The "Bundy Effect" is Fueling an Increase in Right-Wing Terror
For months, conservatives have been warning Americans about the supposed "Ferguson Effect." Murder rates in cities like St. Louis, Chicago and Baltimore are rising, they claim, because police fear being criticized for doing their jobs, thus emboldening criminals to take advantage of their absence.
But while there are plenty of reasons to doubt the Ferguson Effect in the face of the continued declines in homicides nationwide and in places like New York City, many critics of the Black Lives Matter movement may have to answer for a real and growing threat to public safety. As the militia standoff in Oregon shows, the twin failures to punish right-wing domestic terrorism and even to "call it by its name" appears to be fueling more anti-government extremism.
For its part, the Southern Poverty Law Center this week left no doubt about what might be called the "Bundy Effect."
In its annual count of militias, released today, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identified 276 militia groups - up from 202 in 2014, a 37 percent increase.
The number represents a renewal of growth after several years of declines. The movement grew explosively after President Obama was elected, from 42 groups in 2008 to a peak of 334 in 2011 before declining in recent years.
As Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project put it, "We believe these armed extremists have been emboldened by what they saw as a clear victory at the Cliven Bundy ranch and the fact that no one was held accountable for taking up arms against agents of the federal government."
David Neiwert certainly agrees that "not punishing the Bundys for the Nevada standoff led to the occupation in Oregon." Neiwert, who for years has been tracking terror incidents from the collection of militia, sovereign citizen, anti-tax, anti-abortion and anti-government extremists, explained the growing danger from those like Cliven Bundy's followers threatening violence against federal authorities:
If federal law enforcement authorities had taken their roles as stewards of the rule of law seriously, many of these players would be facing justice in federal courts right now, instead of opportunistically raising hell out in poverty-stricken rural areas. Certainly, there is no small irony in the fact that the tepid response from federal authorities demonstrates how little resemblance they have to the tyrannical thugs the Bundys say they are. But it also shows how just that accusation, when wielded by white conservatives, can cause federal law enforcement to back down.
Daryl Johnson knows that from personal experience. As the New York Times reported on Friday, Johnson was the analyst at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) whose 2009 report "warned of a growing antigovernment movement and the possible recruitment of returning military veterans that could 'lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone-wolf extremists."
His words drew fierce criticism from Republican lawmakers and conservative news media, labeling the report an unfair assessment of legitimate criticisms of the government. The document was retracted after Janet Napolitano, who was then the Homeland Security secretary, apologized to veterans, and the Extremism and Radicalization Branch was quietly dismantled.
"The D.H.S. is scoffing at the mission of doing domestic counterterrorism," Mr. Johnson said. "The same patterns that led to the growth of the antigovernment groups in the 1990s is being played out today. D.H.S. should be doing more."
It's no mystery as to why it's not.
The tidal wave of criticism from Republicans and their conservative amen corner for calling right-wing domestic terrorism by its name washed over the new Obama administration and hasn't receded since. That 9 page DHS report released in April 2009 didn't just prompt the conservative blogosphere to warn "Confirmed: "The Obama DHS hit job on conservatives is Real." Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, joined Fox News host Sean Hannity to decry the warnings from DHS:
"This is the height of insult here. I'm sorry, Sean. I just want to jump on this so badly because this is so -- talk about arrogance. Talk about insult. I mean to segment out Americans who dissent from this administration, to segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration, and labeling them as terrorists."
Ironically, just a few years before the Bush administration had no problem labelling them as terrorists. Of all people, Attorney General John Ashcroft used the "T-word" in 2003 when he announced the capture of Eric Rudolph, the anti-abortion murderer who bombed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and killed one and injured two in a blast at a Birmingham family planning clinic. And I noted in April 2014, the FBI under President Bush made absolutely clear that the likes of Cliven Bundy and his gun-toting militia allies would indeed be considered domestic terrorists.
That's the inescapable conclusion from the FBI's report, "Terrorism 2002-2005." The document didn't merely define "domestic terrorism" as "the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives."
The Bureau also provided some helpful histories of domestic terrorism the FBI successfully prevented.
The terrorism preventions for 2002 through 2005 present a more diverse threat picture. Eight of the 14 recorded terrorism preventions stemmed from right-wing extremism, and included disruptions to plotting by individuals involved with the militia, white supremacist, constitutionalist and tax protestor, and anti-abortion movements.
For example, consider the 2003 arrest of David Hinkson, a tax evader who owed the IRS over a million dollars. As the FBI's terrorism report summed it up:
On April 4, 2003, the FBI arrested David Roland Hinkson, a constitutionalist and tax protestor, for attempting to arrange the murders of a federal judge, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and an IRS Agent whom he blamed for his legal problems regarding a tax evasion case against him. Between December 2002 and March 2003, Hinkson offered two individuals $10,000 for committing all three murders. On January 27, 2005, Hinkson was found guilty on three counts of solicitation to commit murder after a three week jury trial in Boise, Idaho. On June 3, 2005, Hinkson was sentenced to 43 years in federal prison.
