By Mike McGreer
Last weekend, the nation was rocked by the outburst of violence that white supremacists provoked in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Charlottesville tragedy is simply the latest in a long line of fascist, racist, bigoted and anti-government atrocities committed through the history of the United States. Sadly, some of this bigotry can be found dangerously close to home.
The hate-filled extremism behind Bundy’s “range war”
In April 2014, Bunkerville, Nevada, rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons and members of the anti-government Patriot Movement clashed with law enforcement personnel attempting to take Bundy cattle from public lands for 10 plus years of failure to pay grazing fees. Three months after the standoff, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) warned that that incident might have some long-lasting, and potentially bloody, consequences. The SPLC identified many of the militia members participating in the event as part of the anti-government Patriot Movement.
The Patriot Movement has different factions. They include right-wing conspiracy groups like the anti-communist John Birch Society and armed groups promoting anti-Semitic and white supremacist themes. They also include the Oath Keepers, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), the Three Percenters, sovereign citizens, and other militia groups.
When nothing was done immediately after the standoff, Cliven Bundy urged his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s to pull together “Patriots” and take over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in January 2016.
The clear and present danger in letting this hate become “mainstream”
In 2016, Oregon State Representative Dallas Heard (R), Washington State Representative Matt Shea (R), and Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-Las Vegas) publicly endorsed the Bundy-Patriot Movement takeover of the Wildlife Refuge. Both Fiore and Shea also gave support to Bundy’s armed standoff with the BLM in April 2014. They were joined by U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R), who called Bundy and his followers “patriots”. He was joined by other Republican actors including U.S. Congressman Cresent Hardy (R-Bunkerville), political candidate Niger Innis, and Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) in support of the anti-government takeover.
Mesquite politicians gave tacit approval to the Bundys when Ryan and Dave Bundy harassed and threatened two BLM employees giving a presentation to the City Council on March 3, 2015. Four months later, BLM officials were asked not to come to a meeting with local leaders on an otherwise unrelated topic.
Actions, and inaction, have consequences
The Bundys and their co-conspirators were finally arrested in Oregon and Nevada in 2016. Gregory Burleson was recently sentenced to 68 years in prison for his role in the 2014 Nevada standoff. Though Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five co-conspirators were acquitted in the Oregon case, they will soon be retried here in Nevada for their roles in the 2014 Nevada standoff. Cliven Bundy, Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, and two others are due for trial later this year.
In the meantime, though, we’ve seen a dangerous uptick in extremist militia activity. On December 2014, there were an estimated 12,000 Patriot Movement members. By the end of 2015, those numbers increased to almost 70,000. In January 2016, during the Malheur occupation, the numbers jumped again to 85,000.
Just two months after the Bundys’ 2014 standoff, Jerad and Amanda Miller assassinated Las Vegas Metro Police Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo at an East Las Vegas pizzeria, then killed Joseph Robert Wilcox at a nearby Walmart. They had traveled to Nevada to take part in the Bundys’ “range war” against the federal government. Even after they left Bunkerville, the Millers voiced support for shooting police officers on social media.
And now, Charlottesville
Following the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump has equated those identifying with Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan and the “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys with peaceful anti-fascist counter-protesters. Trump then took on their latest cause as he equated Confederate States of America leaders with America’s Founding Fathers. Thus far, Trump has reserved harsher language for his critics than for the hateful extremists who caused this tragedy in Charlottesville.
This is nothing short of a structural and moral false equivalency that is seriously undermining the legitimacy of this president. And it serves as a reminder of what happens when we allow this kind of hateful extremism into the mainstream. Here in Nevada, we need not look further than the Bundys and their “range war” to see the consequences of letting this extremism go unchecked.
Cover photo by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia.