Verdict in Bundy Militia Occupation Sends Dangerous Signal to Armed Paramilitaries Increases Chances of Additional Armed Confrontation, Violence
Somerville, MA—Today Political Research Associates, a Massachusetts think tank that monitors right-wing movements, warned that the surprise acquittal yesterday of seven militia members on conspiracy and weapons charges in connection with their armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Harney County, Oregon is likely to further embolden the so-called Patriot movement to engage in additional and potentially more aggressive armed actions.
“Yesterday’s verdict is sure to embolden armed militants who aim to ratchet up armed confrontation with federal authorities and to impose their will by force of arms on communities they do not represent,” said PRA executive director Tarso Luís Ramos. He added, “This outcome is a blow to democracy and the rule of law, and a particular insult to the residents of Harney County who endured a siege by armed vigilantes, as well as to the Burns Paiute Tribe whose sacred lands and artifacts were desecrated by the gunmen.”
PRA monitors the national Patriot movement and has closely tracked armed militias active in Oregon since an April 2015 mobilization at a mine in southeastern Josephine County by the Oath Keepers, III% militia, and other national networks. Earlier this month the think tank released Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement, a groundbreaking report and resource kit designed to support public officials and community activists under pressure from armed militias and related Patriot movement groups. The guide was co-produced by Rural Organizing Project, a statewide network of human dignity group that opposes the militias and organizes for better economic conditions in Oregon’s distressed rural counties.
In early 2016, Patriot movement paramilitaries stormed onto the national stage when they seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, and occupied it for 41 days. Yesterday seven occupiers were acquitted of federal charges in a Portland courtroom. Leaders of the occupation, including Ammon Bundy, remain in custody pending trial in Nevada for charges stemming from a 2014 armed standoff with federal authorities at public lands ranch of Ammon’s father, Cliven Bundy. Throughout these legal proceedings Oregon has remained a hotbed of Patriot movement activity. Across the state, heavily armed militias and self-anointed “judges and courts” vie for public support, while a handful of county sheriffs and other elected officials actually collude with them.
“The Oregon Patriot movement engages in the same political culture of violence as the national movement, including armed occupations, protests, camps, and marches—as well as threats against elected officials, community activists, and critics,” says Spencer Sunshine, a sociologist and associate fellow at Political Research Associates who wrote the study of the movement included in the guide.
“Making matters worse, some local sheriffs and elected officials actually support the movement,” says Sunshine. This includes Grants County’s Sheriff Glenn Palmer and former Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. Sunshine’s investigation reveals how the movement recruits sheriffs to its beliefs, such as ideas of county political supremacy over state and federal governments. He also documents the May 2015 Patriot movement rally against a newly passed gun law in Oregon, where elected officials listened as the late national Patriot leader Mike Vanderboegh called for the Oregon state government to be overthrown through a civil war.
“What has looked like a rural western phenomenon is in fact connected to national militia networks implicated in violent acts and plots to kill innocent people,” says PRA’s Ramos. Just last week three men associated with the III% militia group were indicted for plotting to bomb a Kansas mosque and housing for Somali immigrants on the day after the presidential election. Adds Ramos, “In the white hot environment of this political season, with Donald Trump is preemptively alleging a stolen election, the Oregon verdict turns the heat up even higher, increasing the probability of violence.”
New Patriot movement groups formed since 2008 include local affiliates of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, as well as the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Researchers estimate that dozens of groups have thousands of supporters in the state, including within the state Republican Party. That includes former state GOP treasurer Ken Taylor and Oregon State Representative Dallas Heard, who made a personal pilgrimage to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation. Josephine County Oath Keeper Joseph Rice attended the 2016 Republican Convention as a state party delegate.
“As Oregonians, we have a responsibility to support those who are resisting these movements and struggling for real democratic control of their communities,” says Jessica Campbell, Rural Organizing Project Co-Director and contributing author. “Rural Oregonians want healthy and vibrant communities where everyone can live their lives fully with safety and dignity, and that isn’t possible when those who have the most guns get to intimidate their political opponents into silence.”
Providing alternatives for communities being targeted for Patriot movement recruitment is extremely important. Jessica Campbell of Rural Organizing Project offers strategies for how community members can break out of a sense of isolation, form a group, and speak out with their own vision of what the community should look like. The guide’s case studies of effective community resistance from five Oregon counties show how residents can successfully counter Patriot movement messaging and intimidation, and help build inclusive and egalitarian communities.
Available for interview
Tarso Luís Ramos, executive director of PRA, has been researching the U.S. Right for 25 years. Throughout the 1990s, Ramos worked in multiple western states to counteract anti-environmental, militia, anti-LGBT and other organized threats to social justice.
Jessica Campbell and Cara Shufelt, Co-directors of Rural Organizing Project.