Standoffs and the Far Right: What Changed After Oklahoma City?

Aerial view of Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building after bombing, 1995. Photo: Leonard Brakebill, Oklahoma Air National Guard.

Twenty-three years ago, on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a powerful homemade truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The death toll reached 168, and about 850 were injured. McVeigh’s act was retribution against the federal government for its attacks on the paramilitary Far Right. Looking back, the bombing apparently forced changes in how armed Far Right insurgents are treated by the federal government—a change which may have led to the hands-off policy against armed encampments led by the Bundy family in Nevada in 2014, and Oregon in 2016. Today, the Bundys walk free. One of them, Ryan Bundy, has announced he will run for Nevada governor. But do they owe their freedom, celebrity, and success to McVeigh’s murderous attack?

McVeigh was aided by Terry Nichols; both were members of the then-burgeoning militia movement, which advocated forming locally based paramilitary units to combat what were wild conspiracy theories about encroaching federal government power. In particular, the bombing was revenge for the federal attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas on the same day—April 19—two years earlier. There, a federal raid and siege on this religious group left 80 sect members, and four federal agents, dead. (McVeigh himself had gone to Waco to witness the events.) The militia movement was also inspired by anger over the 1992 Ruby Ridge incident, where two family members of a fugitive White supremacist were killed by federal agents, as well as the 1993 Brady Bill which enacted stricter gun laws. And on the same day of the Oklahoma City bombing, Richard Snell—a White supremacist involved in the paramilitary-style group The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord—was executed for murder in Arkansas.

While internal documents have never been made public which directly confirm this, it is widely thought that the Oklahoma City bombing led to a change in federal policy when dealing with armed Far Right actions. Certainly their practices changed from forceful engagement to kid glove treatment, which was evident in the 1996 standoff at the Justus Township in Montana. There, the armed militants followed Sovereign Citizen-style beliefs—which are based on an interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that claims most federal laws and regulations can be ignored. At this standoff, federal agents surrounded the compound, but waited 81 days before convincing them to surrender. No other major armed conflicts arose before the 1990s militia movement wound down by 2001.

The Patriot movement is a Far Right movement which follows an idiosyncratic reading of the U.S. Constitution; they claim it prohibits almost the entire structure of the current U.S. federal government. It is best known for its tactics of forming militias and other paramilitaries. According to Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons, it started in the 1950s and in the 1990s spun off an “armed wing”—the militia movement. The Patriot movement has gone through a number of phases over the decades, and has been influenced in fundamental ways by the White Nationalist movement. Open calls on the right for “civil war” became common starting in late 2008, and a new wave of paramilitary groups—including the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters—arose. These calls for mass armed action finally took form in 2014 when Cliven Bundy put a call-out for help in resisting a roundup of his cattle.

Cliven Bundy adheres to a version of Patriot movement politics which is mixed in with a special strain of politicized, Far Right Mormonism that is part of the Patriot movement. After many years of dispute, federal agents came to impound his cattle in April 2014. That’s when Bundy put the call out to Patriot movement paramilitaries, who held the federal agents off at gunpoint. They eventually retreated without making any arrests.

This standoff was actually the first time the Patriot movement strategy of armed confrontation with the federal government worked, though it had been preached for decades. It was followed by two smaller armed encampments, in which armed Patriot movement activists gathered at Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon, and White Hope Mine in Montana, to back miners in disputes with federal government agencies.

On January 2, 2016, the next major standoff occurred when a small group of men, led by Cliven Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, as well as LaVoy Finicum, started an armed occupation of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside of Burns, Oregon. For the first several days, the militants did not attract many followers, and had only a small amount of food. In the bitter cold, it would have been easy for authorities to blockade the road leading to the buildings, cut the heat—and internet, which they used to spread their message—and wait for their surrender. But the federal authorities didn’t. Instead, they allowed the Bundys’ followers (and media) to drive directly to the buildings, and even accept FedEx and other deliveries. Some takeover supporters were there during the day but partied and slept in the nearby town at night. The leaders were even able to leave the state, and give public presentations in nearby towns, and return unmolested. Only at the very end, when the leaders attempted to go to the next county but were arrested en route— and one killed—were steps taken to isolate the last holdouts who insisted on remaining. (For more background on the Patriot movement and the armed camps, see the Political Research Associates and Rural Organizing Project report, Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement.)

Ammon Bundy (at microphone) and Jon RItzheimer (left) at a Malheur Refuge occupation press conference. (Photograph courtesy of Spencer Sunshine)

Tom Kubic, a former FBI agent involved in the Justus Township standoff, told Time that what may have motivated the authorities to take this approach: “You don’t want to do anything precipitous that would heighten the degree of confrontation.” At least, it seems, if the armed militants are mostly White and Far Right.

Comparisons with federal policy against other political factions are difficult. Islamists and neo-Nazis have not carried out armed occupations in the United States. Other movements that had engaged in armed occupations in the 1960s and ‘70s—including Communists, Black nationalists, and Native American radicals—had moved away from armed struggle. And heavy-handed policing strategies in dealing with much more mild forms of protest, such as street demonstrations and blockades, have convinced leftists and people of color nationalists that state repression would be quite severe if armed action was involved. For example, even unarmed occupations like the 2016 Standing Rock protests were met with significant force from law enforcement.

Despite their well-documented crimes, crime indeed did pay for the Bundy family. At the Malheur Refuge trial, the family members were acquitted, and the Bundy Ranch trial ended with a dismissal in January 2018. (A small number of people were convicted in connection with the armed actions, but most received fairly limited sentences.)

Since then, the family has emerged as something of folk heroes for the movement. So much so, that in March 2018, Ryan Bundy announced that he intends to run for Nevada governor—barely two years after he helped lead an armed takeover of a federal facility. One of the gunmen who pointed weapons at federal agents at the Bundy Ranch, Eric “EJ” Parker, addressed the Idaho legislature in January 2018 and received a standing ovation.

The fact that the Bundy family, Parker, and the other veterans of the standoff are free—and even alive—to reap their accolades can be traced back to altered federal protocols on how to deal with armed, largely white, Far Right occupations following the bombings planned and executed by McVeigh and Nichols. Without this change, Cliven Bundy’s poorly organized, but heavily armed, supporters would not have had their victory. And the armed occupiers of the Malheur Refuge headquarters would not have gotten through the first week—much less 41 days—without heat and internet. These Far Right triumphs were paid for with the blood of 168 dead in Oklahoma City.

What in McVeigh’s day were militia talking points are now heard in Congress.The Patriot movement’s politics, once marginal, can be found in the mainstream of the Republican Party. The call to abolish the Fourteenth Amendment (which made freed slaves citizens by granting birthright citizenship), was once limited to committed racists who picked from the Constitution like a buffet.  Now it can be heard by Congressmen, such as Steve King (R-IA), and, in 2015, from Donald Trump’s lips. In February 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.” In the wake of the Malheur takeover, Congressional bills were introduced to transfer public lands enforcement to county sheriffs. The Republican Party’s national platform denounces Agenda 21; this nonbinding United Nations resolution encouraging sustainable development is the subject of many right-wing conspiracy theories that claim the UN is about to destroy the United States’ national sovereignty. David Clark, the former Milwaukee County sheriff who is close to the Patriot movement, was considered for a Homeland Security appointment by Trump.

Nichols is serving a life sentence, while McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001 for his role in what was then the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history. A few months later it would be overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks. Today, McVeigh and Nichols are often portrayed as angry cranks—but their ideas in the mainstream and the tactics have had a lasting effect. But did they succeed in their goals of getting the federal government to give a long leash to armed Far Right radicals? In looking at how the authorities responded to the Bundys’ actions, it seems that McVeigh and Nichols did indeed achieve their goals.

Rumors of Civil War: How Anti-Communist Conspiracies Imagine an Antifa Civil War on November 4

A conspiracy theory has spread like wildfire through the Far Right claiming that on November 4, “antifa” will start a civil war and attempt to overthrow Donald Trump. The date is supposed to precede the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and the demonstrations are described as a prelude to establishing a Communist dictatorship. One website says, “they are planning to kill every single Trump voter, Conservative and gun owner.” The different permutations of the conspiracy show the fears of the Far Right. But, more dangerously, these false claims that antifa will initiate a wave of violence are a kind of projection­; in reality, the conspiracy is being used to encourage Far Right activists to harm non-violent Leftist protestors. And threats of violence are pouring in on social media.

Former PRA Senior Analyst Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons write in Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort that conspiracy theories often “start with a grain of truth.” That grain is that the left-wing group Refuse Fascism has called for national demonstrations on November 4. In August, the group issued a call for supporters to:

Take To The Streets And Public Squares in cities and towns across the country continuing day after day and night after night—not stopping—until our DEMAND is met: This Nightmare Must End: The Trump/Pence Regime Must Go! In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America!

In a clarification, Refuse Fascism explicitly said the protests will be “non-violent.”

Refuse Fascism is closely associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party, a small Maoist party which formed in the 1970s—although Refuse Fascism itself contains activists from a variety of backgrounds. (It is not uncommon for specifically Marxist-Leninist groups to receive disproportionate attention by the Far Right, as opposed to anarchist or other radical left activists.) So far the November 4 demonstrations seem to have gained limited traction outside of Refuse Fascism.

Additionally, despite Far Right misrepresentations, Refuse Fascism is not an antifa group—although they are openly sympathetic to the movement, and have defended antifa on their website. No self-identified antifa groups seem to have endorsed the November 4 demonstrations, although some are warning their social media followers about the conspiracy theory.

Fake news about Jewish financier George Soros’s supposed funding antifa combine new versions of traditional antisemitic and anti-Communist conspiracy theories.

Antifa has also been the focus of Far Right conspiracies since a large black bloc careened through Washington, DC during Trump’s inauguration on January 20. (Black Blocs are a demonstration tactic where militant activists dress in all black and wear masks.) Fake flyers, attributed to antifa groups, were circulated which called for the murder of white children, and even fake demonstrations have been called. Conspiracies have included claims of Soros and Clinton funding; planned desecration of Confederate graves; and ties to ISIS. Alex Jones of Infowars even claimed that the hotel room of shooter Stephen Paddock, who murdered 58 people (not including himself) in Las Vegas on October 1, had “antifa crap everywhere.”

Unsurprisingly, there is no evidence for these claims—and usually, exactly the opposite is true. For example, there are antifa activists fighting in Syria—but they are fighting alongside the largely-Kurdish YPG against ISIS.

The Details of the Conspiracy

The Patriot movement has long fixated on the idea of a coming civil war and a Communist takeover. Earlier this year, Far Right media warned about a “Summer of Rage.” One conspiracy website headline claimed: “Summer of rage set to boil over as militant leftists plan to OVERTHROW Trump. Chaos planned in 50 largest cities!” In this case, the focus was on nation-wide, peaceful “Impeachment Marches” that were held on July 2. But the November 4 conspiracy has spread much wider than this previous one.

The November 4 conspiracy video went viral when a video was posted on the “Vets Before Illegals” Facebook page on September 20 which has received 3 million views. In it, a man dressed like U.S. Marshal claims that:

On their website they [antifa] are calling for an open civil war that they will start here in the United States in November. They are fundraising for weapons, training, ammunition, supplies. They’re not hiding this. They are openly fundraising so that they can get the stuff together to attack—and this is verbatim what they’re going to do—they will start off by attacking police officers, first responders, anybody that’s in uniform.

And after they have disrupted that enough in the nation, and us first responders are literally going everywhere, trying to resolve things—they will then go after the citizens, and the people, and the government, and all of that.

So if you’re white, you’re a Trump supporter—you’re a Nazi then to them—and it will be open game on you. I don’t know why we’re allowing this, but it is time that, honestly, if our leaders and our leadership isn’t going to step up and finish this, we have to—each and every one of us has to, and that is our right, and that is what we must do.

Not just are the “verbatim” quotes entirely fabricated, but the video ends with a call to vigilante action by the Far Right.

These claims were later picked up by media with larger reach, like Infowars­, who have promoted the conspiracy in multiple articles and broadcasts. But it is just one of dozens of Far Right websites and videos— including the John Birch Society’s New American and Richard Spencer’s AltRight.com—which promote and elaborate on the details of the story.

Some claim that a night of mayhem, based on the movie The Purge, will occur. For example, YouTube vlogger “Sage Wanderer,” stresses that home invasions will be a major component of November 4, because antifa will supposedly attempt to steal guns for the upcoming revolution. Another vlogger muses about the possibility that George Soros will hire “trained professional killers” to fight alongside antifa. On an Infowars broadcast, Doug Hagmann claims “evangelical churches” will be attacked, while Jones claims that “it’s usually tranny men saying they are going to kill everybody.”

One popular Facebook post has upped the ante on the conspiracy, saying:

looks like the new black panthers organization has confirmed they will be part of nov 4th riots and chaos, BLM has just received almost 25 million for weapons and other tools to supply groups that plan to attack “white people” on nov 4th. It is expected there will be over 5 million people in 6 states. The FBI has seen a 1200% up tick in registered democrats buying weapons and mass ammunition. The group called ANTIFA has now reached just over 800,000 members, mostly kids with ages from 16-28 throughout the country. FB will be used as the most cost effective way to transmit locations to attack. Ms-13 has pledged all of there members will join the BLM along with many other gangs.

Last, a number of commentators have encouraged their followers to prepare “bug-out bags,” HAM radios, and emergency supplies—or to leave the cities entirely and head to rural areas.

Threats to murder antifa activists on November 4 are common on Far Right social media sites.

Unsurprisingly, this level of wild rhetoric has produced a huge amount of online threats against antifa and other organizers. Far Right Facebook groups are flooded with threats to attack the demonstrations and murder antifa members. Refuse Fascism says that their supporters have received “outright death-threats and rape-threats.” The conspiracy has even spread to Canada, where Three Percenter paramilitaries are spreading it.

Anti-Communist Conspiracy Theories

These “anti-antifa” conspiracy theories are a recycling of anti-Communist conspiracy theories. Popularized in the United States by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s and later championed by the John Birch Society, they went beyond mere attempts to whip up political support for the Cold War and to destroy the Communist Party USA. Instead, they cast Communists in the “role of the villain in the classic conspiracy theory narrative common to both right-wing populism and fascism,” according to an email from Chip Berlet. Communists are portrayed as a secretive group dedicated to undermining the nation, intent on fomenting civil war and encouraging national discord by supporting equality for oppressed groups, especially racial minorities. Sometimes anti-Communist conspiracies veer into anti-Semitism, with claims of a “Judeo-Bolshevik” conspiracy. They can also support organized White Nationalism, for example claiming that the Civil Rights Movement was a Communist conspiracy.

Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade ended in a backlash against him after he started to focus on the U.S. Army. But his ideas were taken up and developed by the John Birch Society, whose founder Robert Welch claimed that Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a secret Communist. And books like Gary Allen’s 1971 None Dare Call It Conspiracy claim that the Communist conspiracy acted in concert with a series of liberal foundations, wealthy banking families, the Council on Foreign Relations, the United Nations, and the various New Left radical movements.

The popularity of anti-Communist conspiracies has waxed and waned on the Far Right. During the Obama administration, they received a boost alongside the idea—derived from a loose reading of economist Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom—that even mild government social regulation was “Communism” or “socialism.” At the same time, a crypto-antisemitic conspiracy theory also started gaining traction: the notion of “Cultural Marxism” which is widely used by the right-wing today, even in mainstream circles. This conspiracy started by blaming a small group of mostly Jewish Marxist academics, the Frankfurt School, for undermining U.S. conservative values. While the specific claims vary widely, Cultural Marxism is often held responsible for the idea that oppressed groups should have equality in our society, or for the supposed left-wing influence in education or media.

These ideas are circulating again, with antifa often taking the place of the Communists—despite the fact that most US antifa activists tend to be anarchists, and politically hostile to Leninist ideas. Neonazis have long trafficked in anti-Communist and “anti-antifa” ideas and imagery—for example, using the term “Rock Against Communism” to refer to neonazi skinhead bands. “Anti-Communist” symbols and slogans that neo-Nazis developed are now being disseminated in Patriot/militia and Alt Right circles.

