BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Cliven Bundy, the Nevada-based rancher who refused to pay the over $1 million he owes in fees for having his cattle graze on public lands for twenty years, and who then assembled a posse of armed militia and antigovernment activists for a stand off against officers of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, may -- by virtue of his openly aired racist remarks about the "Negro" -- already be sitting atop history's trash heap, but there are numerous wannabes out there waiting to Cliven Bundy themselves into the headlines.
According to a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, "The Bundy standoff has invigorated an extremist movement that exploded when President Obama was elected, going from some 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year."
Alabama's Mike Vanderboegh, who heads the III Percent Patriots, wrote the following on his blog: "It is impossible to overstate the importance of the victory won in the desert today. The feds were routed — routed. There is no word that applies. Courage is contagious, defiance is contagious, victory is contagious. Yet the war is not over."
Armed militia groups are currently responding to the influx of thousands of immigrants – mostly women and children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – by arming themselves and "standing guard" at the U.S.-Mexico border. Pictures of members of militia groups, carrying semi-automatic rifles and wearing masks, camouflage and tactical gear can be found here.
War in the West: The Bundy Ranch Standoff and the American Radical Right, written by Ryan Lenz and Mark Potok, and edited by Heidi Beirich, points out that, "Though the movement has waxed and waned over the last three decades, antigovernment extremists have long pushed, most fiercely during Democratic administrations, rabid conspiracy theories about a nefarious New World Order, a socialist, gun-grabbing federal government and the evils of federal law enforcement."
So, while we may be bidding farewell to Cliven Bundy, War in the West warns that his supporters have by no means ridden off into the sunset: "Cliven Bundy may have faded from public view, but the movement that spawned him is boiling. Government officials need to understand what motivates this movement because the Millers will not be the last to demonstrate their antigovernment rage with bullets."
After hanging at Bundy headquarters, Jerad and Amanda Miller went home, and subsequently "strolled into a Las Vegas pizza parlor, walked past a pair of police officers eating lunch, turned and executed the two men. Leaving a Gadsden 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, a note saying the revolution had begun and a swastika on the officers' bodies, the couple went on to murder another man before dying in a shootout with police."
"Two decades after the Waco debacle," War on the West points out, "federal officials continue to struggle with their approach to radical right extremists. What they learned from Waco was that a heavy-handed approach risks a major loss of life. Yet, allowing the antigovernment movement to flout the law at gunpoint is surely not the answer."
The SPLC report notes: The Millers' violence was extreme, but tense standoffs between the BLM and anti-government activists [including Tea Party Republicans, libertarians, antigovernment Oath Keepers and militia members] have taken place across the West — in Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Idaho — in the wake of the ranch standoff. Also, a handful of right-wing politicians and commentators have given cover to Bundy, openly supporting the efforts of a man who is refusing to pay the same grazing fees that every other rancher does and who has invited armed extremists to make sure the federal government can't enforce the law."
Of particular interest in the report is a close examination of how the Bundy family mobilized support, in part through the use of social media. A YouTube video of one of Bundy's sons being arrested by BLM agents went viral on antigovernment websites. Ryan Payne, 30, an electrician and former soldier who had deployed twice to the Iraq war, who is part of a small militia unit, the West Mountain Rangers and a "little known militia organization called Operation Mutual Aid, a group that he hoped could coordinate militias across the country to respond to federal aggressions," contacted Bundy and headed for the Bundy ranch. Using cell phones and other methods, Payne contacted over a hundred militia members, urging them to come to the site.
It didn't take long for radio talk show host and conspiracist par excellence, Alex Jones, and then the Fox News crew, particularly Sean Hannity, to get on board. Despite Bundy's refusal to pay for his cattle grazing, or maybe because of his refusal, he was being hailed as a patriot. It was a bandwagon that held together until Bundy's "Negro" remarks had Fox's Hannity, and many right-wing Republicans running for the hills.
"The Bundy standoff has actually brought the spotlight to the antigovernment movement, and its leaders are soaking up the attention," the SPLC report points out. "Polarizing figures such as former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack and Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers have been eager to take advantage of the moment."
And there's no doubt that many other right wing militia leaders will join them. What the federal government's response to blatantly illegal activity – pointing loaded weapons at federal authorities – is anybody's guess.
In many ways, today's Bundyites appear to personify Ecclesiastes 1:9 -- "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun" -- picking up where such venerable Western-based movements as the Sagebrush Rebellion, Wise Use and county supremacy left off. This time around, however, they're a heck of a lot angrier, more full of themselves, vituperative to the max, they possess a lot more firepower, and, they seem willing to use it.