Heated Rhetoric by Politicians Encourages Violent Extremism on National Public Lands

Jan 5, 2016

By Center for Western Priorities

It’s a dangerous time to be a park ranger, a scientist, or a public safety officer working in the American West for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Park Service, or the Forest Service.

It may be tempting to disregard threats and violence against the men and women working to safeguard our parks and public lands as the product of a few right-wing militants. But that would be a big mistake, letting our elected leaders in Washington off the hook for their dangerous and heated rhetoric and actions that have encouraged hateful acts against public land managers.

Just in the last few years, members of Congress have blamed public lands managers for abusing and bullying local residents and they’ve given a platform to individuals who equate public land managers with the Gestapo.

The risks facing these civil servants first came into sharp focus in 2014, when Cliven Bundy and his family incited violence against employees of the U.S. government in Nevada.

But rather than strongly condemn violent actions and rhetoric by the Bundys and others in the county supremacy movement, some elected leaders have embraced the family and the anti-government ideology they promote. County supremacy is a fringe movement which holds that the U.S. government has no right to national public lands and that county sheriffs are the ultimate authority.

Here are six key examples of this phenomenon:

  • Senator Rand Paul recently made news for meeting privately with Cliven Bundy.
  • Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar traveled to the Bundy Ranch in a show of solidarity.
  • Presidential candidate Ben Carson called the Bundy supporters “pretty upstanding people.”
  • Former Governor Mike Huckabee voiced his support for Bundy in April of 2014.
  • American Lands Council CEO State Representative Ken Ivory, who believes America is currently in the Second Great Revolution, signed a resolution sponsored by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association supporting county supremacy.
  • And legislators in at least nine Western states have expressed their support for county supremacists fighting to seize public lands.

Meanwhile, the dangerous realities facing civil servants are only becoming more real. According to one analysis, between 2010 and 2014 there were dozens of instances of threats, assaults, and serious confrontations between land managers and government extremists.

Now, with the Bundy family in the news again—this time after two Bundy sons seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural eastern Oregon and threatened a violent standoff—the dangers facing public land managers have come back into view.

More than ever before, we’re looking to our elected leaders to strongly deplore violent threats against our public lands managers. Westerners may not all agree on how to balance the multiple uses of national public lands. But we can agree that militant groups ‚Äì the III%ers, the Oath Keepers, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and the Bundy family ‚Äì don’t speak for us.