“Anti-Marxism” as a New Organizing Theme for the Independent Trumpists

Also of importance is the role that “Anti-Marxism” is taking for what I have labeled “Independent Trumpism.” This is the street alliance of Patriot movement activists, Alt Rightists, Trumpist Republicans, Islamophobes and others which have held a number of rallies since February 2017, sometimes attacking left-wing rallies and sometimes being attacked by left-wing protestors. So far their events have been concentrated on three themes: “free speech,” which is really a cover for ultra-nationalist rallies; defending Confederate memorials from removal, which was the ostensible reason for the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; and Islamophobic rallies, such as the June 10 “March Against Sharia.”

However, “Anti-Marxist” and “Anti-Communist” ideas and rallies have become more popular as well among the same groups of Far Right activists. The violent group “Anti-Communist Action” started in early 2017 and has been acting as a security force for events where Alt Right fascist leader Richard Spencer appears. Their flags are frequently seen at Far Right rallies.

Three Percenters, a decentralized Patriot movement paramilitary, have been particularly vocal in making threats against antifa activists regarding the November 4 demonstrations.

A number of Independent Trumpist rallies have also specifically been called under these anti-Communist slogans. They include a Patriot Prayer “Stand Against Communism” rally in Seattle on May 1; the canceled August 27 “No To Marxism in America” rally in Berkeley, where fights broke out between antifa and Far Right activists who attended anyway; and an October 7 “Anti Marxist Rally” in New Orleans. On August 16, there was also a protest at an ironic Lenin statue in Seattle, Washington.

There are also two upcoming rallies: the November 18 “Rally for the Republic” in Boston which is sponsored by a new coalition called “Resist Marxism.” It lists affiliates which include the Massachusetts Oath Keepers, Massachusetts Three Percent, Patriot Prayer, Based Stickman, and the American Guard’s New Hampshire chapter. A December 28 “March Against Communism” was called for Charlotte, North Carolina and was originally to feature a torch lit rally with Richard Spencer. The march was canceled on September 28, however, and it is unclear if another event such as a private rally will take its place.

The organizing function of these “looming war” narratives serves to motivate the Far Right base, rather than function as actual predictions. There has already been a spate of provocations and attacks on left-wing and progressive demonstrations and spaces throughout the United States all year. Refuse Fascism reports that permits for their rallies in San Francisco and New York City have been denied, which will give them less ability to control what happens if and when counter-protestors show up. Because of the level of rhetoric on the Far Right, activists attending the November 4 demonstrations should take into account these threats.

Peas in an Oregon Pod: Right-Wing Paramilitaries & The GOP

The Republican Party of Multnomah County, Oregon (which includes Portland) disregarded public outcry when it passed a resolution last week to allow private, paramilitary groups to provide security functions at GOP events. Chairman James Buchal said they would work with two groups—the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters—that are part of the Patriot movement. This heavily armed Hard Right political movement is famous for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and armed confrontations in Nevada in 2014 and in southeast Oregon in 2016. Giving semi-official sanction to an armed and unaccountable paramilitary opens the door to legally tolerated extra-parliamentary violence, and helps link radical right-wing elements directly to the mainstream.

What Is the Patriot Movement?

The Patriot movement seeks to undermine democratic structures, often through threats and use of violence, and its political views are rooted in various conspiracy theories. It promotes radical, right-wing decentralization, particularly regarding the economy and federal regulations. Many members support the legally spurious idea that county sheriffs can decide which laws to enforce, and they frequently form paramilitary groups. Last, they are deeply opposed to progressive social movements.

The Oath Keepers, led by disbarred lawyer Stewart Rhodes, is a national organization of current and former military, police, and first responders that formed in 2009. The Three Percenters, launched in 2008, are more a decentralized grouping—individuals can declare themselves to be Three Percenters, although groups exist as well—and they are frequently more extreme in their views and practice. Together, these two groups are the most important armed groups in the Patriot movement.

Both the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters have been part of numerous armed encampments and standoffs with law enforcement, including in Nevada at the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, and at the Sugar Pine Mine encampment in southwestern Oregon in 2015. Both groups were also part of a “buffer zone” between law enforcement and armed Patriot movement members who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters outside of Burns, Oregon in January and February 2016. (A handful of Three Percenters took part in the occupation itself.) In Oregon, Patriot movement activists have a history of harassing and making threats against progressive organizers, which have included property invasions, and disruptions of events; elected officials and law enforcement have also been threatened. Rhodes has gone so far as to call on his “civil defense units” to “fight in the street” against “these radical Black Lives Matter people and the black anarchists, the black flag anarchists.”

Since February 2017, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters have acted as security or otherwise attended events where neo-Nazis and other avowed white supremacists have been in attendance. These have included a rally in Lake Oswego, a suburb of Portland. Oath Keepers have also appeared at rallies alongside fascists from Identity Evropa both in Berkeley in April 2017, as well as in New York City in June. Also, at an April 2017 rally Pikeville, Kentucky, Oath Keepers helped law enforcement protect neo-Nazis from protesters as they were leaving a rally.

Patriot movement paramilitaries have also acted as security at events held by elected officials in Washington State. For example, a video shows well-known activist Ken Barker among those guarding a Republican Party meeting in Colville in May 2017, which was attended by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).

Links Between the Patriot Movement and Republican Party in Oregon

As I documented in Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement, a report jointly issued in 2016 by Political Research Associates and the Rural Organizing Project, Patriot movement paramilitaries have close ties with the Oregon Republican Party. A number of Oregon elected officials have appeared at Patriot movement events, including ones where paramilitaries sported firearms. They have included State Senator Kim Thatcher and State Representatives Bill Post and Mike Nearman. In February 2015 in Salem, they even appeared alongside Three Percenter co-founder Mike Vanderboegh (now deceased) as he openly threatened “civil war” against the administration of Oregon Governor Kate Brown. There are also a number of county-level officials, such as Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer, who are directly tied to the movement.

In addition to officials who are Patriot movement sympathizers, in Oregon the movement attempted to take over the Republican Party structure itself during the spring 2016 elections. Between fifty and a hundred movement activists were elected Precinct Committee People, the lowest position in the party. At the June 2016 Oregon Republican Party state convention, at least five Patriot movement activists and sympathizers were elected to state party positions or as delegates to the national convention.

The movement failed to overtake the state GOP leadership, however. Paramilitary leader Joseph Rice recently came in a distant second to become the state GOP leader. Rice was a Trump delegate at the 2016 Republican Convention; at that time he lead a group that was still called the Oath Keepers of Josephine County, which was described as the national group’s “flagship” organization. Three Percenter Tim Harris also ran for Vice Chair in the 2017 party election—although he received only 1 percent of the vote.

Oath Keepers in Distress in Oregon

The Oath Keepers have had major defections in Oregon. Rice’s group broke away from the national organization in the fall 2016, changing their name first to Citizen Patriots of Josephine County, and then to Liberty Watch of Josephine County. Rice told the Southern Poverty Law Center that potential members “would not join the group as long as Stewart Rhodes was in charge.” Two state leaders also left the Oath Keepers over Rhodes’s insistence they attend a June 4, 2017 rally in Portland.

This supposed “Free Speech” rally occurred after Jeremy Christian—who had attended a ultra-nationalist rally (also masquerading as a free speech rally) in Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood in April 2017—murdered two men who intervened against his Islamophobic and racist harassment of two young women on mass transit. Thousands protested the June 4 march.

Rhodes Strikes a Deal

The agreement with the Multnomah County GOP apparently was struck by Rhodes himself. He was in touch with both Buchal and the Portland Police Department to coordinate with them before the June 4 rally. At the event, Buchal encouraged the crowd-—filled with Alt Right activists, Patriot movement paramilitaries, and fascists from Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party—to get involved with the Republican Party. At the rally a Patriot movement activist also attracted national attention when he assisted law enforcement in arresting a counter-protester.

The Multnomah County GOP’s contract with private paramilitaries is yet another step in legitimizing unaccountable paramilitary violence in support of a Trumpist Republican Party. This is particularly troubling as the Oath Keepers’ leader has called his armed followers to “fight in the streets” against political opponents, long before Trump’s election.

Hiring Oath Keepers and Three Percenters won’t prevent violence, but in fact will invite it. And it helps form an unbroken link in the chain between neo-Nazis and the Republican Party.

Further readings:

Trump’s “Second Amendment People”?: The U.S. Patriot Movement Today

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Fall 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

Judging from his recent statements, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump seems to be making plans for post-election violence if he’s defeated. At the beginning of August he warned, “I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged.”1). Jeremy Diamond, “Trump: ‘I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged’,” CNN, August 2, 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/08/01/politics/donaldtrump-election-2016-rigged. He went on to issue a seeming call for supporters to intimidate Democrats at the polls, telling his supporters to go with their friends and family to “watch.” (“And when I say watch, you know what I’m talking about, right?”2)Rebecca Savransky, “Trump to supporters: ‘Go out and watch’ on Election Day,” The Hill, August 22, 2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/ presidential-races/donald-trumprigged-system-hillary-clinton-go-outand-watch-you-know-what-im-talkingabout.) Ultimately he declared that if Hillary Clinton “gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is. I don’t know.”3)Eli Watkins and Rachel Chason,
“Trump campaign doubles down on election fraud claims,” CNN, August 13, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/12/politics/donaldtrump-pennsylvania-cheating; Jack
Holmes, “Donald Trump: ‘The 2nd Amendment People’ Can Do Something
to Stop Hillary Clinton,” Esquire, August 9, 2016, www.esquire.com/newspolitics/videos/a47491/donald-trumphints-at-hillary-clinton-assassination.

While Trump claimed he was merely suggesting an electoral remedy, where gun rights advocates become a pivotal voting block, the more obvious interpretation—the one understood by many listeners—was that Trump was seeding the idea in followers’ minds of an armed revolutionary struggle, or an assassination, to overthrow a democratically elected president. It’s likely that at least one constituency is already thinking the same way. When it comes to Trump’s so-called “Second Amendment people,” the prime candidates for the role are the members of the heavily armed, Hard Right “Patriot movement.”

For example, the next month, NPR talked to one Georgia man who was already making plans to join a militia. His reason? “Should martial law, civil war—whatever—break out in this country, they will uphold the Constitution and rebuild our loss…The war that’s going to break out if Hillary Clinton’s elected, if that happens. Your patriots are going to overthrow the government.”4)Travis Gettys, “Georgia voter predicts civil war if Clinton wins: ‘Patriots are going to overthrow the government’,” Raw Story, September 26, 2016, www. rawstory.com/2016/09/georgia-voter-predicts-civil-war-if-clinton-winspatriots-are-going-to-overthrow-thegovernment.

A Patriot movement member stands guard during the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupation in Oregon in January. Photo: Shawn Records.

A Patriot movement member stands guard during the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation in Oregon in January. Photo: Shawn Records.

The Patriot movement is a political tradition that dates back many decades. In the 1990s, when its “armed wing” expanded rapidly, it became well known as the militia movement.5)Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America (New York: Guilford Press, 2000), 287. It gained infamy in 1995 when two of its participants bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 (including 19 children in a daycare center on site).6)FBI, “The Oklahoma City Bombing 20 Years Later,” accessed October 15, 2016, https://stories.fbi.gov/oklahoma-bombing. In more recent years, Patriot movement activists have repeatedly made headlines for anti-government actions. In 2014, members converged on rancher Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch to hold off federal employees at gunpoint and stop them from seizing his cattle for non-payment of grazing fees. In January 2016, Bundy’s sons were among the group of paramilitaries who took over the headquarters of the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside of Burns, Oregon, for 41 days. Originally demanding freedom for two local ranchers who had been imprisoned for arson, their main demand soon became that the federally owned refuge be transferred to county authorities that would allow it to be used for ranching with few or no environmental restrictions.

The Patriot movement is rooted in an idiosyncratic reading of the U.S. Constitution, which they claim prohibits almost the entire structure of the current U.S. federal government. They desire a completely unrestrained capitalist system on domestic matters, and denounce even the mildest state interventions in markets as “Marxism.” Federal ownership of most public land and any regulation of private firearms are also considered to be a violation of the Constitution.

The same holds for federal agencies that engage in almost any kind of regulation, including in economics, environmentalism, workers’ rights, health and safety, or civil rights for oppressed groups. The Patriot movement is saturated with anti-immigrant xenophobia and Islamophobia, and is driven by conspiracy theories concerning federal overreach, sleeper ISIS cells, and plans for a New World Order. (One popular claim is that the federal government is using Agenda 21—a non-binding United Nations white paper that promotes environmental sustainability—and environmental politics to drive rural people off the land and into the cities, where they will be disarmed and put in detention camps, so that the United Nations or China can invade.)

These conspiracy theories, which serve as the theoretical basis of the movement’s politics, provide easy explanations for complex problems. The basic narrative framework is based on centuries-old ideas and appeals to people across cultures; it casts participants as the heroes in a story in which good and evil are pitted against each other, sometimes in an apocalyptic battle.

One of the most interesting aspects of the movement is that, despite the fact that many of its tactics and talking points come from the White supremacist movement, it presents itself in a way that seems to avoid its racist background. One of the early Patriot movement groups, Posse Comitatus, was founded in 1971 on the West Coast as a vehicle for White supremacism and antisemitism. And yet, explains Daniel Levitas, author of the most comprehensive account of the group, Terrorist Next Door The Militia Movement & the Radical Right, the Posse (as it was called) didn’t look or sound like other White supremacist organizations. “Unlike most other right-wing groups that shared similar beliefs,” Levitas wrote, “the Posse succeeded at joining its conspiracy theories, bigotry, and zest for violence to more mainstream issues, such as banking, land-use planning, environmental regulations, property rights, gun ownership, and race.”7)Daniel Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002), 10.

Writing about the Patriot movement of the late 1990s, which had inherited many aspects of the Posse’s organizational model, researcher David Neiwert wrote in his book, In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, that the movement “disguises the racial and anti-democratic implications of its agenda and emphasizes, instead, its populist appeal across a broad range of issues, all wrapped in the bright colors of American nationalism.”8)David A. Neiwert, In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 1999), 5.

One of the other curious elements of the Patriot movement is that it waxes and wanes in phases; in particular it has flourished under Democratic presidencies.

One of the other curious elements of the Patriot movement is that it waxes and wanes in phases; in particular it has flourished under Democratic presidencies. The militia movement coincided with Bill Clinton’s tenure, but soon after George W. Bush came into office, it faded. The current generation emerged with Barack Obama’s election. Apparently Democrats better fit the movement’s Manchurian Candidate-style narratives about the president being a secret Communist agent who is about to betray the nation and is more likely to push for gun control—a core issue for the movement.

Trump isn’t exactly the movement’s ideal candidate; Ted Cruz did more to court Patriots, many of whom supported him in the primary. But quite a number of Trump’s views—his toxic combination of bellicose patriotism, xenophobia and Islamophobia; implicit White nationalism; protectionist but pro-capitalist politics; as well as his thinly veiled threats of violence and penchant for wild conspiracy theories—all hit the same notes as the Patriot movement. And if Trump loses, and Hillary Clinton takes office, the movement could adopt a revolutionary stance. The Patriot milieu is flush with heavily armed followers who are already trained in military tactics. It would only take a small number of them to go underground and start an armed struggle, with the hope of igniting a larger uprising.

THE PATRIOT MOVEMENT’S THREE WAVES

In Right Wing Populism in America Too Close for Comfort, author Matthew Lyons and former PRA senior analyst Chip Berlet write that, “The Patriot movement was bracketed on the reformist side by the [John] Birch Society and the conspiracist segment of the Christian Right, and on the insurgent side by the Liberty Lobby and groups promoting themes historically associated with White supremacy and antisemitism.”9)Berlet and Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America, 288–89. However, groups that are the backbone of the movement today are armed, or advocate actions that are beyond the bounds of the existing law—or both. This movement has had three identifiable waves.

The group that set the organizing template for both the 1990s militia movement and the most active elements of the current Patriot movement was the Posse Comitatus (Latin for “power of the county”). The proposed outline for the group was first published in 1971 by William Potter Gale, a self-proclaimed minister in the racist and antisemitic Christian Identity religion, which holds that Jews are children of Satan and people of color are “mud people.”10)Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door, 108. When the head of Gale’s church, Wesley Swift, died, the position was taken by Richard Butler. He moved the church to Idaho and renamed it Aryan Nations, and the church became a major player the 1980s and 1990s neo-Nazi scene. Gale, a veteran of several Hard Right groups, developed a new politics of White supremacy and antisemitism that took a different direction than post-war U.S. neo-Nazism, which at the time was still a newcomer to the political scene. Instead of seeking an authoritarian, centralized state government with references to mid-nineteenth century European political imagery and promises of active government intervention, Gale promoted a vision of radical decentralization that relied on the founding symbols and texts of the U.S. liberal system. Gale’s vision of White supremacy was dressed up in the Constitution and cowboy imagery—not Mein Kampf and swastika armbands.

