Dangerous Copycats Inspired by Anti-Government Rancher Cliven Bundy
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The Southern Poverty Law Center says that Cliven Bundy’s standoff against federal agents earlier this year is inspiring copycat militia actions and violent events.
“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,” says the SPLC report, entitled War in the West.
“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,” continues the report. “Today’s disputes with federal authority, many long simmering, are an extension of the earlier right-wing Sagebrush Rebellion, Wise Use and ‘county supremacy’ movements.”
Bundy, a 68-year old rancher, owed more than $1 million to the U.S. for refusing to pay fees for grazing on federal land. When a federal court recognized his delinquency, the Bureau of Land Management hired cowboys to round up Bundy’s cattle to pay his debt.
The government’s action created a tense standoff between Bundy and hundreds of heavily-armed followers who turned their weapons on government agents. Right-wing politicians and media outlets, including Senator Ted Cruz and Fox News, greatly fueled the fire by declaring Bundy an American patriot and the victim of the overbearing Obama Administration. As the situation reached a tipping point, federal agents backed down in order to avoid bloodshed. Bundy and Fox News then spent the next several weeks running a victory lap until a racist rant made by Bundy exposed him as a bigot.
"Politicians and media pundits need to be called out when they troll for votes or ratings with irresponsible rhetoric," warns the SPLC. "The standoff at the Bundy ranch was news. But Cliven Bundy was certainly no hero. Treating him as such simply emboldens others like him."
In the months since Bundy’s standoff there have been several hostile actions linked to militia groups. Notably, a Bureau of Land Management employee was stopped in his federal vehicle in Utah by two men who held him at gunpoint while holding a sign that read: “You Need to Die.” And last month, Jerad and Amanda Miller shot two police officers at point blank range in a pizzeria, took their weapons, covered the bodies with a "Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and pinned a note on one body that said, "This is the beginning of the revolution." The couple then fled to a Walmart where they killed a third person. The Millers, who were killed during a shootout with police, were among the hundreds of “volunteers” at the Bundy Ranch standoff earlier this year.
Government and law enforcement officials need to recognize what motivates the militia movement, says the SPLC report, as it can inspire others like the Millers into violent action. It says the couple “will not be the last to demonstrate their anti-government rage with bullets.”
The SPLC is also warning that copycat militias may be focusing on the immigrant-child crisis as it intensifies. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at SPLC, says it’s “possible that people at the Bundy ranch are headed toward the Texas border now."
He notes that militias are now posting online messages urging their followers to deploy in response to the crisis. "We don’t know if these calls to go to the border are going to get much response at all,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s very unclear if this is just talk or actually developing.”
One militia, led by a 37-year-old truck driver named Chris Davis, is beginning to deploy along the border. Davis was seen in a YouTube video advising followers to aggressively confront those attempting a border crossing.
"You see an illegal. You point your gun dead at him, right between his eyes, and you say, 'Get back across the border or you will be shot,'" Davis says in the video that was posted on his channel.
The video has reportedly been removed after a McAllen, Texas newspaper highlighted it on Friday. Davis is now claiming that his militia intent is to supplement law-enforcement efforts along the border.
As he told the LA Times, “There’s nothing malicious, there’s no malicious intent—every person is vetted. We’re just here to serve freedom, liberty and national sovereignty.”
Law enforcement officials in Texas say that self-appointed militia is not needed at the border in the Rio Grande Valley.