Property Rights and Militias: The Anti-Enviro Connection

On November 14, 1994, Ellen Gray, an organizer with the Pilchuck Audubon Society in Everett, Washington, had just finished testifying at a County Council hearing in favor of a land-use ordinance to protect local streams and wetlands when a man stood up in front of her with a noose and said, "This is for you." "We have a militia of 10,000," another man told her, "and if we can't beat you at the ballot box, we'll beat you with a bullet." Darryl Lord, the man who brought the noose to the meeting, is an elected leader of the Snohomish County Property Rights Alliance. Another P.R.A. leader, Don Kehoe, was a featured speaker--along with John Trochmann and Bob Fletcher from the Militia of Montana--at a recent militia organizing meeting near Everett. Militia materials were also distributed at meetings where Chuck Cushman, a national leader of the anti-environmental Wise Use movement, addressed Washington property rights groups. Although they don't agree on everything, militant members of Wise Use, property rights advocates and members of armed militias are increasingly staking out common ground. James Nichols, for example, who's being held as a material witness in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, is a member of the Michigan Property Owners Association, founded by property rights activist Zeno Budd. Budd was a featured speaker at a militia forum held in Detroit in March. In the West the militias are using the existing Wise Use network as one of their primary recruiting bases, arguing for military resistance to the government and its "preservationist" backers, and forming three-to-six-man Autonomous Leadership Units which look and act suspiciously like terrorist cells. As of late winter 1994 local environmental activists in Washington State, New Mexico, Texas and Montana reported receiving death threats from militia members. Within Wise Use, the hotbed for militia organizing is the Counties Movement, which insists that county sheriffs have the right to arrest federal land managers who fail to respect the "customs and culture" of logging, mining and grazing on public lands. The National Federal Lands Conference (N.F.L.C.) out of Bountiful, Utah, is the coordinating body for the Counties Movement. Its advisory board includes Ron Arnold, the Wise Use movement's founder and "guru," and Mark Pollot, a leading property rights attorney and former official in the Reagan Justice Department. (Pollot wrote the first presidential executive order on "regulatory takings," back in 1988.) In its November 1994 issue, the N.F.L.C. newsletter had a cover story titled "Martial Law and Emergency Powers." It stated: When the federal government decides to enact martial law; and they will; the Director of FEMA becomes a virtual DICTATOR.... The American people will be held in bondage and can be killed the right. Seem far fetched? Don't be misled, there is a war going on between our heritage of freedom and our subservience. {inx}"We're seeing incredible crossover of people and materials between Wise Use and the militias from Washington to western Montana, eastern Oregon and northern Idaho," says Eric Ward of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, a Seattle-based human rights organization that was formed in 1986 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to oppose white supremacists. "They think ecosystem management is part of the New World Order" that will overrun the United States, says Jere Payton, an environmentalist in eastern Washington who recalls her first contact with a militia last year. "We looked out our window and saw a guy walking down the street of our little mountain village wearing camouflage and carrying a gun. This was right after the Militia of Montana came through and had their organizing meeting.... Someone heard them talking about how they could `randomly take us out.' There's a lot of loose talk about killing people in our community." The militia movement, the largest armed expression of the ultraright since the Ku Klux Klan reached the height of its popularity in the 1920s, is united by two key themes--the right to bear arms and a conspiratorial view of government (reinforced by federal actions in the 1993 Waco assault and, earlier, by the F.B.I. killing of white separatist Randy Weaver's wife and son). Still, individual militias tend to reflect the concerns of right-wing activists in the communities where they form. For example, among some in the West the guiding belief is that land-use planning equals socialism. This has resulted in the targeting of unarmed environmentalists, land-use planners and federal employees of natural resource agencies [see Helvarg, "Anti-Enviros Are Getting Uglier," November 28, 1994]. In fact, while nationally the militias have had numerous run-ins with local police, sheriffs, I.R.S. agents and others in the fifteen months since they've gone public, the majority of militia-related incidents have involved people who, one way or another, are associated with the environment. In Kalispell, Montana, where land-use planning has become the target of anti-environmental Wise Use activists, Jess Quinn, an opponent of a building permit program, told a militia meeting, "When the hour strikes, there will be public officials dead in the streets." In New Mexico, Idaho and Nevada, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service agents have received death threats and been in armed standoffs with militia members. More disturbing, local politicians and sheriffs have in a number of instances taken the side of the militias. In March three U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents investigating the shooting of a wolf in Idaho retreated from rancher Gene Hussey's land after riff Brett Baraslou claimed their search warrant was invalid and drove off with Hussey, threatening to "go to Plan B." One of Hussey's confederates explained that Plan B meant they'd be returning with the local militia. Idaho politicians, including Senator Larry Craig and Representatives Helen Chenoweth and Mike Crapo, later expressed outrage at the federal agents' "harassment" of a landowner. The State Attorney General demanded that "armed federal agents" report to his office before serving any warrants. In southern Nevada last July, Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver--backed up by an armed posse--chased two Forest Service Rangers off a road he was illegally bulldozing through the Toiyabe National Forest. "All it would have taken was for [one of the rangers] to draw a weapon," Carver later bragged, and "fifty people with sidearms would have drilled him." Carver has been a recent keynote speaker at both Wise Use and Christian Identity events. The latter is a racist religious group closely tied to both Aryan Nations and the militias. Activities like Carver's have created an atmosphere of intimidation and violence designed to silence critics of industries involved in extracting natural resources from public lands. Some seventy counties around the country have now passed Wise Use/Counties Movement ordinances claiming local control over public lands. Last September residents of Catron County, New Mexico, which passed the first of these ordinances in 1990, formed their own militia, encouraged by their county commissioners. "Citizens are getting tired of being tossed around and pushed to the limit by regulations," says Carl Livingston, one of the commissioners. "We want the Forest Service to know we're prepared, even though violence would be a last resort." After Tim Tibbits, a federal wildlife biologist, went to Catron County to meet with local ranchers and talk about endangered species protections, a rancher opened his car door and told Tibbits, "If you ever come down to Catron County again, we'll blow your fucking head off." Mike Gardner is the Forest Service district ranger for Catron. In March his office was painted with hammers and sickles. That same month the Forest Service offices in Carson City, which oversees the Toiyabe National Forest, was pipe-bombed. Seventeen months earlier the B.L.M. offices in nearby Reno were bombed during Senate debate over grazing on public lands. A native of Oklahoma, Mike Gardner has lived in the small Catron county seat of Reserve with his wife and young kids since 1988. The local militia meets in the house next door to his. "As far as I'm concerned, they're accomplices to what happened in Oklahoma," he says with a slow, steely drawl, like wind across barbed wire. "That's what the militias are doing, they're advocating violence and insurrection and they got the result you could expect--babies killed."

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