Update

This report was updated July 2016. Here’s the latest.

Last week, armed members of the Oath Keepers and other militias arrived at a mine in Montana, posting “no trespassing” signs on public land. The operation is the latest in a string of standoffs involving extremist groups that refuse to recognize the authority of the U.S. government, including incidents at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon and Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada.

A new investigation by the non-partisan watchdog Center for Western Priorities has uncovered wide-ranging ties between those extremist groups and Western legislators involved in a coordinated effort to take our national lands from the American people. At the center of the land grab is Ken Ivory, a Utah state representative and president of the American Lands Council. Ivory has been accused of fraud in three states for allegedly scamming local governments into funding the ALC using taxpayer money.

The elected officials supporting state seizure of public lands couch their arguments carefully, using innocuous rhetoric to claim that their only goal is better land management. But in reality, these politicians are following directly in the ideological footsteps of Bundy, the scofflaw rancher who owes more than $1 million in grazing fees to American taxpayers and doesn’t recognize the U.S. government as “even existing.”

In this report, the Center for Western Priorities reveals the extremist origins and foundations of the movement to seize American lands, many of which have not been brought to light before. We describe how public lands issues attract extremists, including members of organizations like the Militia of Montana and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

Download the full report

Highlights

  • Interactive: Land grab legislators with extremist ties
  • Who’s who: Meet the extremist groups involved in public lands issues
  • Background: The ideological roots of the land seizure movement
  • In pictures: Ken Ivory’s bridge from the extreme to the mainstream

Interactive: Land grab legislators with extremist ties

Hover over or tap each face to learn more.

Meet the extremist groups involved in public lands issues

Oath KeepersOATH KEEPERS

WHAT THEY BELIEVE: Oath Keepers are former military and armed services veterans who arm themselves and vow “to disobey ‘unconstitutional’ orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government.” Its members—which may number approximately 30,000—have shown up to guard Ferguson, Missouri, offered advice on the Jade Helm conspiracy theory in Texas, and closed off a public access road to defend a miner breaking the law on public lands at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon.

INVOLVEMENT IN PUBLIC LANDS ISSUES: Oath Keepers endorsed the idea of public land seizures on their website, and their president Stewart Rhodes stated that the federal government “stole” public lands from Nevada at statehood.

Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers AssocationCONSTITUTIONAL SHERIFFS AND PEACE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION

WHAT THEY BELIEVE: CSPOA members believe that “federal law enforcement officials have exceeded their Constitutional authority.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, CSPOA leader Richard Mack, a former sheriff, “has become perhaps the biggest proselytizer of county sheriff supremacy, the idea that sheriffs are the highest law enforcement authority. Legal experts say the notion, which gives rise to the term ‘constitutional sheriffs,’ has no standing in historical or modern jurisprudence.”

INVOLVEMENT IN PUBLIC LANDS ISSUES: Sheriff Mack stated at the Bundy Ranch press conference, “I don’t believe that the BLM has any authority whatsoever….”

Militia of MontanaMILITIA OF MONTANA

WHAT THEY BELIEVE: Founded by John Trochmann, a white supremacist, MOM is “one of the best known of the paramilitary ‘patriot’ militias that formed in the mid-to-late 1990s.” In 2011, Trochmann indicated that MOM had turned its organizing efforts to a new group focused on public lands, stating that “we [the Militia] have a little organization called the Sanders Natural Resource Council.”

INVOLVEMENT IN PUBLIC LANDS ISSUES: The Sanders Natural Resource Council vocally supported State Senator Jennifer Fielder and her efforts to seize public lands in the state of Montana.

Agenda 21 conspiracy theoristsAGENDA 21 CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

WHAT THEY BELIEVE: Radical conspiracy theorists believe that Agenda 21, a non-binding 1992 United Nations resolution that promotes sustainable development, is “a key step in a secret plan to destroy property rights, redistribute wealth and, ultimately, force the United States and other countries in a tyrannical, one-world government.” The High Country News reports that anti-Agenda 21 activists are “increasingly influential” in the West and have “sabotaged planning efforts nationwide.”

INVOLVEMENT IN PUBLIC LANDS ISSUES: Alex Jones, a leading conspiracy theorist, connected Agenda 21 to public lands, stating that the Bureau of Land Management has “an obsession to grab more [land] so that the dictates of Agenda 21 can be implemented.”

Council of Conservative CitizensCOUNCIL OF CONSERVATIVE CITIZENS

WHAT THEY BELIEVE: This white supremacist group came under scrutiny after its tenets were cited by the man who killed nine black South Carolinians in June 2015.

INVOLVEMENT IN PUBLIC LANDS ISSUES: A post on the CoCC website indicated support for the anti-government protestors at the Bundy Ranch, stating that “The people of Nevada are being denied the right to graze cattle, drill wells, or mine for raw materials…. By keeping the land under Federal government, the Federal government use mining rights as a reward for political allies and punish political enemies.” The CoCC website (which was taken offline after the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina) also highlighted the land seizure issue.

The ideological roots of the land seizure movement

POSSE COMITATUS

A loosely organized movement that gained prominence in the 1970s and 1980s. Its members believe that the federal government has no law enforcement authority and that local citizens are empowered to form “posses” to use force and violence to defend the Constitution. The movement still has traction today, as evidenced by its members being involved in shootings of law enforcement officers in 2012 and its invocation by a Colorado state senator in debate over a land seizure bill in 2015. 

SOVEREIGN CITIZENS

Adherents believe that they are not citizens of the U.S. and therefore do not have to follow its laws. Their oft-used tactic of gumming up the judicial system with phony legal paperwork gained prominence in the 1980s, although the Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the movement “has been growing at a fast pace since the late 2000s.” 

COUNTY SUPREMACY

This is the belief that the county sheriff is the highest law enforcement authority and that the American people, through the federal government, have no right to public lands. Rep. Ken Ivory, the public face of the land seizure movement, subscribes to this ideology as seen in his endorsement of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

LAND SEIZURE MOVEMENT

Proponents of land seizures use quasi-legal arguments to underpin their belief that the federal government promised to give American public lands to the states when they entered the Union, and therefore believe that the federal government (and the American people) have no right to public lands.

In pictures: Ken Ivory’s bridge from the extreme to the mainstream

  • Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 3.22.11 PM
    Last month, American Lands Council President Ken Ivory met with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to discuss seizing national lands. Ivory has been accused of fraud in three Western states for using taxpayer money to fund the ALC.

  • Cruz, Ivory, and Fielder
    In 2014, Ivory and Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder met with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz to discuss seizing national lands. Fielder is a member of the Sanders Natural Resource Council, a group run by white supremacist and militia leader John Trochmann.

  • jones and beck
    Ivory has appeared on numerous television and radio shows hosted by conspiracy theorists, including Infowars’ Alex Jones and The Blaze’s Glenn Beck.

  • Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 3.23.17 PM
    Ivory works closely with discredited historian David Barton, who wrote the “least credible history book in print,” which was later recalled by its publisher. Ivory has consulted with Barton on his land seizure bills, declaring, “Sure do love the great work that man does!”

Download the full report

Written by on Monday, August 10th, 2015