Gale’s vision of White supremacy was dressed up in the Constitution and cowboy imagery—not Mein Kampf and swastika armbands.

Gale’s Posse Comitatus was based on his own beliefs about the law, which combined an idiosyncratic reading of the Constitution, the Bible, and Anglo-Saxon common law. The most important claim of Posse Comitatus was that county sheriffs could decide which laws were constitutional—something that would allow them to ignore federal laws at a time when civil rights and environmental protection legislation were being passed. (This fixation on fighting the federal government is what helped it gain such wide appeal.) Gale’s primary concept on sheriffs’ authority eventually included the notion that sheriffs could reject Constitutional Amendments as well—especially the 14th, which would strip citizenship from many people of color.

Posse Comitatus also advocated setting up fake courts as part of the prefigurative legal system it envisioned. These “common law courts,” composed of movement adherents, claimed they had the legal right to try and sentence standing officials, typically for treason. In effect, they were kangaroo courts, which hold their trials in absentia (who would show up to one?), and have only been known to pass out guilty verdicts. The threatened punishments have ranged from issuing fines to execution.11)For threats of execution, see Neiwert, In God’s Country, 102, 175, 198, 223; for threats of kidnapping, see Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door, 305. This idiosyncratic reading of constitutional law later became the Sovereign Citizen movement.

A significant, more intellectual, part of the movement was the Hard Right anti-Communist John Birch Society, founded in 1958. The group promoted conspiracy theories that were based on old antisemitic tropes but which no longer named Jews as the agents of conspiracy. For example, they claimed the United States was controlled by a secret cabal of Communists who planned to implement an authoritarian New World Order. Still in existence today, the John Birch Society continues to promote Patriot movement staples such as the authority of the county sheriff to judge the constitutionality of laws and advocate the transfer of federally owned lands.

The Posse Comitatus experienced a revival during the 1980s farm crisis. An increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve—from single digits to an average of 15.3 percent, and often higher—as well as changes in the international agricultural industry, led to widespread foreclosures of small farms, especially in the Midwest.12)Brian Lamm, “Banking and the Agricultural Problems of the 1980s,” FDIC, accessed October 10, 2016, www.fdic. gov/bank/historical/history/259_290. pdf. This is chapter 8 of the first volume of FDIC, History of the Eighties – Lessons for the Future, originally published in 1997; www.fdic.gov/bank/historical/ history/index.html. A protest movement, led by the American Agriculture Movement, arose in response. Their tactics included “tractorcades,” where thousands of farmers would drive tractors into urban areas as demonstrations, and “penny auctions,” where they tried to sabotage auctions of foreclosed farms. While the farm crisis affected thousands of farmers, a portion of the protesters were drawn to the Posse Comitatus politics, which claimed that an international conspiracy of Jewish bankers (who supposedly controlled the Federal Reserve) had dispossessed farmers of their land. By then the name “Christian Patriots”—a label which “said who they were without exposing them to quite as much criticism or surveillance” as Posse Comitatus, Levitas writes—had come into common use for the movement.13)Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door, 257

The 1990s militia movement, which formed the second wave of the Patriot movement, called for the formation of locally based militias to fend off looming tyranny—usually conceived of as a coming invasion by the United Nations, or domination by a secret cabal of elites. Although still present, those who openly espoused racist and antisemitic ideas were now a minority in the movement. The tactics and political goals remained the same, although the ideas of the John Birch Society had now become more prominent than the Christian Identity beliefs that animated the earlier movement. This second wave brought a mixture of different groups together, including White separatists, gun rights activists, right-wing tax protestors, anti-abortion activists, and Sovereign Citizens.

Then, as today, veterans were targets of recruitment by the movement—treated as objects of special veneration who could provide military training to other participants.

Starting in 1994, the militia movement expanded rapidly. Opposition to the Brady Bill, a 1993 gun control law, helped catalyze the movement. But many adherents were inspired by two incidents widely seen as evidence of federal government overreach or even tyranny. Then, as today, veterans were targets of recruitment by the movement—treated as objects of special veneration who could provide military training to other participants. The first was Ruby Ridge, a 1992 standoff between the FBI and the Weaver family, White separatists and Christian Identity followers in Idaho. During the 11-day standoff, two members of the family and one FBI agent were killed. The second was the 1993 siege of the compound of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, where a total of 84 people died in a botched raid by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which was followed by a standoff that lasted almost two months. Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was retaliation for these incidents, as he made clear in a letter just before his execution.14)Tracy McVeigh, “The McVeigh letters: Why I bombed Oklahoma,” Guardian, May 6, 2001, www.theguardian.com/world/2001/may/06/mcveigh. usa. One side effect was that, even as the federal government amped up its infiltration of militia groups, it also apparently adopted a very hands-off policy in dealing with majority-White, Hard Right groups in order to avoid a repeat of these two tragedies, and the reaction that resulted. This practice has affected standoffs in recent years.

At its height, the militia movement had 20,000–60,000 active members, and perhaps five million people who agreed with its basic worldview. It was able to attract supporters in Washington, D.C., including U.S. Representatives Steve Stockman (R-TX) and Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-ID). There were also state and local legislators like Colorado State Representative and Senator Charlie Duke.15)Kenneth S. Stern, A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 212–17. Gary Johnson, the 2016 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, even had a disturbing meeting with the militias in 1995 when he was New Mexico’s governor. Occurring about a week after the Oklahoma City bombing, Johnson emerged to call them “very patriotic” and say he shared their views about federal government overreach.16)Kenneth S. Stern, A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 215. But after George W. Bush’s 2000 election win—and then, even more so after 9/11—the movement, which has always been strongest in opposition to a Democratic administration, declined.

In late 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, the movement sprang back to life with a third wave. New organizations emerged, but they still promoted the doctrines that the county sheriff should interpret the Constitution; that most of the federal government was unconstitutional; and that it was essential to form paramilitaries and a parallel legal apparatus, such as movement-controlled court systems, in order to replace the current structure of government. After 2008 it became rare to find open, ideological White supremacist (or separatist) views among those in leadership positions. Islamophobia also largely supplanted antisemitism, with Muslims replacing Jews in recycled demonizing narratives.

THE NEW WAVE

While organized militias, which were popular in the 1990s, are still around, they are no longer the central organizing force of the movement. Since 2008, Patriot movement activists who engage in armed organizing, or other actions that overstep the law, usually fall into five main groups. The Oath Keepers are a membership-based organization of current and former police, military, and first responders who swear to “defend the Constitution.” (Others can join as associate members.) Oath Keepers swear not to enforce 10 hypothetical orders—mostly derived from staple right-wing conspiracy theories about how the U.S. government will disarm civilians and herd them into concentration camps to facilitate a foreign invasion. The organization attempts to operate within the law while also being armed, and to portray themselves as a cross between a veterans’ group and a community service organization. They were present at the Bundy Ranch standoff; sent members to Ferguson, Missouri, during protests against police killings; tried to recruit at Occupy Wall Street events; and offered to guard Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis when she refused to register same-sex marriages.17)Spencer Sunshine with Rural Organizing Project and Political Research Associates, Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement (Somerville: Political Research Associates, 2016), www.po – liticalresearch.org/up-in-arms, 7, 20.

5groupsFounded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, who had been an aide to former U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), the Oath Keepers are estimated to have just over 2,000 members (they claim a membership of 40,000). Rhodes, a graduate of Yale Law School, illustrates how cross-class this movement is, despite the stereotype of it being mostly poor, rural, and uneducated White people.

An affiliated group, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), is led by former Arizona county sheriff Richard Mack, who is also on the board of directors of the Oath Keepers. Mack became a hero of the Hard Right in the 1990s when he won a Supreme Court ruling that backed his argument that local law enforcement does not need to enforce the provision of the Brady Act, which required them to perform gun sale background checks.18)Ryan Lenz, “Former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack Seeks ‘Army’ of Sheriffs to Resist Federal Authority,” Southern Poverty Law Center, November 11, 2012, www.splcenter.org/fightinghate/intelligence-report/2012/formerarizona-sheriff-richard-mack-seeks- ‘army’-sheriffs-resist-federal-authority. Like Posse Comitatus, Mack believes sheriffs can refuse to enforce federal laws, and decide whether amendments are constitutional. He has worked with Randy Weaver, the White separatist whose family was killed at Ruby Ridge, and previously worked for the radical group Gun Owners of America. The CSPOA refuses to make its membership list public, but it may include dozens of county sheriffs (they claim 400), in addition to other members.

One of those in the CSPOA’s orbit is Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, whom the group named their “Sheriff of the Year” in 2013. A speaker at the 2016 Republican National Convention and a frequent commentator on Fox News, he has called Black Lives Matter “purveyors of hate” and “black slime,” and tweeted, “Before long, Black Lies Matter will join forces with ISIS to being down our legal constituted republic” (sic). He has also made comments that imply he would welcome an armed revolutionary movement against gun seizures.19)“Sheriff David Clarke: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,” Heavy, July 18 (updated August 15), 2016, http://heav y.com/news/2016/07/sheriff-david-clarke-milwaukee-blacklives-matter-republican-nationalconvention-you-tube-cnn-quotesdon-lemon-guns-baton-rouge-trump; Katherine Krueger, “Frequent Fox News Guest: ‘Black Lives Matter Will Join Forces With ISIS,” Talking Points Memo, October 28, 2015, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/sheriff-davidclarke-black-lives-matter-isis; David
Neiwert, “Sheriff David Clarke Plays a Straight-Talking Cop on Cable TV, But His Agenda Springs From Far-Right Extremism,” Southern Poverty Law Center, October 30, 2015, www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/10/30/sheriff-david-clarke-plays-straight-talking-copcable-tv-his-agenda-springs-far-right.

The Three Percenters were co-founded in 2008 by Mike Vanderboegh, a 1990s militia activist, as a more decentralized version of the militias, which many believe are heavily infiltrated by law enforcement. Anyone can independently declare themself a Three Percenter, although there are organized local and national groups as well. This model of “leaderless resistance” creates a more difficult political milieu to infiltrate than standing, membership-based organizations, and illegal actions can then be taken with a greater level of anonymity. The name refers to the mythical portion of American colonialists who were said to have taken up arms against the British during the American Revolution. Three Percenters swear that they will forcefully resist new gun regulations—a promise that brings to mind Trump’s unnamed “Second Amendment people.” In general they have a similar ideology to the Oath Keepers, although with a greater focus on Islamophobia, and they tend to attract the more violent members of the movement. (Some Three Percenters are reported to have also joined the Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigrant vigilante patrol group founded by Finnish neo-Nazis and recently active in the United States as well.)

Another grouping, the Sovereign Citizens, also follow the crank legal theories first developed by Posse Comitatus. They believe most federal laws do not apply to them. The growth of a new wave of Sovereigns, as they are called, may have been spurred by the economic crisis starting in 2008; some have attempted to declare ownership of houses that underwent foreclosures. There are an estimated 100,000 “hardcore” Sovereigns, and 200,000 additional sympathizers. While there is clearly a large audience for these ideas, organized groups only play a minor role.20)The organizations include the Republic for the united States of America, the National Liberty Alliance, and the new Continental Court System of the United States. Many websites and videos promote these fake legal theories, while individuals—known as “gurus”—who spread their own versions of Sovereign Citizen ideas go on speaking tours to cultivate followers.

Their tactics vary. Some file false liens against political opponents, engage in tax scams and fraud. Some set up their own courts and declare themselves judges. (At least two fake courts, overseen by self-proclaimed judges and targeting federal employees, were initiated by those connected to the Malheur occupation.) Some, like Scott Roeder, who assassinated abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, refuse to put valid license plates on their cars. Others have killed law enforcement officers, including Joseph and Jerry Kane, who in 2010 killed two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas, before dying in a shootout.21)J.J. MacNab, “‘Sovereign’ Citizen Kane,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 1, 2010, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2010/sovereign-citizen-kane.

Despite the movement’s origins in the racist Right, today there are also a number of Black sovereigns. Veteran Gavin Long, the sniper who killed three police officers and wounded three others during a July 2016 Black Lives Matter march in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was part of a group influenced by Sovereign Citizen ideology.22)Brandon Ellington Patterson, “Baton Rouge Cop Killer Was a ‘Sovereign Citizen.’ What the Heck Is That?,” Mother Jones, July 20, 2016, www. motherjones.com/politics/2016/07/ gavin-long-sovereign-citizen-possecomitatus-patriot-militias.

The size of these various wings of the movement is difficult to estimate. If based on the self-reporting of the CSPOA and the Oath Keepers, and online social media membership of Three Percenter group, it would appear that they represent a combined total of 130,000 activists—but this number is doubtlessly wildly inflated. It’s likely that their real numbers are between a quarter and a tenth of this.23)This upward figure is based on Richard Mack claiming the CSPOA has 5,000 members, the Oath Keepers claim of 40,000, and an analysis of closed online Three Percenter groups, showing a total membership of 85,000. (This is in separate from the estimate that there are 100,000 active Sovereign Citizens, and 200,000 sympathizers.) Even at these high numbers, there is a significant crossover of membership as well, lowering the total. See Rachel Tabachnick, “Profile on the Right: Oath Keepers,” Political Research Associates, April 23, 2015, http://www. politicalresearch.org/2015/04/23/ profile-on-the-right-oathkeepers; Mark Potok and Ryan Lenz, “Line in the Sand,” Southern Poverty Law Center, June 13, 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2016/line-sand; Devin Burghart, “Oregon Standoff Fuels Growth of the Three Percenters (IREHR),” February 3, 2016, IREHR, http://www.irehr. org/2016/02/03/2415; “Sovereign Citizens Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center, www.splcenter.org/ fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/ sovereign-citizens-movement. The movement is spread across the United States; in certain Western states, it has the character of a mass movement with some level of popular support, including in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. (For a detailed analysis of the Oregon movement, see the Political Research Associates and Rural Organizing Project report Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement.24)Sunshine, et al., Up in Arms)

THE MOVEMENT TODAY

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this third wave peaked in 2011, before declining over the next several years. But when rancher Cliven Bundy staged his Nevada standoff in April 2014, over his longstanding financial dispute over grazing fees with the Bureau of Land Management, the movement swelled to his defense. When federal authorities came to seize Bundy’s cattle, Bundy called in his Patriot movement allies, which included armed Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. After a brief armed standoff, federal agents retreated—apparently following the government’s playbook instituted after Waco and Ruby Ridge.

For almost two years, there were no arrests and Bundy continued to not pay his grazing fees. Perhaps for the first time in the movement’s history, it appeared that the armed Patriot movement strategy—of deploying paramilitaries to stop the federal government from enforcing laws they opposed—had succeeded. This victory, achieved without casualties, inspired a sudden upsurge in movement activity and made the Bundys into movement icons.

For years, Republicans have attempted to transfer federally owned lands—which account for almost 50 percent of the land in 11 Western states—to state or county governments, effectively privatizing them in order to circumvent regulations on logging, mining, ranching, and development.25)The federal government controls 46.9 percent of the land in 11 western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. See Carol Hardy Vincent, Laura A. Hanson, and Jerome P. Bjelopera, “Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data,” Federation of American Scientists, December 29, 2014, 20, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42346. pdf, 20. Between the Bundy Ranch and Malheur wildlife refuge incidents, Patriot movement activists formed armed camps to support miners who were in conflict with federal agencies on at least two occasions. The first was in April 2015—the anniversary of the Bundy ranch standoff—at the Sugar Pine Mine in Josephine County, Oregon, and the second was at the White Hope Mine in Lincoln, Montana, in August 2015. Neither of these events garnered much national attention.

Ammon Bundy (left) at the Malheur occupation. Photo: Shawn Records.

Ammon Bundy (left) at the Malheur occupation. Photo: Shawn Records.

Then on January 2, 2016, Patriot movement activists held a march in a remote Oregon town to protest an unusual prison sentence for two local ranchers who had been convicted under the 1996 Terrorism Act for starting fires on federal land where they had grazing rights. At the end of the march, a small group of armed activists from other states—including Cliven Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, as well as well-known Islamophobic organizer Jon Ritzheimer—occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where one of the fires had burned. They demanded the ranchers be freed, and the refuge be transferred to county control. They occupied the refuge for 41 days and engaged in an intense, unsuccessful struggle to win local community support for their efforts. One militant was killed when he refused to surrender at a police checkpoint. Those involved in the earlier Nevada standoff, including Cliven Bundy, were then also arrested. Twenty-six people were originally arrested for the Malheur Refuge occupation, and seven went to trial in September 2016; as of October 17, the trials are ongoing. The Bundy Ranch standoff trials are slated to begin in February 2017.

THE PATRIOT MOVEMENT AND THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

In the past, the Patriot movement’s politics were considered extreme even by fellow conservatives. Today—coming on the tail of the armed takeover of federal property—it’s an increasingly popular grassroots movement in rural areas of several Western states where there are high levels of federal land ownership. The Republican Party mainstream is moving into alignment with the politics, if not the tactics, of the Patriot movement. Some elected officials are open sympathizers, such as Nevada State Representative Michele Fiore, who helped negotiate the surrender of the last of the Malheur Refuge occupiers. When hardline Patriot movement activists ran in the May 2016 Republican primary in Oregon—the state where the Malheur takeover occurred—almost none advanced to the November election. However, members of the movement did move into the state’s Republican Party apparatus itself. Many Patriots had run for positions as Precinct Committee People, the lowest level officials in the party. At the state’s June 2016 party convention, a number of them took seats in the party infrastructure. One of them, Joseph Rice, then the state’s most prominent Oath Keeper, became a delegate to the July 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. On the convention floor he unveiled a small banner emblazed with “Free the Bundys.”26)“Oregon Republican Party Delegate Selection Convention OFFICIAL RESULTS of the elections for National Convention Delegate-Elector-Con – gressional District Officer Elections as of June 20th, 2016,” Oregon GOP, accessed October 10, 2016, https:// oregon.gop/2016-official-resultsnational-convention-delegate-electorcd-officer; @transform6789, Twitter, August 6, 2016, 10:03 AM, https:// twitter.com/transform6789/status/761970990289223682.

Sign during the January 2, 2016 march in Burns, OR, claims that the Hammond family are allegedly victims of the Agenda 21 conspiracy. Photo: Jason Wilson.

Sign during the January 2, 2016 march in Burns, OR, claims that the Hammond family are allegedly victims of the Agenda 21 conspiracy. Photo: Jason Wilson.

While the tactics of the Patriot movement are not yet mainstream, the Republican Party platform has embraced the guiding conspiracy theories of the movement, noting that, “We emphatically reject U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of U.S. sovereignty, and we oppose any form of Global Tax.” A new plank now also calls for the immediate transfer of federal land to state governments.27)“Republican Platform 2016,” Republican National Committee, https:// prod-static-ngop-pbl.s3.amazonaws. com/media/documents/DRAFT_12_ FINAL%5B1%5D-ben_1468872234. pdf, 51. The Patriot movement’s xenophobic scapegoating and Islamophobia, taboo in mainstream circles even a year ago, have become part of mainstream political discourse.

If Trump is elected, it’s possible that the Patriot movement’s most militant tendencies might subside as supporters see their politics represented on a national level—along the lines of what happened with George W. Bush’s win in 2000. (Alternately, it could expand if he provides a warm ideological home for them, possibly turning a blind eye to, or even encouraging, illegal actions—although politicians often became more moderate once they are actually in power.)

If Trump fails to become president, some Patriot movement activists may turn to an armed struggle approach: the “second American Revolution” they’ve long threatened to carry out. For years, the movement’s tactics have largely been in support of what they call “defensive” positions, such as defending Cliven Bundy’s ranch from perceived federal intrusion. By contrast, the Malheur refuge occupation seemed to be a shift towards occupier Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was an assassination by law enforcement, giving the movement a modern martyr. As Trump has sown the rhetorical seeds to legitimize revolutionary action, there is the possibility that escalated tactics could follow. If Hillary Clinton is elected, and her victory is portrayed by right-wing media as a stolen election, and she does promote further gun control measures—especially by executive orders or nominating a Supreme Court justice who supports them—armed revolt, by at least some members of this movement, would certainly be among the plausible outcomes.

About the Author

Spencer Sunshine is an Associate Fellow at PRA and is the lead author of the joint PRA/Rural Organizing Project report Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement. An earlier version of this article appeared in German in Der Rechte Rand #161.

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16. Kenneth S. Stern, A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 215.
17. Spencer Sunshine with Rural Organizing Project and Political Research Associates, Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement (Somerville: Political Research Associates, 2016), www.po – liticalresearch.org/up-in-arms, 7, 20.
18. Ryan Lenz, “Former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack Seeks ‘Army’ of Sheriffs to Resist Federal Authority,” Southern Poverty Law Center, November 11, 2012, www.splcenter.org/fightinghate/intelligence-report/2012/formerarizona-sheriff-richard-mack-seeks- ‘army’-sheriffs-resist-federal-authority.
19. “Sheriff David Clarke: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know,” Heavy, July 18 (updated August 15), 2016, http://heav y.com/news/2016/07/sheriff-david-clarke-milwaukee-blacklives-matter-republican-nationalconvention-you-tube-cnn-quotesdon-lemon-guns-baton-rouge-trump; Katherine Krueger, “Frequent Fox News Guest: ‘Black Lives Matter Will Join Forces With ISIS,” Talking Points Memo, October 28, 2015, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/sheriff-davidclarke-black-lives-matter-isis; David
Neiwert, “Sheriff David Clarke Plays a Straight-Talking Cop on Cable TV, But His Agenda Springs From Far-Right Extremism,” Southern Poverty Law Center, October 30, 2015, www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/10/30/sheriff-david-clarke-plays-straight-talking-copcable-tv-his-agenda-springs-far-right.
20. The organizations include the Republic for the united States of America, the National Liberty Alliance, and the new Continental Court System of the United States.
21. J.J. MacNab, “‘Sovereign’ Citizen Kane,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 1, 2010, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2010/sovereign-citizen-kane.
22. Brandon Ellington Patterson, “Baton Rouge Cop Killer Was a ‘Sovereign Citizen.’ What the Heck Is That?,” Mother Jones, July 20, 2016, www. motherjones.com/politics/2016/07/ gavin-long-sovereign-citizen-possecomitatus-patriot-militias.
23. This upward figure is based on Richard Mack claiming the CSPOA has 5,000 members, the Oath Keepers claim of 40,000, and an analysis of closed online Three Percenter groups, showing a total membership of 85,000. (This is in separate from the estimate that there are 100,000 active Sovereign Citizens, and 200,000 sympathizers.) Even at these high numbers, there is a significant crossover of membership as well, lowering the total. See Rachel Tabachnick, “Profile on the Right: Oath Keepers,” Political Research Associates, April 23, 2015, http://www. politicalresearch.org/2015/04/23/ profile-on-the-right-oathkeepers; Mark Potok and Ryan Lenz, “Line in the Sand,” Southern Poverty Law Center, June 13, 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2016/line-sand; Devin Burghart, “Oregon Standoff Fuels Growth of the Three Percenters (IREHR),” February 3, 2016, IREHR, http://www.irehr. org/2016/02/03/2415; “Sovereign Citizens Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center, www.splcenter.org/ fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/ sovereign-citizens-movement.
24. Sunshine, et al., Up in Arms
25. The federal government controls 46.9 percent of the land in 11 western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. See Carol Hardy Vincent, Laura A. Hanson, and Jerome P. Bjelopera, “Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data,” Federation of American Scientists, December 29, 2014, 20, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42346. pdf, 20.
26. “Oregon Republican Party Delegate Selection Convention OFFICIAL RESULTS of the elections for National Convention Delegate-Elector-Con – gressional District Officer Elections as of June 20th, 2016,” Oregon GOP, accessed October 10, 2016, https:// oregon.gop/2016-official-resultsnational-convention-delegate-electorcd-officer; @transform6789, Twitter, August 6, 2016, 10:03 AM, https:// twitter.com/transform6789/status/761970990289223682.
27. “Republican Platform 2016,” Republican National Committee, https:// prod-static-ngop-pbl.s3.amazonaws. com/media/documents/DRAFT_12_ FINAL%5B1%5D-ben_1468872234. pdf, 51.

Right Woos Left: When Patriot Movement Groups Try to Recruit Progressive Activists

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This an excerpt from Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement co-published with Rural Organizing Project.

Sometimes Patriot movement groups reach out to progressive activists in an attempt to recruit them to their cause. As you would expect, they typically downplay their reactionary social views and stress the more libertarian parts of their ideology. This is what Political Research Associates calls the “sucker punch.”1)“The Sucker Punch of Right/Left Coalitions,” Political Research Associates, www.publiceye.org/sucker_punch. See also Chip Berlet, Right Woos Left: Populist Party, LaRouchite, and Other Neo-fascist Overtures To Progressives, And Why They Must Be Rejected, Political Research Associates, originally February 27, 1999, www.politicalresearch.org/1999/02/27/right-woos-left.Various right-wing populists reach out to progressives with rhetoric that seems to match their beliefs. But once they are drawn in, the real agenda of the Patriot movement comes into play: dismantling progressive social gains and reestablishing conservative racial, gender, and sexual hierarchies—as well creating unrestrained capitalism and greenlighting the destruction of the environment.

The Oath Keepers have been particularly keen on reaching out to progressives. They went to several Occupy Wall Street events, including in Oregon.2)Spencer Sunshine, “20 on the Right in Occupy,” Political Research Associates, February 13, 2014, www.politicalresearch.org/2014/02/13/20-on-the-right-in-occupy; witness testimony, as told to author, July 13, 2016. In the state, the Oath Keepers worked hand-in-glove with the group PANDA (People Against the National Defense Authorization Act)—who were able in turn to work with Occupy Wall Street, and other progressive groups. Many progressives were disturbed by the National Defense Authorization Act, originally passed in 2011; according to the American Civil Liberties Union, it “contains a sweeping worldwide indefinite detention provision.”3)“President Obama Signs Indefinite Detention Bill Into Law” (press release), American Civil Liberties Union, December 31, 2011, www.aclu.org/news/president-obama-signs-indefinite-detention-bill-law.

PANDA received support from some progressives during their successful campaign to get several Oregon counties to pass resolutions against National Defense Authorization Act; according to the Oath Keepers, these included Lane, Klamath, Josephine, Douglas, and Coos counties.4)Elias Alias, “Oregon Oath Keepers Slam NDAA In Five Counties!,” Oath Keepers, August 14, 2014, www.oathkeepers.org/oregon-oath-keepers-slam-ndaa-in-five-counties. Yet in the familiar bait-and-switch, after Patriot activists established armed encampments at the Sugar Pine Mine at the invitation of its owners, one PANDA leader denounced the Rural Organizing Project and defended both the Patriot movement in general and militia organizing specifically.

The Patriot movement’s interests overlap with a few other issues usually associated with progressives.

  • They oppose intrusive government surveillance; the Oath Keepers have even praised Edward Snowden.5)Mike Riggs, “Oath Keepers Group Places Massive Pro-Snowden Ad Inside Pentagon Metro Station,” Reason, July 24, 2013, http://reason.com/blog/2013/07/24/oath-keepers-place-massive-pro-snowden-a.
  • The Patriot movement often supports alternative energy sources and energy independence—positions which are consistent with its xenophobic nationalism.
  • It is also opposed to eminent domain, used by the energy companies while building the fracking pipelines, as a violation of private property rights.
  • Other popular sites of crossover include opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
 There are a number of issues which interest both progressives and Hard Right activists, including opposition to Monsanto.

There are a number of issues which interest both progressives and Hard Right activists, including opposition to Monsanto.

Aaron Auer, gubernatorial candidate of the theocratic Constitution Party of Oregon, opposes GMOs.

Aaron Auer, gubernatorial candidate of the theocratic Constitution Party of Oregon, opposes GMOs.

 

There is widespread anti-vaccine sentiment in the Patriot movement. There is also a strong emphasis on the home canning, rainwater collection, and other subsistence activities. On the Right, this is part of the survivalist/prepper movement, and on the Left, crosses over with the interests in D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) culture and radical environmentalism.

The Patriot movement has spoken out of both sides of its mouth about Ferguson and Black Lives Matter. (See box on p. 41.) You hear some argue the conspiracy that Obama is stirring up racial tensions so martial law can be declared, or ludicrously claim that Black Lives Matter protestors are treated with leniency compared to the Malheur occupiers.

Malheur occupier Brandon Dowd encouraged Black Lives Matter activists to come to Malheur and learn the crank legal theories being taught there. (Photograph courtesy of Spencer Sunshine)

Malheur occupier Brandon Dowd encouraged Black Lives Matter activists to come to Malheur and learn the crank legal theories being taught there. (Photograph courtesy of Spencer Sunshine)

On the other hand, a Black member of the Malheur occupation, Brandon Dowd, hoped to recruit Black Lives Matter activists. “I would encourage more Black people to come here to get educated,” he said. “They could learn a lot being here and talking to these constitutional lawyers.”6)Sam Levin, “Black Oregon militiaman: Black Lives Matter can learn from occupiers,” Guardian, January 17, 2016, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/17/oregon-militia-black-lives-matters-activist-us-constitution. One speaker at a Portland rally for the Malheur arrestees called on Black Lives Matters protestors to join them.7)Amelia Templeton, “Occupation Supporters Try To Sway Broader Audience In Portland,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, March 5, 2016, www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/portland-oregon-standoff-protest-rally-lavoy-finicum. And at the Cave Junction community watch meeting Sovereign Citizen-style fake courts were promoted as, “A people’s answer to Ferguson.”8)“Community Meeting,” Facebook event for December 15, 2014, www.facebook.com/events/332140650303625. (See Josephine County section.) The person heading up the fake courts seems to be quite socially liberal in his views—as are a number of Sovereign Citizens.

And despite its origins in open White supremacy, today the Sovereign Citizen movement has a large number of Black members, as well as an increasing number of Latinos and even Native Americans. Gavin Long, the veteran who shot six Baton Rouge police officers in July 2016, killing three of them, embraced membership in the group Empire Washita de Dugdahmoundyah, which is influenced by Sovereign Citizen ideas. According to JJ MacNab, an expert on Sovereign Citizens, this ideology is most common among African-Americans in east coast cities such as Philadelphia and Washington, DC, and in the South—particularly Florida, Tennessee, and around New Orleans.

Lastly, one Marxist group rallied to the Malheur occupiers’ side during the Malheur occupation. The Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist sect, has called to: “Free Dwight and Steven Hammond! No to another Waco! Drop the charges against Ammon Bundy and others who occupied the Malheur reserve!”9)Brandon Ellington Patterson, “Baton Rouge Cop Killer Was a ‘Sovereign Citizen.’ What the Heck Is That?,” Mother Jones, July 20, 2016, www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/07/gavin-long-sovereign-citizen-posse-comitatus-patriot-militias; “Oppose FBI raid, killing in Oregon!,” Militant 80, no. 5 (February 8, 2016), http://themilitant.com/2016/8005/800520.html.

