Right-Wing Militias Are Thriving — and the Media Won’t Talk About It
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Three months after the standoff at the Cliven Bundy ranch, the Southern Poverty Law Center has issued a report—” War in the West: The Bundy Ranch Standoff and the American Radical Right“—stating what should have been obvious at the time, but which most media coverage utterly obscured: The standoff was not some quirky, standalone event that spontaneously just happened out of the blue. Rather, it was a highly coordinated event reflecting the threat of a larger militia movement, which in turn has drawn together multiple threads of far-right ideology over the course of the last 40 years.
On the purely tactical level, the report notes that Bundy’s armed supporters had “overwhelming tactical superiority” due to their pre-positioning on the high ground above the confrontation—under the direction of a Montana militia member and Iraq War veteran—which is a primary reason why the Bureau of Land Management wisely withdrew. On a somewhat broader level, the report warns of the events’ ripple effect. “Just in the months since the Bundy ‘victory,’ tense standoffs between the BLM and antigovernment activists have taken place across the West — in Idaho, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.”
That’s in addition to the violent Las Vegas rampage of Bundy supporters Jerad and Amanda Miller, which left three innocents dead along with the two shooters. And it places these events in a larger context. First in the Obama era—“Since 2009, there have been 17 shooting incidents between antigovernment extremists and law enforcement”—but also beyond. It stretches as far back as the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s, but gaining much more organizational coherence with the confluence of the racist, anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus, starting in the 1970s, and two more mainstream movements, “the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and 1980s and the Wise Use movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s.”
“The Bundy ranch standoff wasn’t a spontaneous response to Cliven Bundy’s predicament but rather a well-organized, military-type action that reflects the potential for violence from a much larger and more dangerous movement,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow in the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, and lead author of the report, in a statement accompanying the report. “This incident may have faded from public view, but if our government doesn’t pay attention, we will be caught off guard as much as the Bureau of Land Management was that day.”
“SPLC’s piece is focused on the need for law enforcement to be ready in light of the apparent military-style planning of the Bundy protest. They are arguing that the Bundy ranch was a trap, and that it worked,” said veteran researcher Frederick Clarkson, author of ”Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy,” co-founder of the group researchers blog Talk To Action, and a senior fellow at Political Research Associates. “Indeed, given the involvement of former military and police officers in the Oath Keepers, one of the groups involved in the stand off, that far right figures would apply their knowledge to such situations is to be expected.”
“Mark Potok observes that the episode suggests that there is potential for ‘violence from a much larger and more dangerous movement.’ It’s a good point and one all sectors of society need to take seriously,” Clarkson said.
Speaking to Salon, Potok himself made it clear it was the government as a whole, rather than BLM specifically, that bore the brunt of the blame. “The BLM certainly could have gone in in a better way. the optics were obviously terrible…. It was not the best approach,” Potok said. “On the other hand, at the end of the day, they did the right thing. They didn’t try to tough it out…. As for the BLM itself, I actually feel sorry for them. This is not a law enforcement agency. Mostly, people who work for BLM go to college and study land-use issues.”