In the wake of the Oath Keepers and other militia groups arriving in Montana to fight against an imaginary threat of federal abuse, the Center for Western Priorities has issued an important report showing the troubling link between extremist anti-government groups and legislators, including those in Montana, pushing to seize land from the federal government.
As the report’s author, Jessica Goad, notes, “The elected officials supporting state seizure of public lands couch their arguments carefully, using innocuous rhetoric to claim that their only goal is better land management. But in reality, these politicians are following directly in the ideological footsteps of , the scofflaw rancher who owes more than $1 million in grazing fees to American taxpayers and doesn’t recognize the U.S. government as “even existing.”
And that’s exactly what we’re seeing from Montana Republicans, ranging from Senator Steve Daines, who voted to allow the sale of public lands, to State Senator Jennifer Fielder, who, under the guise of “better management,” have given tacit or explicit endorsement to the idea that the states should reclaim land from the federal government. At the more extreme end, as the report notes, are people like Fielder, who led the charge to claim federal lands in Montana and Representative Kerry White, who went as far as endorsing the Cliven Bundy standoff, and who said he would support local law enforcement arresting federal officials implementing Obamacare.
At the center of this movement is Utah Representative Ken Ivory, who is the subject of a recent series of complaints from the Campaign for Accountability, who allege that he is engaged in fraud as he personally enriches himself peddling discredited schemes about the states seizing federal lands. Over half of Ivory’s American Lands Council’s budget is spent directly on Ivory and his wife, leading Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Anne Weissmann to argue that Ivory “is a snake oil salesman, cloaked with respectability by his position as a legislator. Local government officials need to learn the truth about Rep. Ivory’s claims before they are suckered into parting with taxpayer funds.” Hopefully, Montana government officials will learn that lesson before Ivory is brought back to Montana to shill for his anti-government, pro-Ivory cause.
The report is a useful reminder that, as ludicrous as the arguments and strategies of these groups seem to be, the groups pose an actual threat. Emboldening and endorsing the worldview of self-styled patriots with heavy weapons may play well at militia meetings, and stoking the fears of the gullible that the government is coming for their guns and land may raise some money and even win a few votes, but it’s a dangerously irresponsible position for political leaders to take.
Will Senator Fielder, Representative White, and the others take responsibility when some “patriot,” fired up on indignation and misinformation they’ve helped generate, shoots a federal agent or blows up another government building? Of course they won’t, but one can only hope that these politicians can come to understand that they are playing with some dangerously unstable elements, and willing to accept responsibility or not, they will share some of the blame when innocents once again are hurt.
Update: If you’re interested in the connection between these groups, be sure to check out the Montana Human Rights Network’s excellent report from 2012, which showed how candidates as high-profile as GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill endorsed the idea of county and state supremacy over federal agents. I forgot to include it in last night’s post.