References   [ + ]

1. “The Sucker Punch of Right/Left Coalitions,” Political Research Associates, www.publiceye.org/sucker_punch. See also Chip Berlet, Right Woos Left: Populist Party, LaRouchite, and Other Neo-fascist Overtures To Progressives, And Why They Must Be Rejected, Political Research Associates, originally February 27, 1999, www.politicalresearch.org/1999/02/27/right-woos-left.
2. Spencer Sunshine, “20 on the Right in Occupy,” Political Research Associates, February 13, 2014, www.politicalresearch.org/2014/02/13/20-on-the-right-in-occupy; witness testimony, as told to author, July 13, 2016.
3. “President Obama Signs Indefinite Detention Bill Into Law” (press release), American Civil Liberties Union, December 31, 2011, www.aclu.org/news/president-obama-signs-indefinite-detention-bill-law.
4. Elias Alias, “Oregon Oath Keepers Slam NDAA In Five Counties!,” Oath Keepers, August 14, 2014, www.oathkeepers.org/oregon-oath-keepers-slam-ndaa-in-five-counties.
5. Mike Riggs, “Oath Keepers Group Places Massive Pro-Snowden Ad Inside Pentagon Metro Station,” Reason, July 24, 2013, http://reason.com/blog/2013/07/24/oath-keepers-place-massive-pro-snowden-a.
6. Sam Levin, “Black Oregon militiaman: Black Lives Matter can learn from occupiers,” Guardian, January 17, 2016, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/17/oregon-militia-black-lives-matters-activist-us-constitution.
7. Amelia Templeton, “Occupation Supporters Try To Sway Broader Audience In Portland,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, March 5, 2016, www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/portland-oregon-standoff-protest-rally-lavoy-finicum.
8. “Community Meeting,” Facebook event for December 15, 2014, www.facebook.com/events/332140650303625.
9. Brandon Ellington Patterson, “Baton Rouge Cop Killer Was a ‘Sovereign Citizen.’ What the Heck Is That?,” Mother Jones, July 20, 2016, www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/07/gavin-long-sovereign-citizen-posse-comitatus-patriot-militias; “Oppose FBI raid, killing in Oregon!,” Militant 80, no. 5 (February 8, 2016), http://themilitant.com/2016/8005/800520.html.

Coordination: How the Patriot Movement Re-imagines Governmental Ties

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This an excerpt from Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement co-published with Rural Organizing Project.

“Coordination” is a process which allows state, county, and other lower-level governments to give input to federal agencies’ land use plans, in an attempt to achieve consistency. While this process is mentioned in a number of federal acts, the Hard Right promotes an interpretation of it which is close to its doctrines of the county governments as holding more power than the federal government, including the notion that county sheriffs can decide what laws are constitutional.

Coordination is mentioned in federal acts including the Federal Land Management Planning Act (FLMPA), the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 1)The American Stewards of Liberty name a number of other acts, including the Endangered Species Act, Travel Management Plan Coordination Regulations, Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (16 USC 2003), Metropolitan Transportation Planning (23 USC 134), Homeland Security Organization (6 USC 101), Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 USC 1271), Clean Air Act (42 USC 7401), and Clean Water Act (33 USC 1251). See “Key Federal Statutes,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/programs/coordination/key-federal-statutes. The most commonly cited one is FLPMA. It says the Bureau of Land Management, should, to the “extent” it is “practical”:

  • “keep apprised of State, local, and tribal land use plans,”
  • “assure that consideration is given to those State, local, and tribal plans that are germane in the development of land use plans for public lands,”
  • “assist in resolving, to the extent practical, inconsistencies between Federal and non-Federal Government plans,” and
  • “provide for meaningful public involvement of State and local government officials, both elected and appointed, in the development of land use programs, land use regulations, and land use decisions for public lands, including early public notice of proposed decisions which may have a significant impact on non-Federal lands.”2)Section 202 (43 U.S.C. 1712) in U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and Office of the Solicitor, eds., The Federal Land Policy and Management Act, as amended (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Office of Public Affairs, 2001), http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wo/Communications_Directorate/legislation.Par.3647.File.dat/FLPMA.pdf, 4. Similar language appears in the Bureau of Land Management’s A Desk Guide to Cooperating Agency Relationships and Coordination with Intergovernmental Partners, 2012, 21–23, www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wo/Planning_and_Renewable_Resources/NEPS.Par.93370.File.dat/BLM_DeskGuide_CA_Relationships.pdf.

The Hard Right changes the reading of this, following its tradition of redefining legal language for its own political ends. For instance, the American Stewards for Liberty, a Texas-based nonprofit which promotes coordination, claims that it provides local governments with “an equal position at the negotiating table with federal and state government agencies.” Joseph Rice, an Oregon Oath Keepers leader, says federal agencies must “coordinate to consensus”—thereby giving “veto power” to the lower governments.3)“Coordination Overview, part 1 of the 3 part series,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/programs/coordination/coordination-overview. Joseph Rice uses the phrase “coordinate to consensus,” including in an interview with the author, July 17, 2016.

Some individuals go further, claiming that federal agencies must accept the lower government’s plans. And Hard Right activists have promoted the idea that “local governments” include not just states, counties, and tribes, but also cities, water and school districts, sheriffs departments, and mining districts. Rice even claims that Committees of Safety—Patriot movement shadow governments—can invoke coordination as well.4)“Who Can Coordinate?,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/who-can-coordinate. In Oregon, county sheriffs Gil Gilbertson and Glenn Palmer, as well as the Jefferson Mining District, have invoked coordination. Joseph Rice has claimed the power for the Committees of Safety; telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.

The best-known promoters of the Hard Right version of coordination are the American Stewards of Liberty and its former president, Fred Kelly Grant, who keeps a busy speaking schedule. For them, coordination is a vehicle for anti-environmental politics; the Hard Right version seems to be invoked by local governments seeking to maximize resource extraction on federal lands, which they hope will revive moribund rural economies. The American Stewards of Liberty, for example, also tries to “delist” species from the Endangered Species Act, and encourages lower governments to commission their own environmental studies.5)“Delisting,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/delisting; Joshua Zaffos, “Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds,” High Country News, May 11, 2015, www.hcn.org/issues/47.8/counties-use-a-coordination-clause-to-fight-the-feds. Grant also loudly promotes the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory.6)Ryan Sabalow, “Fred Kelly Grant talks Agenda 21, ‘coordination’ with local activists,” Record Searchlight (Boulevard Redding, CA), January 23, 2012, www.redding.com/news/fred-kelly-grant-talks-agenda-21-coordination-with-local-activists-ep-375305599-354531551.html.

Federal agencies reject the Hard Right version. So does the Montana Human Rights Network, an independent watchdog, which says coordination means that federal agencies are required to take the opinions of local governmental entities into planning considerations, but only when “it is practical, upholds the laws governing public lands, and is consistent with federal law.7)See Montana Human Rights Network, “Recycled County Supremacy Gains Traction, Lacks Legal Basis,” Montana Human Rights Network, November 2, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/specialresearchreports/MHRN%20Report%20-%20Coordination.pdf. See also Kenneth P. Pitt, “Legal Analysis of the Montana Senate Bill—SB117, Entitled ‘The Montana Coordination Act of 2011,” Montana Human Rights Network, June 26, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/fact sheets and adivsories/Final Legal Memo on Coordination.pdf. They base this on a legal memo which affirms that neither the Forest Service, nor the Bureau of Land Management, are obligated to conform to local government land use plans. (The memo also notes that coordination obligations are limited to the “land planning process,” and are not applicable to the “general decision making process.”) And it points out that—despite attempts by Grant and American Stewards of Liberty to redefine the term “coordination” itself to mean an “equal position”—the courts will defer to the agencies’ interpretation of terms used in their own acts, as long as they do not clash with Congress’s intentions.8)Kenneth P. Pitt, “Legal Analysis of the Montana Senate Bill—SB117, Entitled ‘The Montana Coordination Act of 2011,” Montana Human Rights Network, June 26, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/fact sheets and adivsories/Final Legal Memo on Coordination.pdf.

Federal land-use agencies have also issued documents dispelling Far Right interpretations of coordination, and defining what the process entails. A Forest Service FAQ says:

Under NFMA [National Forest Management Act] and the planning regulations, the Forest Service is required to coordinate land management planning for the National Forest System with land management planning conducted by state and local governments. However, the Forest Service is not required to adopt recommendations made by state and local entities. In particular, the Forest Service is not required to incorporate specific provisions of county ordinances or resolutions into land management plans or to comply with procedural requirements, such as a requirement to obtain county approval before amending or revising a land management plan. Neither the statutes governing Forest Service land management planning nor their implementing regulations provide for more than an advisory role for state and local governments.9)U.S. Forest Service, “Frequently Asked Questions: U.S. Forest Service Coordination with State and Local Governments,” three page flyer. The Wallowa-Whitman Forest Supervisor, Thomas Montoya, sent this to Baker County Commission Chair Bill Harvey, along with a letter, dated November 19, 2015, discussing the meaning of coordination. PDF in possession of author.

How coordination plays out in real life between federal agencies and local governments is more complex, however. It appears that local governments, like Oregon’s Baker County, sometimes invoke coordination, use their legally guaranteed entry point, and then—fuelled by Hard Right theories and tactics—attempt to widen the gap of how much say they have over land-use decisions on federal lands by insisting on the Hard Right reading. At other times—as with Oregon’s Josephine County—it seems that they start the process with the Hard Right version in mind, and end up agreeing with the regularly accepted one.

Pressures on under-budgeted federal agencies that oversee public lands—the employees of which are sometimes literally under attack from more radical Patriot movement and other land use activists—appears to have some level of success in wringing concessions to county land use desires, even though agencies are not legally obligated to provide them. High Country News writes that, “Federal managers acknowledge that they meet more frequently with local officials in counties that have passed coordination resolutions and drafted resource policies—but not because they’re required to heed those plans.” (They also report that the Bureau of Land Management has done joint trainings with the American Stewards of Liberty.)10)See Joshua Zaffos, “Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds,” High Country News, May 11, 2015, www.hcn.org/issues/47.8/counties-use-a-coordination-clause-to-fight-the-feds.

It’s not clear why counties who invoke coordination get more attention. It may be a case of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” where counties that have been ignored by federal agencies are now brought into dialogue. It may also be true that federal agencies are worried that a county that invokes coordination is already rife with Patriot movement politics, and it is better to make compromises rather than risk a Bundy Ranch or Malheur National Wildlife Refuge-style armed standoff.

However, other counties have not had such positive results. Craig Sullivan, the head of the County Supervisors Association of Arizona, testified during discussion about a 2011 coordination bill in the Montana legislature. Sullivan said a similar bill, passed in Arizona, did nothing to facilitate federal-local cooperation; its only effect was to give voters the idea that county supervisors could control federal agencies.11)Montana Human Rights Network, “Recycled County Supremacy Gains Traction, Lacks Legal Basis,” Montana Human Rights Network, November 2, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/specialresearchreports/MHRN%20Report%20-%20Coordination.pdf Counties that are insistent on pursuing the Hard Right interpretation may also empty their coffers on lawsuits that are bound to fail.

Travis McAdam, former executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, says Hard Right advocates of coordination have “merely put a new face on the longtime anti-government doctrine of county supremacy.”12) Ibid, 13. During this movement, popular between 1991 and 1994, counties passed ordinances to try and gain control over federal lands—including six in Oregon.13)The six were Coos, Grant, Lake, Union, Wallowa, and Wheeler. See Rob Eure, “Land Grab,” Oregonian, July 24, 1995, A1, www.oregonlive.com/search/Oregonian (behind a paywall). Catron County, New Mexico, passed one saying the federal government had to have county approval to change public land use. On a more extreme note, Nye County, Nevada, challenged the legality of federal ownership altogether, claiming that these public lands belonged to the state. The Nye County ordinance was struck down by the courts, but Catron County rescinded their ordinance, and instead claimed “joint lead agency status” under coordination language in the Public Rangelands Improvement Act. The county said it gave them “equal footing” with the Forest Service; the agency claimed it did not diminish their authority, but signed a Memorandum of Understanding anyway.14)Elizabeth M. Osenbaugh and Nancy K. Stoner, “The County Supremacy Movement,” Urban Lawyer 28, no. 3 (Summer 1996): 500–501, 508; Susan Schock, “Civil Unrest: County Movements Declare War on the United States,” in The Second Revolution: States Rights’, Sovereignty, and Power of the County, ed. Eric Ward (Seattle: Peanut Butter Publishing, 1997), 150–51.

The American Stewards for Liberty makes the clever argument that coordination is completely different than county supremacy. The group turns arguments about local authority on their head, instead affirming that Congress has “exclusive power over the federal lands.” They then argue that since the federal government is the highest authority, and coordination is based on federal laws, therefore federal agencies are obligated to coordinate with lower-level governments.15)“Coordination, the 4 ‘C’s’, and Supremacy,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/programs/coordination/coordination-the-4-cs-and-supremacy. In reality, their views are a continuation of the second tactic employed by Catron County used during the County Supremacy movement: re-reading federal coordination clauses to give the counties more power than the agencies have granted them.

Coordination in Oregon

 Fred Kelly Grant and others gave a three-day seminar on coordination in Baker City, Oregon in August 2015.


Fred Kelly Grant and others gave a three-day seminar on coordination in Baker City, Oregon in August 2015.

This Hard Right version of coordination has attracted very mainstream support, and the Oregon Republican Party includes it in its platform.16)As happens in some cases, it is difficult to tell if the Oregon Republican Party is invoking coordination in the normally accepted manner, or in the fringe interpretation—although the language of “economy, culture, and history” implies the latter. Their platform says, “We strongly support and encourage the ‘Coordination’ process, as defined by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, by local governments to ensure federal projects are consistent with local plans, economy, culture and history.” See section 5.1 in “Oregon Republican Party 2015 Platform as amended October 24th 2015,” Oregon GOP, https://oregon.gop/sites/default/files/pdfs/ORP_2015_Platform_as_AMENDED_2015-10-24.pdf. There are also at least six Oregon counties where the Hard Right version of coordination, or one influenced by that approach, has been pushed. The proposal often bubbles up following one of Fred Kelly Grant’s paid seminars to local governments.

The chair of the Josephine County Commission brought Fred Kelley Grant to town in July 2011, where he gave a two-day seminar on coordination, one for county sheriffs and one for the public. Immediately afterward, the county commission and county sheriff pursued coordination efforts—although to what extent these complied with the regularly accepted version of the concept varies. The county commission has pushed a version of coordination influenced by Grant numerous times, starting in at least 2010. As of August 2016, they currently have established cordial relations with the Forest Service but apparently have had no success with the Bureau of Land Management. The former sheriff, Gil Gilbertson, also invoked coordination in 2011, claiming the right to keep roads open. The Jefferson Mining District in southwestern Oregon also claims right to coordination.17)Jim Foley, “Mining Districts: A Concept Reborn,” ICMJ’s Prospecting & Mining Journal, 81, no. 2 (October 2011), www.icmj.com/article.php?id=1453; letter from Arthur Sappington (Jefferson Mining District) to Mr. Pena (USDA Forest Service), dated October 20, 2014, www.jeffersonminingdistrict.com/letter_to_pena_12_ 2014refWalden.pdf. It appears that while activists pressing the commission for coordination adhered to the Hard Right version, the current county legal counsel says that coordination does not mean that counties can dictate land use to the federal government.

 Coordination advocate Fred Kelly Grant spoke in John Day, Oregon in November 2015.


Coordination advocate Fred Kelly Grant spoke in John Day, Oregon in November 2015.

In Baker County, County Commission Chair Bill Harvey has pushed coordination. After taking office in January 2015, Harvey and his supporters in the county’s Natural Resources Advisory Committee created a Natural Resources Plan, usually the movement’s first step in invoking coordination.18)Joshua Dillen, “County, Forest Service discuss coordination,” Baker City Herald, October 2, 2015, www.bakercityherald.com/Local-News/County-Forest-Service-discuss-coordination; letter from Thomas Montoya to Bill Harvey (file code 1950), November 19, 2015, PDF in author’s possession. When Grant spoke at a Baker City banquet in May 2015, he said it was the seventh time he had come there. He returned in August 2015 to give a three-day seminar, which featured County Commission Chair Harvey as “emcee/moderator.”19)For the May banquet, see: Kerry McQuisten, “Fred Kelly Grant, Rep. Kerry White come to FAFA event,” Baker County Press, May 22, 2015, http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2015260133/2015-05-22/ed-1/seq-1.pdf and http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2015260133/2015-05-22/ed-1/seq-10.pdf; The 10th Amendment Institute of the Stand and Fight Club Inc, “Coordination 101,” one-page flyer, Forest Access for All, http://forestaccessforall.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Coordination-flyer.pdf; The 10th Amendment Institute of the Stand and Fight Club Inc., “Coordination 101,” event program, Forest Access for All, http://forestaccessforall.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Coordination-101-Daily-Program.pdf. As emcee, see Fred Kelly Grant, “Letters to the Editor,” Baker City Herald, September 2, 2015 (updated Feb 13, 2016), www.bakercityherald.com/Letters/Letters-to-the-Editor-for-Sept-2-2015.

