ringing endorsement of the Bundy agenda: “God bless America, God bless the Bundys… We’re with you.”

Fielder’s words mark a dangerous trend that leaves the West’s public lands and public servants in the cross-hairs of an aggressive, anti-government movement that will grow more potent if reasonable Americans and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke don’t take action.

For more on the extremist threats to public lands, please see our report Going to Extremes: The Anti-Government Extremism Behind the Growing Movement to Seize America’s Public Lands.