Rebranding Bundy

Photo Source Blaine Cooper | CC BY 2.0

Recent efforts to burnish the image of members of the Bundy Public Land Grab clan bear close watching. A flurry of Bundy-friendly articles and videos commenced in early November. This began with a fawning piece in the Idaho Statesman featuring Ammon Bundy “a sunlight kind of guy” at his apple orchard in Emmett Idaho. The article ran in papers across the region. The piece appeared just after Ryan Bundy was not elected Governor of Nevada, having garnered a whopping one percent of the vote. It prompted a fierce Opinion rebuttal by Pat Finnegan, a retired Forest Service law enforcement officer:

They and their supporters remain freeloading domestic terrorists who intimidated, threatened and harassed Americans, while their cattle continued to damage public rangelands and armed occupiers destroyed American property at taxpayer expense’.

More Bundy-friendly pieces followed – culminating with Ammon calling Trump’s migrant border policy fear-based, and Cliven chiming in with “have a heart” in a Guardian article penned by a practiced Bundy stenographer.

Fear and Intimidation, Bundy Style

Bundy should know about fear-based policies. He and his gang of militants and paranoid followers inflicted a great deal of fear when they seized Malheur Refuge and militants lurked around Burns. Not to mention the fear felt by federal workers on other remote Refuges or public land areas across the country — as the standoff dragged on and on, with the Feds failing to cut the power, failing to cordon off the Refuge and letting the situation devolve into a media circus, replete with lavish photo ops and videos of “patriot” gunslingers.The Bundy gang and Militia at Malheur intimidated  the federal agencies, local officials, members of the community, and even hikers on the Refuge. They snuck around and spied on people and vehicles.While saintly Ammon was not photographed in public wearing a gun, his acolytes and the militia thugs that gravitated to Refuge were armed to the teeth.

It’s clear that Bundy’s vision for the public lands he wants to take from the public is defense with the use of guns and fear. Henchman Lavoy Finicum promised range vigilante protection to public lands cattle ranchers who renounced federal grazing permits and let their cows roam a la Cliven during a strange “ceremony” held by Bundy at the Refuge to celebrate a New Mexico rancher renouncing his grazing permit.

Armed men present at Malheur and Bunkerville had previously prowled the border region, to strike fear in migrants. In 2014, militia were summoned to help protect Cliven’s jerky on the hoof cow herd at Bunkerville when BLM infamously tried to round the beasts up. To this day, the scrawny cattle are still stumbling around Gold Butte Monument desert tortoise habitat and trashing the Virgin River, home to several endangered fish species.

Hating on Enviros, Guns Without Limits and the Agitator Circuit

Here’s how Ammon Bundy has been spending his time since release from jail, after the stunning dismissal of all charges in the Bunkerville case as a result of colossal bungling by the Federal Prosecutor.

Hating on Environmentalists in Modesto. In spring, he was ranting against “the false religion of the environmentalists” at a “Range Rights” conference. As High Country News reported:

Near the end of the conference on Saturday afternoon, Ammon Bundy took the stage to describe his family’s battle over grazing rights as part of a religious war. In an hour-long speech that often resembled a sermon, Bundy called environmentalists “an enemy to humans,” and said they are driven by a non-Judeo-Christian theology. He also read from the New American magazine, which is published by a subsidiary of the far-right group John Birch Society: “United Nations is essentially a global government under construction. The fact that the U.N. functions as a church for the religion of environmentalists reveals just how dangerous this religion is.” Bundy also said that water shortage and overpopulation are “lies” …

The conference was sponsored byProtect the Harvest, an anti-animal welfare group that featured Bundy in videos during the Refuge seizure, and has inserted itself into public lands grazing and wild horse slaughter, and by Kathy Smith, widow of Bert Smith who had long funded the Sagebrush Rebellion.

At a July event in Smithfield Utah, Bundy claimed the mormon church in which he said he, Cliven and his lawyer were high priests, had been infiltrated by socialists, globalists and environmentalists. For insight into the tangle of Bundy Skousenite Mormon religious beliefs, Theo-constitutionalism, the John Birch Society, Koch, the Smiths and others, see this and this.

Gun Extremists and Militia in Boise. In September, Bundy was a featured speaker at an Idaho Second Amendment Alliance and Gun Owners of America rally. In 2014, Rolling Stone reported on Gun Owners head Larry Pratt’s welding of guns, fear and religion and guns as a form of religion:

“The Second Amendment is not for hunting, it’s not even for self-defense,” Pratt explained … Rather, it is “for restraining tyrannical tendencies in government. Especially those in the liberal, tyrannical end of the spectrum …”.

Also: “Pratt explains that it is necessary to both generate an undercurrent of fear and muster the organization and will to defeat the dictator prophesized in the Book of Samuel”, with the dictator apparently being the liberal-leaning government.

At the rally, Bundy proclaimed the Second Amendment “describes that it is necessary to have arms and to unite as individuals, even militias, with those arms in order to secure freedom”. Though unreported, he also said people in Africa who live in mud huts need guns, not aid. The specter of red flag laws or any control whatsoever on guns was used by other speakers to fearmonger.

The rally was bristling with militia from across the region. Some had set up tables with their regalia in Andrus Park across from the Capitol, and had guns hanging off all parts of their bodies – legs, shoulders, arms, waist, or full Army surplus store garb. A young boy, in the shadow of a Three Percenter, had a semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, with the barrel nearly touching the ground as he walked. Who knows what would have happened if a car had back-fired on the street.

Janice McGeachin signs peppered the crowd. A rally organizer commented she was the only Idaho candidate who answered questions about guns to their liking. It turns out McGeachin, elected in November as Idaho’s first woman Lieutenant Governor, has seriously been courting the militia and Redoubt folks. An interview with Redoubt News featured on her campaign webpage received little attention in the election, an insight into how easy going reporting on militia and the Redoubters has been in Idaho. McGeachin even brought security guards to a candidate debate at the Public Television station in Boise, but no one seemed to ask if they were militia. The general public has largely been kept in the dark about McGeachin’s militia, Constitutional sheriff and other views. In the interview, she advocated for local control, beat up on the Salmon-Challis Forest, said the Sheriff was the highest law enforcement authority–and that she would join a militia if asked, would call in militia if she was Acting Governor and there was an emergency and would recommend the Governor use militia including, when pressed by a caller, to push back on “federal land grabs”.

Rural Agitation Circuit in Whitefish, MT.  This fall Ammon Bundy was featured at a “New Code of the West” confab in Whitefish, Montana with speakers from the John Birch Society, Washington State Rep. Matt Shea, and Paulette Willman who is working to dismantle federal Indian policy on Tribal rights and sovereignty. The Montana Human Rights Network described the Whitefish conference as a platform for “anti-government extremism and anti-Indian bigotry.

Willman is associated with Citizens for Equal Rights who litigates opposing tribal interests. She stated that Paulette Jordan of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, who was the Democratic candidate for Idaho Governor, would be “serving two masters” if elected. Evidently Willman knows nothing of the corporate agriculture, phosphate mining, pesticide, public lands welfare cattle ranching and many other masters served by current Idaho Governor Butch Otter, billionaire J. R. Simplot’s former son-in-law. The Missoulian reported:

Morigeau, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes who stressed that his comments were his own, said, “I think we’ve identified them for who they are and what they are, and as long as they’re around in Montana trying to, in my opinion, create this xenophobic, hateful messaging about Indian tribes … we’re going to keep an eye on them.

Then there’s conference speaker and Washington state Representative Matt Shea the head of COWS (Coalition of Western States), comprised of anti-public lands western state legislators allied with the Bundys. During Bundy’s seizure of Malheur Refuge, Shea and COWS members went to Burns, and met with local authorities who urged them to stay away from the Refuge. But they went to the Refuge anyway, and emboldened the Bundy militants by passing on information that the Feds weren’t planning to move in anytime soon.

Not long after the Whitefish conference, a bizarre manifesto written by Shea was exposed. He called for War against the enemies of Christians–imposing Christian law through armed force, ending same-sex marriage and abortion, and killing men when religious law is not followed. “If they do not yield, kill all the males”.

The bottom line is the Bundys have used fear, intimidation and alliances with racists, xenophobes, militia and extreme gun advocates to gain prominence. It would be very interesting to know who is funding and greasing the skids for the recent Bundy rebranding, and the increasingly hagiographic media pieces. The more Bundy is made to seem palatable, the easier it is for his Land Grab, guns without limits and other views to be mainstreamed.

Witness Ryan Zinke attacking “radical environmentalists”, and now consorting with Koch-backed ALEC over local control. The leader of the Boise Gun Rally and Three Percent militia supporters were described by quite conservative state legislator Tom Loertscher as thriving on intimidation. They are now busily working to expand “stand your ground” laws (ie., legalized murder) in Idaho.

Now there are breathless reports of Bundy breaking with the militia and patriot crowd, after they lashed out on Facebook over his rejection of Trump’s border policies. Are we really expected to believe he didn’t know how his followers would react? He used these people, and their guns and paranoia. Now he’s had a revelation and is running from them in a slickly publicized way. Watch out for a sugar-coated version of Bundy’s anti-public lands agenda to surface in the halls of power near you

Katie Fite is a biologist and Public Lands Director with WildLands Defense.