Report: Extremists emboldened after Nevada ranch standoff

Far right wing extremists have been emboldened by the standoff earlier this year between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government, according to a study released Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The report, entitled "War in the West" examines the conflict between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and militiamen who supported Bundy, who owed more than $1 million in grazing fees and fines to the government, despite insisting that he had "preemptive rights" to let his cattle graze on the federally owned land.

The incident came as a result of a U.S. District Court ruling that he had to pay the fees just as any other rancher would. Federal agents rounded up around 400 cattle on the public land, leading to an armed standoff that lasted weeks until authorities released the cattle and withdrew. That action was seen as a victory among anti-government circles, particularly the "Patriot" movement, the study says.

Since that time, other standoffs have taken place in other parts of the West including Idaho, Texas, New Mexico and Utah, where a gunman pointed a weapon at a BLM agent while holding a sign that said "You need to die," according to the report.

Bundy actually enjoyed some high profile support among conservatives as the standoff developed, but lost that support after making some overtly racist comments targeted at African-Americans.

However, Mark Potok, an SPLC senior fellow and co-author of the study warns that this incident and other that have taken place since are a foreshadowing of things to come if the federal government doesn't gain an understanding of what he says is the volatile nature of right wing extremist movements.

"The Bundy ranch standoff may be a preview of things to come if the federal government doesn't come to terms with the true nature of this volatile extremist movement," wrote Potok on the SPLC's website. "Two decades after the deadly debacle at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, federal officials continue to struggle with their approach to radical-right extremists who threaten and use violence to achieve their political goals."

Ryan Lenz, also a co-author of the study said that the Bundy incident was not spontaneous, but rather intentional and was the largest manifestation of anti-government activity since President Obama was elected.

"What happened in Nevada was not an organic plot, it was a really well thought out plan," he told CBS News in a phone interview. "It was a coordinated effort to bring the threat of violence to the federal government.

"The point we're making is that the government needs to take this seriously, that bloodshed will happen."

Lenz also said the report praises the Department of Justice for bringing back its Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee which originated after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

The study also looks at the murder of two police officers by Jerad and Amanda Miller, a married couple who spent time at Bundy's ranch during the standoff and sympathized with the radical right. After the two killed the cops at pizza restaurant in Las Vegas, they left a "Don't tread on me" flag draped over one policeman's body. They then entered a nearby Wal-Mart and engaged in a shootout with police, killing one officer before Amanda Miller fatally shot her husband and then herself.

The SPLC cites the Millers as an example of a movement flamed by wild conspiracy theories, conservative politicians and commentators who they agree with.

"The Millers were only two of the hundreds of militia members, conspiracy theorists and other angry government extremists who responded to Bundy's call for a 'range war,'" reads the report.

Lenz said the Bundy incident was a significant line in the sand for far right extremists because of the issue of land use. Despite being publicly owned land, Bundy felt the area on which his cattle grazed is an area he felt belonged to him through ancestral legacy.

"This particular issue is something the movement has attached itself to," said Lenz. "It seemed to them that the federal government was restricting civil liberties. So this movement is attracting people who are willing to be violent to defend their principles."

  • Madison Gray

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