The Troubling Nexus Between the Public Land Grab and Anti-Government Movement Detailed in A New Report

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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • …. ” some “patriot,” fired up on indignation and misinformation they’ve helped generate, shoots a federal agent or blows up another government building? ” But that exact thing did happen in Nevada and Montana’s Lieutenant Governor, Judy Martz, did support this kind of terrorism against Federal employees by sending a signed shovel to “fired up patriots.”

  • It’s about to get real for the inbred militia! Sgt. Maggot and his Flaming Drama Queen brigade are gonna find out real soon that actions have consequences! Sgt. Maggot is calling for reinforcements…………bwhahahaha! How many more fat broads from Oregun will it TAKE to win the day? I’m calling for this to be settled by single combat. Sgt. Maggot sends out his fat broad to do battle with a fed!
    Whiskey’s for drinkin’, water’s for fightin’, and inbreds are for amusement!
    Got ahead, sgt. maggot, and attempt to keep us off OUR public lands, and see how well THAT works out for you, lifer boy! Ya see, lifer boy, SUCKIN’ offn’ Unca Sugartit in the Army for your entire life does NOT confer upon you any special right to STEAL our public lands, no matter HOW many fat broads from Oregun you can muster up! Sorry. Now, feds, do your job! Surround the inbred compound and let them starve and freeze until such a time that they can be transported to JAIL so that they can bond with their new best friend and cell mate, Big Bubba!

    Dispute with miners goes to court

    Feds: Armed protesters blocking White Hope Mine near Lincoln

    By Matt Volz

    Associated Press

    HELENA — Federal prosecutors asked a judge on Tuesday to prevent two miners and their armed supporters from blocking access to public land and threatening government officials over a dispute with the U.S. Forest Service in western Montana.

    The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Helena also seeks a declaration that miners George Kornec and Phil Nappo illegally opened a road, cut down trees, built a garage and denied the public the right to access the White Hope mine near Lincoln.

    Prosecutors and the Forest Service want U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell to declare the miners are acting illegally because they don’t have surface land rights to their mining claims. Prosecutors also want an order requiring the miners to pay to fix the damage to public land and for the miners and their armed supporters to stop interfering with public access.

    The road leading to the mining claim belongs to the Forest Service and is open to the public for non-motorized use, the lawsuit said. Members of the public may not interfere with mining operations, but they may access the land and the road, it said.

    “Currently the gate is closed with no trespassing signs posted and the public and Forest Service are being refused entry by armed persons,” the lawsuit said.

    The legal action has the

    See MINERS, 5A

    Self-described constitutional rights activists confer Aug. 5 in Lincoln.


    Article Continued Below

    See MINERS on Page A05


    Continued from 1A

    potential to escalate what has been a peaceful, if uneasy, standoff between government officials and more than 20 armed members of constitutionalist groups who showed up in Lincoln, Montana, last week. The members of the Oath Keepers, 3% of Idaho and the Pacific Patriot Network said the miners had requested their presence as a buffer against the Forest Service.

    The dispute centers on whether Kornec and Nappo’s mining claim comes with surface land rights. The armed groups claimed in a statement last week the miners’ have surface rights because Kornec’s family held the claim before rules took effect in 1955 that granted those rights to the Forest Service.

    “Claims are not public property,” the groups said in the statement posted on the Oath Keepers’ website.

    Oath Keepers is a national group best known as supporters of the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during a 2014 dispute with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The Idaho group gets its name from the 3 percent of Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War.

    Chris McIntire, a spokesman for 3% of Idaho and the groups in Lincoln, did not have immediate comment when informed about the lawsuit.

    Kornec does not have a telephone at the mining claim, and phone numbers listed for Nappo are out of service.

    W. John Tietz, a Helena attorney who has previously represented the miners in their dispute, said they were no longer his clients and had no comment.

    The Forest Service contends that Kornec did not file the proper paperwork for his mine in 1986, resulting in an agency ruling that his claims were abandoned. Kornec had filed the paperwork a day late, but he did not appeal the ruling and instead filed a new claim.

    The issue of surface rights reverted to the 1955 rules under that new claim, according to the lawsuit.

    The miners’ operational plan, which would allow them to construct buildings or roads or cut timber, expired in 2014, according to the Forest Service.

    Agency officials sent the miners notice in August 2014, ordering them to remove the garage, pay for the timber they cut and write a plan to reclaim the unauthorized road.

    Negotiations ensued, and Kornec and Nappo filed a new operational plan in February. But the plan was too broad, covering a 10-year period that would require an environmental analysis, and agency officials told the miners to scale it back.

    The last meeting was held on July 30, and prosecutors said the miners agreed to submit a new operational plan and to remove explosives that were being stored onsite.

    The next week, armed protesters began to show up. In the statement posted to the Oath Keepers’ website, they said they were invited by the miners and called for reinforcements to protect the miners from any illegal Forest Service activity.

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