The above picture of an anti-government man thanking firefighters for saving his home went viral this week as a pithy answer to the libertarian dogma that inhabits most forms of right wing extremism these days. Nothing is more socialist than fire, for the flames do not care about our property lines, politics, class differences, or other human impositions on the world. When the forest is ablaze, ‘free markets’ and low taxes make poor substitutes for immediate, collective action.
Writing from Montana this week, where fire season is in full swing, author and journalist David Neiwert cuts through the smoke to reveal a community under siege by armed Oath Keepers and III-Percenters. Supporting an illegal gold mining claim on public lands nearby, the militiamen are rubbing the town the wrong way, for Lincoln is hardly a hotbed of anti-government extremism. Federal agencies are major employers in the area, while federal management employees are seen as friends and neighbors rather than jackbooted thugs. And as Neiwert relates, these ‘patriots’ are as opaque in operation as the caricature of government they draw.
Several reporters have attempted to approach the operation and have been severely rebuffed. Marshall Swearingen, writing for the High Country News, was able to arrange an escort through the DEQ job site, but was rebuffed by the guardsmen he met at the gate to the mine site.
“The operatives forcefully tell me to not take photos,” he wrote. “They will not tell me their names. The man with the angry stare has a radio, and it crackles to life. He answers with a radio handle of ‘Warthog,’ or maybe War Hog — he won’t say.
Similarly, Rebecca Schoenkopf, a reporter for Wonkette, was unable to make it past the motel room used by the militiamen as a gathering point. The “Patriot” code-named “Mouse” who greeted her and her husband turned hostile when they identified themselves as liberals and began stonewalling them harshly: “I’m not talking to you. I want your word you won’t write anything that happened in here.”
He concluded the interview: “This did not happen. If you write down anything I said in here, I will call you a liar.”
Go read the whole thing here. And then go read this disturbing report from the Center for Western Priorities (PDF), because it’s easy to dismiss radical fringe groups trying to subvert democracy and seize public lands for private exploitation until you realize that they have powerful allies, such as Utah Representative Ken Ivory, capable of turning their paranoid agenda into actual laws.
Ivory has spent significant time courting the anti-government and extremist groups. He appears with influencers in the rightwing echo chamber, such as on Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze,” David Barton’s “Wall Builders,” and Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory talk radio show. Rep. Ivory also directly visits patriot and extremist groups. For example, he addressed Montana’s Sanders Natural Resources Council in December 2013, a group which has been directly linked to the Militia of Montana. He also spoke to the Colorado Mesa County Patriots in April 2013, a group which believes that the Federal Reserve is an unconstitutional institution and promotes strategies “to uncouple free men and women from the albatross that the political class has created” in the Federal Reserve.
This is the legacy of Cliven Bundy: a growing, armed, criminal enterprise fueled by fanaticism and motivated by self-righteous certainties that have been cooked up in the online fantasy-lands of right wing opinionators. And they are getting bolder all the time.