In Grant County, Sheriff Glenn Palmer deputized eleven people to create a “Natural Resources Plan” modeled on Baker County’s; all of this was apparently done in secret. In October 2015, Palmer announced to the county commission that he was invoking coordination, and asked for the commission’s support. They eventually turned him down for a more collaborative approach.20)George Plaven, “Grant County sheriff demands coordination with Forest Service,” East Oregonian, October 9, 2015, www.eastoregonian.com/eo/local-news/20151009/grant-county-sheriff-demands-coordination-with-forest-service; Sean Hart, “Local collaborative awarded $4 million in federal forest restoration funding,” Blue Mountain Eagle, April 5 (updated April 6), 2016, www.bluemountaineagle.com/Local_News/20160405/local-collaborative-awarded-4-million-in-federal-forest-restoration-funding. Fred Kelly Grant also spoke in John Day, the largest town in Grant County, at the end of November 2015.21)Flyer for Fred Kelly Grant talk on “Coordination,” November 28, 2015, John Day, Oregon. PDF in possession of author.

In Wallowa County, Commissioner Paul Castilleja has attended Fred Kelly Grant talks, and has pushed for coordination.22)Paul Castilleja, email to author, July 19, 2016.

In Crook County in February 2016, a private group, the Crook County Natural Resources Political Action Committee (tied to the Central Oregon Patriots group), brought Baker’s County’s Harvey to Prineville to give a seminar on coordination.23)“Public Presentation: ‘Coordination’,” Facebook event for February 20, 2016, www.facebook.com/events/945547642203123. The event itself was recorded and is online: “Coordination meeting #1,” YouTube video, 57:41, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ISxfkIalHA; “Coordination meeting #2,” YouTube video, 57:36, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHpPuPtMaoo; “Coordination meeting #3,” YouTube video, 24:45, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xN39GR–rpc. The PAC developed a natural resource plan and attempted to get the county commission to adopt it. The scheme won the support of three county commissioners or judges at one point, although in August 2016 it was rejected.24)“Jason Chaney, “Citizens to form local natural resource plan,” Central Oregonian, February 2, 2016, http://pamplinmedia.com/ceo/162-news/291526-167892-citizens-to-form-local-natural-resource-plan; Amanda Peacher, “Crook County Leaders Unexpectedly Table Natural Resource Plan,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, July 20, 2016, www.opb.org/news/article/crook-county-leaders-table-natural-resource-plan; Minutes of Crook County Court, “Discussion of Natural Resource Planning,” Crook County, Oregon, February 3, 2016, 7–8, http://co.crook.or.us/Portals/0/minutes February 3 2016.pdf; Amanda Peacher, “Crook County Rejects Controversial Natural Resources Plan,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, August 30, 2016, www.opb.org/news/article/crook-county-rejects-natural-resource-plan.

Last, the Harney County Committee of Safety was touted as having the powers of coordination. Josephine County Oath Keepers’ leader Joseph Rice said, in the meeting held directly after the January 2, 2016 march (and while the occupation had just started), that, “The Committee of Safety that’s formed, what’s unique about that, is that is the establishment of a governmental entity. That forces BLM, in their own policy, they must coordinate with you. It becomes no different than a school district, a mining district, or a fire district; they’re pseudo-government entities.” It is unclear, however, if Committee members believed this themselves.25)“Jan. 2, 2016 Town Hall Meeting,” YouTube video, 1:08:00, posted by “Liberty Under Attack,” April 11, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3t1SopHD18; see around 5:23. Harney County Committee of Safety members did not respond to emails regarding this.

References   [ + ]

1. The American Stewards of Liberty name a number of other acts, including the Endangered Species Act, Travel Management Plan Coordination Regulations, Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (16 USC 2003), Metropolitan Transportation Planning (23 USC 134), Homeland Security Organization (6 USC 101), Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 USC 1271), Clean Air Act (42 USC 7401), and Clean Water Act (33 USC 1251). See “Key Federal Statutes,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/programs/coordination/key-federal-statutes
2. Section 202 (43 U.S.C. 1712) in U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and Office of the Solicitor, eds., The Federal Land Policy and Management Act, as amended (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Office of Public Affairs, 2001), http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wo/Communications_Directorate/legislation.Par.3647.File.dat/FLPMA.pdf, 4. Similar language appears in the Bureau of Land Management’s A Desk Guide to Cooperating Agency Relationships and Coordination with Intergovernmental Partners, 2012, 21–23, www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wo/Planning_and_Renewable_Resources/NEPS.Par.93370.File.dat/BLM_DeskGuide_CA_Relationships.pdf.
3. “Coordination Overview, part 1 of the 3 part series,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/programs/coordination/coordination-overview. Joseph Rice uses the phrase “coordinate to consensus,” including in an interview with the author, July 17, 2016.
4. “Who Can Coordinate?,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/who-can-coordinate. In Oregon, county sheriffs Gil Gilbertson and Glenn Palmer, as well as the Jefferson Mining District, have invoked coordination. Joseph Rice has claimed the power for the Committees of Safety; telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.
5. “Delisting,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/delisting; Joshua Zaffos, “Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds,” High Country News, May 11, 2015, www.hcn.org/issues/47.8/counties-use-a-coordination-clause-to-fight-the-feds.
6. Ryan Sabalow, “Fred Kelly Grant talks Agenda 21, ‘coordination’ with local activists,” Record Searchlight (Boulevard Redding, CA), January 23, 2012, www.redding.com/news/fred-kelly-grant-talks-agenda-21-coordination-with-local-activists-ep-375305599-354531551.html.
7. See Montana Human Rights Network, “Recycled County Supremacy Gains Traction, Lacks Legal Basis,” Montana Human Rights Network, November 2, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/specialresearchreports/MHRN%20Report%20-%20Coordination.pdf. See also Kenneth P. Pitt, “Legal Analysis of the Montana Senate Bill—SB117, Entitled ‘The Montana Coordination Act of 2011,” Montana Human Rights Network, June 26, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/fact sheets and adivsories/Final Legal Memo on Coordination.pdf.
8. Kenneth P. Pitt, “Legal Analysis of the Montana Senate Bill—SB117, Entitled ‘The Montana Coordination Act of 2011,” Montana Human Rights Network, June 26, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/fact sheets and adivsories/Final Legal Memo on Coordination.pdf.
9. U.S. Forest Service, “Frequently Asked Questions: U.S. Forest Service Coordination with State and Local Governments,” three page flyer. The Wallowa-Whitman Forest Supervisor, Thomas Montoya, sent this to Baker County Commission Chair Bill Harvey, along with a letter, dated November 19, 2015, discussing the meaning of coordination. PDF in possession of author.
10. See Joshua Zaffos, “Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds,” High Country News, May 11, 2015, www.hcn.org/issues/47.8/counties-use-a-coordination-clause-to-fight-the-feds.
11. Montana Human Rights Network, “Recycled County Supremacy Gains Traction, Lacks Legal Basis,” Montana Human Rights Network, November 2, 2012, www.mhrn.org/publications/specialresearchreports/MHRN%20Report%20-%20Coordination.pdf
12. Ibid, 13.
13. The six were Coos, Grant, Lake, Union, Wallowa, and Wheeler. See Rob Eure, “Land Grab,” Oregonian, July 24, 1995, A1, www.oregonlive.com/search/Oregonian (behind a paywall).
14. Elizabeth M. Osenbaugh and Nancy K. Stoner, “The County Supremacy Movement,” Urban Lawyer 28, no. 3 (Summer 1996): 500–501, 508; Susan Schock, “Civil Unrest: County Movements Declare War on the United States,” in The Second Revolution: States Rights’, Sovereignty, and Power of the County, ed. Eric Ward (Seattle: Peanut Butter Publishing, 1997), 150–51.
15. “Coordination, the 4 ‘C’s’, and Supremacy,” American Stewards of Liberty, www.americanstewards.us/programs/coordination/coordination-the-4-cs-and-supremacy.
16. As happens in some cases, it is difficult to tell if the Oregon Republican Party is invoking coordination in the normally accepted manner, or in the fringe interpretation—although the language of “economy, culture, and history” implies the latter. Their platform says, “We strongly support and encourage the ‘Coordination’ process, as defined by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, by local governments to ensure federal projects are consistent with local plans, economy, culture and history.” See section 5.1 in “Oregon Republican Party 2015 Platform as amended October 24th 2015,” Oregon GOP, https://oregon.gop/sites/default/files/pdfs/ORP_2015_Platform_as_AMENDED_2015-10-24.pdf.
17. Jim Foley, “Mining Districts: A Concept Reborn,” ICMJ’s Prospecting & Mining Journal, 81, no. 2 (October 2011), www.icmj.com/article.php?id=1453; letter from Arthur Sappington (Jefferson Mining District) to Mr. Pena (USDA Forest Service), dated October 20, 2014, www.jeffersonminingdistrict.com/letter_to_pena_12_ 2014refWalden.pdf.
18. Joshua Dillen, “County, Forest Service discuss coordination,” Baker City Herald, October 2, 2015, www.bakercityherald.com/Local-News/County-Forest-Service-discuss-coordination; letter from Thomas Montoya to Bill Harvey (file code 1950), November 19, 2015, PDF in author’s possession.
19. For the May banquet, see: Kerry McQuisten, “Fred Kelly Grant, Rep. Kerry White come to FAFA event,” Baker County Press, May 22, 2015, http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2015260133/2015-05-22/ed-1/seq-1.pdf and http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/2015260133/2015-05-22/ed-1/seq-10.pdf; The 10th Amendment Institute of the Stand and Fight Club Inc, “Coordination 101,” one-page flyer, Forest Access for All, http://forestaccessforall.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Coordination-flyer.pdf; The 10th Amendment Institute of the Stand and Fight Club Inc., “Coordination 101,” event program, Forest Access for All, http://forestaccessforall.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Coordination-101-Daily-Program.pdf. As emcee, see Fred Kelly Grant, “Letters to the Editor,” Baker City Herald, September 2, 2015 (updated Feb 13, 2016), www.bakercityherald.com/Letters/Letters-to-the-Editor-for-Sept-2-2015.
20. George Plaven, “Grant County sheriff demands coordination with Forest Service,” East Oregonian, October 9, 2015, www.eastoregonian.com/eo/local-news/20151009/grant-county-sheriff-demands-coordination-with-forest-service; Sean Hart, “Local collaborative awarded $4 million in federal forest restoration funding,” Blue Mountain Eagle, April 5 (updated April 6), 2016, www.bluemountaineagle.com/Local_News/20160405/local-collaborative-awarded-4-million-in-federal-forest-restoration-funding.
21. Flyer for Fred Kelly Grant talk on “Coordination,” November 28, 2015, John Day, Oregon. PDF in possession of author.
22. Paul Castilleja, email to author, July 19, 2016.
23. “Public Presentation: ‘Coordination’,” Facebook event for February 20, 2016, www.facebook.com/events/945547642203123. The event itself was recorded and is online: “Coordination meeting #1,” YouTube video, 57:41, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ISxfkIalHA; “Coordination meeting #2,” YouTube video, 57:36, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHpPuPtMaoo; “Coordination meeting #3,” YouTube video, 24:45, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=xN39GR–rpc.
24. “Jason Chaney, “Citizens to form local natural resource plan,” Central Oregonian, February 2, 2016, http://pamplinmedia.com/ceo/162-news/291526-167892-citizens-to-form-local-natural-resource-plan; Amanda Peacher, “Crook County Leaders Unexpectedly Table Natural Resource Plan,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, July 20, 2016, www.opb.org/news/article/crook-county-leaders-table-natural-resource-plan; Minutes of Crook County Court, “Discussion of Natural Resource Planning,” Crook County, Oregon, February 3, 2016, 7–8, http://co.crook.or.us/Portals/0/minutes February 3 2016.pdf; Amanda Peacher, “Crook County Rejects Controversial Natural Resources Plan,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, August 30, 2016, www.opb.org/news/article/crook-county-rejects-natural-resource-plan.
25. “Jan. 2, 2016 Town Hall Meeting,” YouTube video, 1:08:00, posted by “Liberty Under Attack,” April 11, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3t1SopHD18; see around 5:23. Harney County Committee of Safety members did not respond to emails regarding this.

TAKING ON PATRIOT MOVEMENT TALKING POINTS

Click here to read the full report.

This an excerpt from Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement co-published with Rural Organizing Project.

Militias and Gun Rights

CLAIM: Committees of Safety are governmental structures with decision-making powers.

REPLY: Committees of Safety do not have any legal authority and do not appear anywhere in either the U.S. or Oregon constitutions. They are Patriot movement formations designed to carry out their political views while mimicking governmental forms to convince potential followers that they have legitimacy and power.

Despite claiming to be “democratically elected,” movement groups often appoint or select members of Committees of Safety to provide a local “front” for a national Patriot strategy. These committees take advantage of real frustrations people have with government agencies to make vigilante actions seem respectable. Unlike the justice system, however imperfect it is, there are NO avenues to hold vigilante Committees of Safety accountable to all voters. An accountability process that all can agree on is key to a just democracy.

CLAIM: Self-appointed judges and so-called “common law grand juries” can indict, try, convict, and sentence people, including elected officials, federal employees, and business owners.

REPLY: Like Committees of Safety, “common law grand juries” have no legal standing, having been dreamed up by people who share a common ideology. The real legal system is based on the U.S. and state constitutions, and federal, state, and local statutes passed by elected legislative bodies, with over 200 years of legal precedence. Historically, the legal system has been subject to a lot of abuse and favoritism. “Common law courts” take advantage of the frustrations many feel to engage in harassment and intimidation of individuals these self-appointed groups decide to persecute. On the other hand, many people who have become true believers in the Sovereign Citizen movement have not fared well in the courts when their ideological beliefs run smack into the reality of the real world justice system. Changing the abuses of the current judicial system is the work of democracy, using the democratic tools of education, open debate, and political action.

CLAIM: The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was a legal and nonviolent occupation by peaceful protestors, just like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, or the Civil Rights movement.

REPLY: The Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and Civil Rights movements did not vow to “not to be taken alive,” and did not argue their actions were lawful or constitutional. In fact, they planned to be arrested and jailed. Many laws were broken by the occupation; the argument that they were not is based on the Patriot movement’s fantasies that all gun restrictions are illegal and that the federal government cannot legally own the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge land. These arguments do not have any legal backing.

The right to “peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievance”—to protest—is a right of the people that predates the founding of our government. That is why it was included in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As such, peaceful protest is as much a part of governing the United States as is Congress, the courts, or the presidency. Inherent in this right is that peaceful protesters may have to face arrest from unjust authorities, as one way to right an unjust law. Carrying weapons to a protest means it is no longer a protest, but an act of intimidation with a very clear implied threat of violence. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers were armed. Federal employees of the wildlife sanctuary were intimidated from coming to work by these armed occupiers.

CLAIM: Social justice organizers shouldn’t silence the Patriot movement; all events should allow open carry—otherwise they are infringing on people’s rights.

REPLY: Organizers, with all different kinds of politics, have the right to choose whom they are working with. Patriot movement activists who come into progressive circles, but who do not share the larger political values of the movement, do not have a constitutional right to join private events or to defy gun restrictions. This particular argument has been used by Patriot-types to disrupt and derail progressive organizing. We should not allow people who do not share our values to participate if their primary intention is to cause disruptions, or to advance a political agenda which is not part of our already shared values.

Rural Economics

CLAIM: Environmentalists have destroyed rural economies by locking the land up. Opening up public lands to more ranching, logging, and mining will bring back jobs.

REPLY: Rural Oregon has been in a recession for over 30 years. Businesses have shut down, jobs have been lost, and people have lost homes and had to move. Schools and libraries were closed and services cut to the bone. The Great Depression of the 1930s only lasted about a decade. Why has nothing been done to rebuild the rural economy?

Prosperity was a late arrival to rural Oregon. Before World War II, loggers were dehumanized and treated like a disposable workforce, and mill workers were subject to the same bad working conditions that all American factory workers endured. The New Deal helped to create the prosperous Oregon we remember from the 1950s and 1960s. The federal government funded the electrification of rural Oregon. After World War II, it subsidized the housing industry, creating a vast market for timber products cut from national forests. Labor unions were legalized, allowing workers, for the first time, to get a fair wage for their work.

