Radical conservatives in the U.S. have been energized by the armed standoff between federal officials and right-wing militiamen at the Bundy ranch in Nevada in April, according to a new report by an extremist watchdog group.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s report, released Thursday, also called the U.S. Bureau of Land Management response to rancher Cliven Bundy “a failure of the federal government to come to terms with the true nature of the war in the West.”
A spokeswoman for the BLM in Nevada declined to comment on the report’s conclusions.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bundy said he and his militia allies didn’t do anything wrong. “They’re the ones that are committing a crime,” Bundy said of federal, state and local law enforcement. "They’re the ones that are putting the people in danger.”
Bundy’s decades-long struggle with the federal government over his refusal to pay grazing fees for using public lands came to a head in April when the BLM began to seize his cattle and armed militiamen came to Bundy’s aid.
BLM officials and federal officers, facing hundreds of well-armed protesters, backed down and released Bundy’s cattle without any shots being fired.
“For those harboring deep hatred of the federal government, the BLM pullout was seen as a dramatic victory, one instance where the armed radicals of the right stared through their own gunsights at the gun barrels of law enforcement officials and won,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center report, which condemned more mainstream conservative figures for supporting Bundy in the showdown.
The startling images of armed law officers yielding to rifle-wielding militiamen only got more worrisome when a married couple who had come to the ranch, Jerad and Amanda Miller, went on a shooting spree in Las Vegas several weeks later.
Inspired by an extreme conservative anti-government ideology, the Millers executed two policemen at a pizzeria and then killed an armed citizen in a nearby Wal-Mart before killing themselves during a gun battle with police.
On one officer’s body, the couple draped a Gadsden flag — a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” a popular emblem among radical conservatives.
A neighbor of the couple told The Times that other militiamen kicked Jerad Miller off the ranch because he was a felon.
There have been 17 shooting incidents between anti-government extremists and U.S. law enforcement since 2009, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center report, which said tensions have been heightened between the BLM and radicals in other Western states since the Bundy showdown.
The report described one May incident, which was confirmed to The Times by a BLM spokeswoman, in which two men in Utah pointed a gun at a BLM worker while holding a sign that said, “You need to die.”
The report said the radical conservative anti-government movement has expanded — from about 150 groups in 2009 to more than 1,000 as of last year — and called for the Department of Homeland Security to devote more resources toward non-Islamic domestic terrorism.
Bundy hadn’t read the report, but after a Times reporter described its contents to him, he responded: “I produce food for the people of America, that’s my job. I don’t go around fighting people; I don’t go around shooting people.”
However, Bundy said, “I do believe the United States’ bureaucracies are becoming very powerful and forceful, and administering regulatory regulations are costing the American people a lot of money.”
Bundy called the Millers’ attack in Las Vegas “absolutely terrible,” adding, “That sure wasn’t anything to do with our way of thinking, either as a group or personally.”
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