As it turns out, President Bush's FBI didn't take too kindly to those, like the militia member at Bundy Ranch, "overheard boasting that he had two agent[s] in his gun sight and could 'take them down.'" A year after Hinkson's arrest, federal officers apprehended members of the Project 7 Militia based in Flathead County, Montana:
On May 6, 2004, several extremist members of the Project 7 Militia were arrested following an extensive investigation into the group by FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and local police. Investigation had identified leader David Burgert and five other members of the Project 7 Militia as having committed various violations of federal law in furtherance of violent plans targeting law enforcement officers and other government officials. Burgert, along with Tracy Brockway, James Day, John Slater, and Steven Morey, pled guilty to various federal weapons charges, including possession of machine guns and other illegal weapons as well as conspiracy to possess illegal weapons. On November 12, 2004, Burgert received an 87 month prison sentence for his role in the plotting. In early 2005, the four other members who entered guilty pleas received sentences ranging from 18 to 37 months in federal prison. A sixth subject, Larry Chezem, was convicted in a federal trial of conspiracy and was sentenced on September 30, 2005, to 15 months in prison.
Then there's 2007 case of another million-dollar tax cheater turned terrorist when Uncle Sam came for his money. That June, Ed Brown and his wife Elaine, already sentenced to 63 months in absentia for failing to pay his $1 million tab, vowed "that he and his wife would fight U.S. marshals to the death if they tried to capture them." As ABC News reported at the time, the Browns had support from many of the usual suspects:
The couple, however, insists that there is no law that requires citizens to pay income tax.
"There is no law. We looked and looked," Brown told the press.
Brown and his supporters, including Randy Weaver, leader of the 1992 standoff with ATF agents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, told the press that the government has unlawfully tricked people into believing they have to pay income tax, knowing full well that such a law would be unconstitutional.
"We will defend it to the death. This is 1776 all over again. You cannot tax someone's labor because that is slavery," Brown said.
Ultimately, Ed and his dentist wife ended up in prison for a lot longer than five years after they bunkered down in their 100-acre compound stocked with weapons:
At trial, the couple was found guilty of numerous charges including plotting to kill federal agents during the 2007 standoff; conspiring to prevent federal officers from performing their duties; conspiring to assault, resist or impede federal officers; using or carrying a firearm or destructive device during a violent crime; possessing a firearm or destructive device, being a felon in possession of a firearm; obstruction of justice; failing to appear at sentencing. Mr. Brown was also charged with failing to appear at trial.
Edward Brown was sentence to 37 years, and Elaine Brown, 35 years.
Ultimately, federal officials were unable to auction off Brown's property because they could not guarantee prospective buyers that the lands and buildings weren't be booby-trapped.
But in the run-up to and aftermath of Barack Obama's election, Republican leaders wouldn't guarantee that they would denounce violent right-wing extremism as terrorism at all. Six months or so before Scott Roeder's assassination of Dr. George Tiller, GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin suggested Roeder's ilk weren't terrorists. During an October 2008 interview with NBC's Brian Williams Palin refused to similarly brand violent right-wing radicals like Eric Rudolph as terrorists:
WILLIAMS: Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist, under this definition, governor?
PALIN: There's no question that Bill Ayers via his own admittance was one who sought to destroy our U.S. Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist. There's no question there. Now, others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that uh, it would be unacceptable. I don't know if you're going to use the word terrorist there.
By the next May, Dr. Tiller was dead. In November 2015, self-proclaimed "warrior for the babies" Robert Dear killed three and wounded 9 at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic even as Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz was proclaiming:
"There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror."
But they did. And they do. And they are aided and abetted by American conservatives who threaten "Second Amendment remedies" (Sharron Angle) and urge their supporters to be "armed and dangerous on this issue" (Michele Bachmann) because "violence will come" and with it "rivers of blood" (Glenn Beck). And when Cliven Bundy's armed-to-the-teeth supporters threatened violence if federal officials tried to stop his food stamps for cows, Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller called them "patriots." His fellow Republican, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, attacked Uncle Sam:
"No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans. The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly."
As for Cliven Bundy, the man who was given Sean Hannity's Fox News platform night after night, insisted he "a citizen of Nevada and not a citizen of the territory of the United States." That message, that the federal government has no authority over the lands it stewards on behalf of all 320 million Americans, is the same one his son Ammon is regurgitating now at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon:
"The United States Justice Department has NO jurisdiction or authority within the State of Oregon, County of Harney over this type of ranch management. These lands are not under U.S. treaties or commerce, they are not article 4 territories, and Congress does not have unlimited power."
Of course, these are U.S. lands. Congress certainly has the power to regulate them. And the government of the United States has both a moral and legal duty to protects its citizens from terrorism of all stripes. That includes domestic terrorism from those most pernicious radicals of all, the ones daring to call themselves American "patriots." If their crimes are not condemned and punished, there will certainly be more of them.
Call it the Bundy Effect.