STATEMENT: 2016 Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation was a ‘dress rehearsal’ for Capitol insurrection

Jan 7, 2021

JANUARY 7, 2021

DENVER—As a mob incited by President Trump attempted to overturn the 2020 election by taking over the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, the images coming out of Washington were no surprise to groups that have been tracking anti-public lands extremists in the West. The groups that participated in the armed occupation of the Capitol are the same ones that have been threatening American public lands for years.

The Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Executive Director Jennifer Rokala:

“The armed takeover of the Malheur refuge five years ago this week was a dress rehearsal for what we saw at the Capitol. The extremist ideologies and tactics that led to the violent occupation of public lands in Oregon are the same ideologies that President Trump has stoked among his supporters.

“You can draw a straight line from the Bundy Ranch standoff and Malheur takeover to the Trump insurrection in Washington. President-elect Biden, the new Congress, and all Americans must take this threat seriously. After Trump leaves office, the threats to our public lands will be greater than ever. Law enforcement must stop appeasing the criminals who take over America’s public land, whether in Washington or the West, and start sending them to prison.”

In 2015, the Center for Western Priorities began tracking connections between anti-public lands extremists and mainstream politicians in the West, months before the Malheur takeover. After the armed occupation, CWP updated its report, Going to Extremes, highlighting the explicit ties between state lawmakers and the Malheur criminals.

Extremist groups have established a track record of violent clashes and standoffs with national public lands managers, including at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon, White Hope Mine in Montana, and the Bundy Family Ranch in Nevada, whose cattle have been grazing illegally on public lands for decades.

After Wednesday’s failed coup at the Capitol, anti-public lands extremist Cliven Bundy took to Facebook to call for another insurrection, saying that “100,000 should have spent the night in the halls and another 100,000 should have protected them.”

These extremist groups that have been highly visible at anti-public lands events, including the Oath Keepers and III Percenters, were well-represented in mobs across the country, along with their common symbol, the Gadsden “don’t tread on me” flag. Notably, Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers who has led multiple armed standoffs with public lands managers, was present at the Capitol riot.

Photo: Blink O’fanaye, CC-BY-NC 2.0