David (L) and Charles Koch


Rancher Cliven Bundy, who successfully called for right wing paramilitary intervention in his two-decade dispute with the federal government, had the support of conservative nonprofit group Americans For Prosperity, which is largely funded by the Koch brothers.

This weekend, federal officials de-escalated a brewing “range war” with armed ‘Patriot’ militias that had threatened violence against federal employees. Three arrests took place last week, and a scuffle broke out on Wednesday, as protesters confronted agents of the Bureau of Land Management enforcing a federal court order to remove Bundy’s cattle from federally-managed lands. Bundy’s fight naturally appeals to the billionaire Koch brothers, who have a longstanding agenda to privatize federal lands.

Oliver Willis reported on the AFP affiliates’ endorsement of Bundy at Media Matters.

AFP Nevada’s Facebook page posted a graphic attacking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for spending “one million dollars” to enforce the court order to round up Bundy’s cattle on federal land. Another photo attacked the Bureau for creating a designated “First Amendment Area” for protesters to gather in near the property.

On its Twitter page, AFP Nevada is more strident in its support of Bundy and in attacking the federal government.

AFP Nevada has promoted the hashtag #BundyBattle, which supporters are using to showcase their message. In one tweet, AFP Nevada posted a graphic attacking the cattle round up and said they had a “bone to pick” with the Bureau of Land Management.

Another AFP Nevada tweet attacked the “First Amendment Area” with a photo of cow manure and the caption “This is what we think about ‘First Amendment Areas’.”

David Koch pushed a privatization agenda when he ran for president as a libertarian in 1980, and the sale of the commons remains a priority for his brother Charles, too. As ThinkProgress reported last year, the Koch-backed AFP has also engaged in a campaign to privatize federal lands.

ALEC and Americans for Prosperity have been fanning the fire under these efforts to “reclaim” federal public lands. ALEC is a conservative corporate front group funded by fossil-fuel interests such as the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil that develops model legislation for state legislators to introduce in their legislatures, and it has endorsed many of the bills turning public lands over to the states. As the Associated Press reported, “Lawmakers in Utah and Arizona have said the legislation is endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that advocates conservative ideals, and they expect it to eventually be introduced in other Western states.”

That should come as little surprise, considering that one of ALEC’s “model bills” — those that it drafts and develops to shop to various state legislators — is the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” which was “designed to establish a mechanism for the transfer of ownership of” non-state lands “from the federal government to the states.”

Further evidence that ALEC is the puppet master behind these performances: Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory (R), who is leading the charge for states to “take back” public lands through his “American Lands Council,” has been presenting the idea of turning federal land over to the states at ALEC conferences such as the one in Salt Lake City last summer. Additionally, Rep. Ivory has been promoting this idea to various state legislatures — he spoke, for example, with Wyoming’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee in October 2012.

In practice, these efforts have always been aimed at freeing up public lands for extraction of oil and gas, redounding to the benefit of the richest people and corporations in America. White, rural men with cowboy hats have provided a populist veneer to all this, but the privatization cause is really only popular among ideological libertarians, anarchists, and right wing extremists who refuse to recognize the federal government. It is a fringe view even in Western states with a large BLM presence.

Furthermore, the rancher’s way of life has suffered far more from the industrialization of farming than any federal protections for endangered turtles, and as “the only rancher in the region who refuses to acknowledge or heed the federal permit system for grazing rights,” Bundy hardly speaks for his fellow cattlemen.

Several interviews that Bundy has given over the years makes clear that he subscribes to Patriot movement theories about the legitimacy of the federal government, or the lack thereof, and to Posse Comitatus theories about the enshrinement of the powers of the county sheriff.  He also has taken to comparing his confrontation with federal authorities to ill-fated clashes at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, in the 1990s, that were infamous for inspiring militia organizing that fueled the Patriot movement then.

Even though the BLM has begun returning Bundy’s cattle “to avoid violence and restore order,” the dispute is not over. A small army of government lawyers will now arm the agency with another pile of legal paperwork to stack on top of Bundy’s multiple lost court battles. It remains to be seen how much support the Koch brothers, or their organization, will give him in that fight, but the AFP’s endorsement of Bundy is a tacit endorsement of his ‘Patriot’ insurrection — and a big middle finger to the rule of law in the United States.

A peaceful protester takes aim at BLM agents
A “peaceful protester” takes aim at the BLM agents who offend him