But by 1981, federal deficits due to the Vietnam War and two oil boycotts created a terrible round of inflation in the United States. To bring inflation under control, interest rates were raised to over 18 percent, making loans, including mortgages, more expensive. Home building crashed, along with the entire timber industry. When the economy recovered by the mid-1980s the timber industry was crippled. In the new era of deregulation and easy credit, the timber industry was attacked by corporate raiders who sold off whole production lines, broke the unions, cut wages, eliminated job security, and saddled the companies they bought with debt.

A few years after all this happened, some environmentalists won lawsuits to protect endangered species on public lands. While the damage to the economy had happened years before, the “spotted owl” and “tree huggers” became convenient scapegoats for industry and politicians alike.

Opening up federal lands to cut-and-run logging and other natural resource extraction-based industries will not revive our rural economy. Before the New Deal helped to bring rural Oregon out of the Depression, we had the era of the Robber Barons, King Timber, dust bowls, and permanent poverty. Those are the “good old days” that some people want to bring back. Those who would sell off the remaining national forests for private profit are proposing to do the opposite of what we need to build a prosperous rural Oregon.

It was government assistance and planning that pulled rural Oregon out of the Great Depression. To revive our economy today, we need a new plan and more government support—not less. The new plan should revolve around conservation-based logging, domestic production, clean energy production, and restoring the forests and waterways that everyone depends on, including city people. City prosperity depends on the bounty, the clean water, air, forests, and fields of rural Oregon, and the city must pay its fair share, not turn its back on its rural neighbors.

CLAIM: Muslims are undermining our civilization and bringing Sharia law to the United States.

REPLY: First, we’ve seen these types of arguments before when Roman Catholics and Jews came to this country in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. All of these groups assimilated and became part of the fabric of American society. Second, U.S. Muslims are a small and marginalized minority, and have nowhere sought to impose Sharia law on non-Muslims, although they may be trying to live according to it. As legal scholar Noah Feldman explains, Shariah refers to God’s divine and unchanging blueprint for human life, and Muslims see humans as its flawed interpreter.1)Noah Feldman, “A Lesson for Newt Gingrich: What Shariah Is (and Isn’t),” New York Times, July 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/17/opinion/sunday/a-lesson-for-newt-gingrich-what-shariah-is-and-isnt.html

Oregon acted on people’s suspicion of newcomers before in the 1920s, but then it was Roman Catholics; they were the main target of state’s Ku Klux Klan. One persistent conspiracy theory held that Catholics were more loyal to the Pope than to the U.S. government. So under popular pressure, Oregon outlawed Catholic schools, an action that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is now recognized as a shameful part of our history, like racial segregation. The campaign against Muslims will eventually be viewed as just as shameful.

CLAIM: Syrian refugees are ISIS sleeper cells and not properly vetted.

REPLY: The United States has very tough immigration screenings compared to other countries. In a one-and-a-half to two year process, they are vetted by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, and the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security. The government takes their fingerprints and life histories; then trained U.S. officials interview each one to verify that they are really refugees. They take another step for refugees from Syria to verify why they fled their homes.2)“4 Things to Know About the Vetting Process for Syrian Refugees,” NPR, November 17, 2015,www.npr.org/2015/11/17/456395388/paris-attacks-ignite-debate-over-u-s-refugee-policy.

These Syrian refugees are fleeing a country devastated, in part, by ISIS—not spreading the group’s ideology. If you are against ISIS, you should be helping its victims, not forcing them to return to Syria where they may be killed by the group.

The Constitution

CLAIM: The county sheriff is the highest elected law enforcement authority. Therefore, sheriffs have the ability to decide which laws are constitutional. They can also tell federal agents to leave their county and/or these agents must have the sheriff’s permission to execute warrants or make arrests in their county.

REPLY: This idea was originally cooked up by White Supremacists who opposed the Civil Rights acts of the 1960s. They wanted to abolish laws that guaranteed social equality, protected the environment, and allowed federal income tax. They thought they could convince county sheriffs to resist implementing these laws. While county sheriffs are not obligated to enforce certain regulations passed by federal agencies, they have no legal right to decide which local, state, and federal laws are constitutional, and thus enforceable. They also have no legal right to prevent federal agents from performing their duties.

CLAIM: Only the “Organic Constitution” should be followed.

REPLY: The “Organic Constitution” ignores all of the amendments of the Constitution after the Bill of Rights, the first ten passed during the Revolutionary era. To refuse to accept the other amendments is to allow slavery (the Thirteenth Amendment abolished it), remove citizenship from freed slaves and their descendants, and other guarantees of birthright citizenship (Fourteenth Amendment), and get rid of guarantees of equal voting rights for citizens (Fifteenth Amendment). It would also get rid of the federal income tax (Sixteenth Amendment), and remove the guarantee of the right to vote for women (Nineteenth Amendment).

CLAIM: The “Tenth Amendment” has been trampled upon.

REPLY: The Tenth Amendment reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” When the Hard Right invokes the Tenth Amendment, it is code for “state’s rights”—especially the idea that most federal government regulations and landholdings are not legal, and should be the province of state governments. This was the rallying cry of the Confederacy and the segregationists.

CLAIM: This is a country of laws, and federal regulations are not laws. The Constitution is a document that was written for the common man and made to be easily understood.

REPLY: Over the last two hundred years, our political system has changed. The Civil War, a life and death struggle to end slavery, came about because of critical flaws in the original Constitution that protected slavery and slave-owners. The Constitution was forced to adapt. Over time, the federal government has taken on a greater role in regulating the economy and protecting the civil rights of all. The courts have ruled that this evolution has been legal, and in fact this change has taken place in governments around the world. When someone claims the Constitution is “written for the common man,” prepare to hear a special Patriot movement version of the Constitution that would roll back civil rights, environmental protections, the rights of union members, and other victories of the movement for greater democracy.

Public Lands

CLAIM: Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution says the federal government can only own “ports, forts, and ten square miles” of Washington, D.C.

REPLY: This clause says that Congress shall have the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of Particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.”

This passage is the mantra for Patriot movement activists who believe the federal government is not allowed to own most public lands, or cannot own them without prior permission of state governments. But the courts have ruled since the late 1800s that the federal government has the right to hold public lands. Despite the claims of the Patriot movement, in the U.S. political system, the Supreme Court—not county sheriffs, self-proclaimed judges, or Hard Right activists—are the ultimate arbiter of what is constitutional and what is not.

CLAIM: Federal land should be transferred to state or county governments.

REPLY: The land transfer movement is a backdoor maneuver to overturn environmental protections. While supporters claim this will revitalize rural economies, it is really a drive to exploit lands that belong to all the people, for private profit. By transferring the costs of maintaining the lands onto smaller local agencies, including police, fire suppression, and maintaining roads, those lands become more vulnerable to corporations whose revenue is often far bigger than local government budgets. As local agencies prove unable to maintain the lands, the call to sell them outright will be inevitable. It is just a disguised land grab.

Conspiracy Theories

CLAIM: Our tyrannical federal government is attempting to ban private gun ownership, after which it will put us in FEMA camps.

REPLY: Various forms of this conspiracy theory have been around for decades: the notion that some shadowy force is about to turn the United States into a tyrannical authoritarian state. If Democratic presidents were going to take our guns away and put us into camps, wouldn’t it have happened by now?

CLAIM: We live in a Socialist country.

REPLY: In Patriot movement lingo, socialism is any kind of regulation of markets. Even mild market regulations, including minimum wage and health and safety laws, as well as civil rights guarantees, such as same-sex marriage, are considered “socialism.” Almost all industrialized countries are “socialist” according to these criteria.

CLAIM: Agenda 21 (and 2030 Agenda) is a plan to take over private land under the ruse of environmentalism and drive rural people into the cities.

REPLY: Agenda 21 is a non-binding United Nations resolution, signed by George W. Bush, that encourages new development to take environmental sustainability into consideration. Instead, right-wing conspiracy theorists say that Agenda 21 is a secret United Nations plan to work through the federal government in the name of environmentalism to seize land from farmers and other rural people so it can control of the country and institute a socialist dictatorship. The real Agenda 21 is now superseded by the new, and also non-binding, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The plan for global domination is sure taking a long time.

The reality is that global temperatures and species’ extinctions are spiking, and environmental regulations lag far behind the destruction of the natural world. In addition, total federal landholdings are actually shrinking—not growing.

CLAIM: The government is seizing private land to exploit the minerals there (like uranium and gold), which will be given to China to pay off debts.

REPLY: This is a common claim, usually tied in with the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory. Some said the government’s conflict with the Hammond family was an attempt to seize their property which contained uranium. Similar claims were heard about the Sugar Pine Mine: the federal government ordered the miners to cease and desist because it wanted their gold. In fact, the Hammonds have kept their property, and there is no uranium on the land (it is in the next county over). Even if there had been, it seems like there must be an easier way for the United States to pay back international debts than illegally seizing private land and then transferring it to a foreign government. This xenophobic conspiracy theory is complete with a foreign villain (China) who is taking away from the patriotic little guy (largely White U.S. miners and ranchers).

References   [ + ]

1. Noah Feldman, “A Lesson for Newt Gingrich: What Shariah Is (and Isn’t),” New York Times, July 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/17/opinion/sunday/a-lesson-for-newt-gingrich-what-shariah-is-and-isnt.html
2. “4 Things to Know About the Vetting Process for Syrian Refugees,” NPR, November 17, 2015,www.npr.org/2015/11/17/456395388/paris-attacks-ignite-debate-over-u-s-refugee-policy.

Oregon III%

Click here to read the full report.

This an excerpt from Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement co-published with Rural Organizing Project.

Oregon Three Percenters are very active and seems to have eclipsed the Oath Keepers as the locus of Patriot movement organizing in the state.

The Three Percenters have a complex structure. Anyone can call themselves a Three Percenter, and there are also competing national organizations. But there is also a statewide group, called simply, “Oregon III%,” which functions as a group-based network, albeit with a central leadership.1)Their webpage is www.oregoniiipercent.com, and their main Facebook page is: “Oregon III%,” Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/321735541284801. (This seems to run contrary to cofounder Vanderboegh’s original vision for the Three Percenters as a decentralized form of the militia that was harder to infiltrate and disrupt. However, these more organized Three Percenter groups, in Oregon and Idaho, have been very successful.) There is significant overlap between Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, as well.

The President of Oregon III% is David Samuel Hill, and the Vice President is Jeff Roberts; the group registered as a 501(c)4 in November 2015.2)Oregon Secretary of State, Corporation Division, Business Entity Data: Oregon III%, http://egov.sos.state.or.us/br/pkg_web_name_srch_inq.do_name_srch?p_name=&p_regist_nbr=116101890&p_srch=PHASE1&p_print=FALSE&p_entity_status=ACTINA. Roberts claims that in 1993, as a 15-year-old, he drove to the Ruby Ridge standoff with Bo Gritz.3)Jeff Roberts, Facebook post, April 2015, screenshot in possession of author. In September 2015, Hill said the group had 1,000 members and a full “executive staff”—up from 200 members and no staff, except its president, less than a year before.4)David Samuel Hill, Facebook post, September 2015. Screenshot in possession of author. These numbers have undoubtedly grown since the Malheur occupation. Oregon III% divides the state up into seven “Zones,” plus an independent eighth section.

Oregon III% Vice President Jeff Roberts says he went to Ruby Ridge standoff with Bo Gritz, and helped found Constitution Party of Oregon.

Oregon III% Vice President Jeff Roberts says he went to Ruby Ridge standoff with Bo Gritz, and helped found Constitution Party of Oregon.

 

Hill says, in addition to participating in the Pacific Patriots Network, Oregon III% has “a close working relationship with other patriotic, prepper and training groups.”5)Ibid. Oregon III% co-organized the February 2015 Salem anti-SB 941 rally, was active in the Sugar Pine Mine and White Hope Mine armed camps, were at May 2015 anti-SB 941 rallies, and were part of “Protect the Protectors” campaign to “guard” U.S. military recruiting stations in July 2015.6)Ibid.

One flyer indicates that BJ Soper and the Oregon III% were the organizers of the initial January 2, 2016 march in Burns, Oregon (Rice claims it as PPN and Oregon III%). Soper, and both Oregon and Idaho Three Percenters, spoke at the rally.7)Video shows that the speakers include Brandon Curtiss and Brooke Agresta (3% of Idaho), Soper, and Jeff Roberts (Oregon III%). See “Live feed Hammond ranch,” YouTube video, 3:01:57, posted by “Pete Santilli Show,” January 2, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBBJe7FmRXI. As part of the PPN, they were active in Burns during the occupation. At least one Oregon Three Percenter, Flipp Todd, was part of the occupation early on.8)“Anatomy of a Standoff,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016, www.adl.org/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Anatomy-of-a-Standoff-MalheurOccupiers.pdf
Some members of the Oregon III% are reportedly involved with an anti-immigrant vigilante group, which does street patrols, called the Soldiers of Odin. The group was founded in Finland by white supremacists, and it has recently spread across the United States.9)“Soldiers of Odin USA: The Extreme European Anti-Refugee Group Comes to America,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016, www.adl.org/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Soldiers-of-Odin-USA-Report-web.pdf.

As of August 2016, the Oregon III% Zone divisions and leaders are:

  • Zone 1 (Columbia, Clatsop, Tillamook, Washington, Multnomah, Clackamas, Marion, Polk, Yamhill, Lincoln, Linn, and Benton counties) — Ron McCue
  • Zone 2 (Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, and Gilliam) — Trevor Anders
  • Zone 3 (Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Baker, and Wallowa) — Damon Locke
  • Zone 4 (Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Coos, and Curry)—Tom McKirgan
  • Zone 5 (Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Wheeler) — Jerrad Tyrea Robison
  • Zone 6 (Klamath, Lake)—Tim Harris
  • Tri-County III% (Grant, Harney, Malheur)— Jason Ward (contact)
  • Zone 8 (Lane)—Isreal Southerland

What was Zone 7—Harney, Malheur, and Grant counties—became the Tri-County III%, which is described as “a separate, autonomous III% group separate from Oregon III%. Though not connected, Oregon III% recognizes and supports Tri-County III%.”10)Facebook post, accessed August 2016; screenshot in possession of author.

The Oregon III%, like many other states, divides the state into different Zones. Tri-County III% is autonomous from the larger group.

The Oregon III%, like many other states, divides the state into different Zones. Tri-County III% is autonomous from the larger group.

Each Zone of the Oregon III% has a leader and a Facebook page.

Each Zone of the Oregon III% has a leader and a Facebook page.

The leadership structure of the Oregon III%.

The leadership structure of the Oregon III%.

The county chapters include Multnomah, Washington, Marion and Polk, Linn and Benton, Clatsop and Columbia, Clackamas, Lincoln, Josephine, Jackson, Douglas, Coos, and Curry.11)Facebook posts, accessed August 2016; screenshots in possession of author.

References   [ + ]

1. Their webpage is www.oregoniiipercent.com, and their main Facebook page is: “Oregon III%,” Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/321735541284801.
2. Oregon Secretary of State, Corporation Division, Business Entity Data: Oregon III%, http://egov.sos.state.or.us/br/pkg_web_name_srch_inq.do_name_srch?p_name=&p_regist_nbr=116101890&p_srch=PHASE1&p_print=FALSE&p_entity_status=ACTINA.
3. Jeff Roberts, Facebook post, April 2015, screenshot in possession of author.
4. David Samuel Hill, Facebook post, September 2015. Screenshot in possession of author.
5, 6. Ibid.
7. Video shows that the speakers include Brandon Curtiss and Brooke Agresta (3% of Idaho), Soper, and Jeff Roberts (Oregon III%). See “Live feed Hammond ranch,” YouTube video, 3:01:57, posted by “Pete Santilli Show,” January 2, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBBJe7FmRXI.
8. “Anatomy of a Standoff,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016, www.adl.org/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Anatomy-of-a-Standoff-MalheurOccupiers.pdf
9. “Soldiers of Odin USA: The Extreme European Anti-Refugee Group Comes to America,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016, www.adl.org/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Soldiers-of-Odin-USA-Report-web.pdf.
10. Facebook post, accessed August 2016; screenshot in possession of author.
11. Facebook posts, accessed August 2016; screenshots in possession of author.

RELEASE: Major Investigation & Toolkit to Aid Oregon Communities Facing Militia Movements

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 3, 2016

Contact: Gabriel Joffe, g.joffe@politicalresearch.org; 617-666-5300; 617-702-2504 (cell)
To download this press release click HERE.

Political Research Associates & Rural Organizing Project Release Major Investigation & Toolkit to Aid Oregon Communities Facing Militia Movements

Somerville, MA—Today Political Research Associates in partnership with Rural Organizing Project released Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement, a groundbreaking report and toolkit designed to support public officials and community activists under siege from armed militias and other Patriot movement groups.

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. Seven occupiers now face federal charges in a Portland courtroom but Oregon remains 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.

This guide was developed through extensive research on the right-wing movements and by pooling the local expertise of rural progressive community activists and scholars.  It exposes, explains, and offers alternatives to this movement.

“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, including 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 national Patriot leader Mike Vanderboegh called for the Oregon state government to be overthrown through a civil war.

“The Oregon militias are part of national Patriot movement networks. What currently looks like a rural western phenomenon could easily go national, as it did during the 1990s,” says Tarso Luís Ramos, executive director of Political Research Associates, adding, “The chances of that outcome increase if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in November.”

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.”

Up In Arms also documents how the Patriot movement takes advantage of the collapse of the rural Oregon economy and funding cuts. University of Oregon professors Dan HoSang and Steve Beda describe how local tax revolts cut vital county services such as 911 response and public libraries from rural areas as stable jobs in the logging, ranching, and mining industries —as well as federal subsidies—have evaporated. The Patriot movement steps in to provide its own alternative policing and emergency responses as a means to gain traction in these forgotten communities.

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 toolkit’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.

Up In Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement is available for free online here. Printed copies are available for $15 plus postage from Rural Organizing Project here.

About Political Research Associates: Massachusetts-based Political Research Associates (PRA) is a 35-year-old think tank that researches and exposes movements, institutions, and ideologies that undermine human rights. PRA is devoted to supporting movements that are building a more just and inclusive democratic society.

About the Rural Organizing Project: The Rural Organizing Project (ROP) is a statewide organization of locally-based groups that work to create communities accountable to a standard of human dignity: the belief in the equal worth of all people, the need for equal access to justice and the right to self-determination. Founded in 1992, ROP’s challenges to the anti-democratic right have earned ROP a national reputation as an effective grassroots organization that takes on the hard issues.

Available for interview:

Spencer Sunshine, Ph.D, PRA associate fellow, is a researcher, writer, and activist who tracks the Patriot movement, fascist and white nationalist organizing, and left/right crossover movements.

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.

###

The Oath Keepers in Oregon

Click here to read the full report.

This an excerpt from Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement co-published with Rural Organizing Project.

Oath Keepers chapters have been active in Oregon since the national organization was founded in 2009.1)“Active ‘Patriot’ Groups in the United States in 2009,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 1, 2010, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2010/active-patriot-groups-united-states-2009. However, most chapters seem to have been established since 2014 in the wake of the events at Bundy Ranch. Oregon Oath Keepers came to the December 2014 gun rights rally in Washington state, where then Oregon Oath Keepers Coordinator Jeff Ford spoke.2)“We Will Not Comply – Come and Take Them—Part 4 of 4,” YouTube video, 37:49, posted by “RealEstateinMoto,” December 17, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrh7FvKxrg&noredirect=1. They were also involved in both the February and May 2015 anti-SB 941 Salem rallies, and the Josephine County chapter was the main organizer of the Sugar Pine Mine action. However, as of August 2016, the organization seems to be losing its position in Oregon, with the disaffiliation of its most prominent group, the Oath Keepers of Josephine County.

From late 2013 to late 2014, Jeff Ford was the Northern Oregon Coordinator and Tom McKirgan was Southern Oregon Coordinator; Ford then became the sole state coordinator until after the May rally.3)In October 2013, Ford (then described as a “recent transplant from California”) and McKirgan were described as the Northern and Southern Oregon Oath Keepers’ leaders, respectively. See Volubrjotr, “Oath Keepers Unite With P.A.N.D.A. To Stop McCain’s NDAA In Oregon: Rotate Honor Guards To Ensure WWII Veterans’ Access To Memorial,” Political Vel Craft, October 16, 2013, https://politicalvelcraft.org/2013/10/16/oath-keepers-unite-with-p-a-n-d-a-to-stop-mccains-ndaa-in-oregon-rotate-honor-guards-to-ensure-wwii-veterans-access-to-memorial. In April 2015, Ford is referred to as the sole state Coordinator (as well as a member of the Oath Keepers National Board); see “Calling all Oath Keepers to help with Security at the Sugar Pine Mine, April 17, 2015,” Meetup event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/221921869.Today, McKirgan is part of Oregon III%, and is the leader of Zone 4 (Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Coos, and Curry counties). He is also one of the two national administrators of the “3%ERS” Facebook group, which has over 24,000 members (www.facebook.com/groups/THE3PERCENTERS/admins). Facebook post, August 2016, screenshot in possession of author. (Currently the Oregon coordinator position is listed as “TBA.”)4)“Oath Keepers of Oregon” Oath Keepers, www.oathkeepers.org/Oregon. Brandon Rapolla is the state Community Preparedness Team coordinator. He is also the leader of Oregon Tactical, a founder of Pacific Patriots Network, and was part of the Sugar Pine Mine camps, Bundy Ranch standoff, and was in Burns, Oregon.5)For CPT leader, see Stewart Rhodes, “Historic ‘Militia’ Moment: Pacific Patriot Network (Including Oath Keepers) Calls On FBI,” Oath Keepers, January 10, 2016, www.oathkeepers.org/9435-2; for Sugar Pine Mine and Bundy Ranch, see James Pogue, “The Oath Keepers Are Ready for War with the Federal Government,” VICE, September 14, 2015, www.vice.com/read/miner-threat-0000747-v22n9; for Rapolla at Bundy Ranch with weapons, see “Bundy Ranch, III%, Militia, Independence,” YouTube video, 7:19, posted by “Brandon Rapolla,” July 4, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vXYAJPrp-I. Rice confirmed with me that Rapolla was a Pacific Patriots Network founder; Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.

The state Oath Keepers took most of its public communications offline around the time of the Sugar Pine Mine encampments; their Facebook group has only been updated once since June 2015, and the sparse website (which went offline in May 2016) does not list staff or even local chapters.6)Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org. The last capture on archive.org was April 30, 2016, and the website is presently offline. There is only one post on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/OathKeepersofOregon, between June 2015 and July 2016. All of this is a rather odd public face for an organization that takes great pains to claim not to be a clandestine paramilitary. With the disaffiliation of the Josephine County chapter  in August 2016, there is only one public website in the state, run by the Baker County chapter.7)See Baker County Solutions, https://bakercountysolutions.wordpress.com.

The Oath Keepers have chapters around state, generally organized by county. Chapters that announced meetings in 2015 or 2016 include Josephine; Central Oregon (including Crook); Douglas; Baker; Linn and Benton; Marion, Polk, and Yamhill; Washington; Columbia; Lane; Malheur; and Klamath. (Chapters that held public meetings in 2014 or earlier include Jackson; Deschutes, Union, Coos, Curry, and Clackamas, and city chapters in Salem and Portland and/or Gresham.)8)For the 2015 and 2016 meetings, see: “Josephine County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” Meetup event for August 11, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/233027958; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Baker County,” MeetUp event for December 15, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/227416404; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Linn and Benton County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for March 6, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229239175; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties,” MeetUp event for June 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/qltlnhyvjbvb; “Oath Keepers of Washington County Monthly Meetings,” MeetUp event for April 28, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/230501466; “Columbia County Oath Keepers Celebrating our 2 year anniversary,” MeetUp event for April 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229980453; “Lane County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 21, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/228741920; Malheur County Oath Keepers Meet and Greet,” MeetUp event, January 9, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/219657841; “Oathkeepers of central Oregon,” MeetUp event for August 25, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224780403; “Oath Keepers of Klamath County,” MeetUp event for August 20, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224691943; for Douglas County, see “Sportsman & Outdoor Recreation Show – Feb 13th–15th,” MeetUp event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/220476710.For chapters that held public meetings in 2014: “Oath Keepers of Oregon Jackson County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 17, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/165172592; “ MeetUp event , May 8, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/179696252; “Oregon Oath Keepers Deschutes Chapter Start Up,” MeetUp event for November 13, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215776232; “Union County Oath Keepers of Oregon – General Meeting – Candidates Forum,” MeetUp event for October 28, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215983172; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for October 15, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/204384772; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for April 30, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/176655182; Oath Keepers of Oregon Coos County Chapter Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 26, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/195777552; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Multnomah County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 14, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/190826222; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Curry County Chapter Formation,” MeetUp event for January 18, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/160026592; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Portland Chapter (Gresham) General Meeting,” MeetUp event for December 2, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/151832752; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Portland Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for June 3, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/119666982; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Salem Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for November 9, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/147819052.

The Oregon Oath Keepers website listed links to organizations like PANDA (People Against the NDAA), Tenth Amendment Center, Oregon Firearms Federation, American Lands Council, and National Liberty Alliance.9)“Oath Keepers of Oregon Links,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org. In Oregon, the Oath Keepers have been building a grassroots movement, partly based on community service work and the creation of emergency-based response teams. The state website said that some of their actions included, “Building wheel chair ramps for the disabled,” “Repairing school playgrounds for disabled access,” and “Community Preparedness Teams to assist in emergencies.”10)“Oath Keepers Oregon,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160406033648/http://oroathkeepers.org/action.html.

In August 2015, the national Oath Keepers leadership—who had previously focused on high-profile, media-friendly actions—was promoting the Oregon’s volunteer service approach. According to the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, national founder Stewart Rhodes called on chapters to both promote militias, as well as to join local “volunteer fire departments and churches, neighborhood watch groups, search and rescue and other first responder groups, and VFW groups.”11)Devin Burghart, “Oath Keepers Roll Out Plan to Infiltrate Local Institutions [Video],” Institute For Research & Education On Human Rights, November 3, 2015, www.irehr.org/2015/11/03/oath-keepers-roll-out-plan-to-infiltrate-local-institutions-video. At the same time, many Oregon Oath Keepers—fresh from the conflict at Sugar Pine Mine—also travelled to Lincoln, Montana to help establish armed camps at the White Hope Mine.12)Elias Alias, “Press Release: Operation Big Sky: Lincoln, Montana,” Oath Keepers, August 9, 2015, www.oathkeepers.org/press-release-operation-big-sky-lincoln-montana

In July 2016, Joseph Rice, leader of the Oath Keepers of Josephine County, said that “in the last year or so a lot of the Oregon Oath Keeper chapters have stopped and they’ve disbanded. But it doesn’t mean those individuals are no longer participating in securing and preserving Constitutional rights. They’ve just named themselves something else.” The next month, his organization website announced they were no longer with the national Oath Keepers, and unveiled their new name: the Citizen Patriots of Josephine County.13)Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016, and email to author, August 25, 2016; see also Citizen Patriots of Josephine County, www.cpjoco.com.

References   [ + ]

1. “Active ‘Patriot’ Groups in the United States in 2009,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 1, 2010, www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2010/active-patriot-groups-united-states-2009.
2. “We Will Not Comply – Come and Take Them—Part 4 of 4,” YouTube video, 37:49, posted by “RealEstateinMoto,” December 17, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrh7FvKxrg&noredirect=1.
3. In October 2013, Ford (then described as a “recent transplant from California”) and McKirgan were described as the Northern and Southern Oregon Oath Keepers’ leaders, respectively. See Volubrjotr, “Oath Keepers Unite With P.A.N.D.A. To Stop McCain’s NDAA In Oregon: Rotate Honor Guards To Ensure WWII Veterans’ Access To Memorial,” Political Vel Craft, October 16, 2013, https://politicalvelcraft.org/2013/10/16/oath-keepers-unite-with-p-a-n-d-a-to-stop-mccains-ndaa-in-oregon-rotate-honor-guards-to-ensure-wwii-veterans-access-to-memorial. In April 2015, Ford is referred to as the sole state Coordinator (as well as a member of the Oath Keepers National Board); see “Calling all Oath Keepers to help with Security at the Sugar Pine Mine, April 17, 2015,” Meetup event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/221921869.Today, McKirgan is part of Oregon III%, and is the leader of Zone 4 (Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Coos, and Curry counties). He is also one of the two national administrators of the “3%ERS” Facebook group, which has over 24,000 members (www.facebook.com/groups/THE3PERCENTERS/admins). Facebook post, August 2016, screenshot in possession of author.
4. “Oath Keepers of Oregon” Oath Keepers, www.oathkeepers.org/Oregon.
5. For CPT leader, see Stewart Rhodes, “Historic ‘Militia’ Moment: Pacific Patriot Network (Including Oath Keepers) Calls On FBI,” Oath Keepers, January 10, 2016, www.oathkeepers.org/9435-2; for Sugar Pine Mine and Bundy Ranch, see James Pogue, “The Oath Keepers Are Ready for War with the Federal Government,” VICE, September 14, 2015, www.vice.com/read/miner-threat-0000747-v22n9; for Rapolla at Bundy Ranch with weapons, see “Bundy Ranch, III%, Militia, Independence,” YouTube video, 7:19, posted by “Brandon Rapolla,” July 4, 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vXYAJPrp-I. Rice confirmed with me that Rapolla was a Pacific Patriots Network founder; Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.
6. Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org. The last capture on archive.org was April 30, 2016, and the website is presently offline. There is only one post on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/OathKeepersofOregon, between June 2015 and July 2016.
7. See Baker County Solutions, https://bakercountysolutions.wordpress.com.
8. For the 2015 and 2016 meetings, see: “Josephine County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” Meetup event for August 11, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/233027958; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Baker County,” MeetUp event for December 15, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/227416404; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Linn and Benton County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for March 6, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229239175; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties,” MeetUp event for June 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/qltlnhyvjbvb; “Oath Keepers of Washington County Monthly Meetings,” MeetUp event for April 28, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/230501466; “Columbia County Oath Keepers Celebrating our 2 year anniversary,” MeetUp event for April 16, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/229980453; “Lane County Oath Keepers General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 21, 2016, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/228741920; Malheur County Oath Keepers Meet and Greet,” MeetUp event, January 9, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/219657841; “Oathkeepers of central Oregon,” MeetUp event for August 25, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224780403; “Oath Keepers of Klamath County,” MeetUp event for August 20, 2015, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/224691943; for Douglas County, see “Sportsman & Outdoor Recreation Show – Feb 13th–15th,” MeetUp event, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/220476710.For chapters that held public meetings in 2014: “Oath Keepers of Oregon Jackson County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for February 17, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/165172592; “ MeetUp event , May 8, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/179696252; “Oregon Oath Keepers Deschutes Chapter Start Up,” MeetUp event for November 13, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215776232; “Union County Oath Keepers of Oregon – General Meeting – Candidates Forum,” MeetUp event for October 28, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/215983172; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for October 15, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/204384772; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Clackamas County Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for April 30, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/176655182; Oath Keepers of Oregon Coos County Chapter Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 26, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/195777552; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Multnomah County General Meeting,” MeetUp event for July 14, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/190826222; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Curry County Chapter Formation,” MeetUp event for January 18, 2014, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/160026592; “Oath Keepers of Oregon, Portland Chapter (Gresham) General Meeting,” MeetUp event for December 2, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/151832752; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Portland Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for June 3, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/119666982; “Oath Keepers of Oregon Salem Chapter General Meeting,” MeetUp event for November 9, 2013, www.meetup.com/Oath-Keepers-Oregon/events/147819052.
9. “Oath Keepers of Oregon Links,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160430205759/http://oroathkeepers.org.
10. “Oath Keepers Oregon,” Oath Keepers of Oregon, https://web.archive.org/web/20160406033648/http://oroathkeepers.org/action.html.
11. Devin Burghart, “Oath Keepers Roll Out Plan to Infiltrate Local Institutions [Video],” Institute For Research & Education On Human Rights, November 3, 2015, www.irehr.org/2015/11/03/oath-keepers-roll-out-plan-to-infiltrate-local-institutions-video.
12. Elias Alias, “Press Release: Operation Big Sky: Lincoln, Montana,” Oath Keepers, August 9, 2015, www.oathkeepers.org/press-release-operation-big-sky-lincoln-montana
13. Joseph Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016, and email to author, August 25, 2016; see also Citizen Patriots of Josephine County, www.cpjoco.com.