So-called “volatile extremists” have been “emboldened” and “invigorated” by the April standoff between federal officials and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, according to a new report released Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
At the heart of the standoff was the fact that federal officials say Bundy owes the government $1 million for refusing to pay fees associated with his cattle grazing on federal lands over 20 years. Bundy’s makeshift armed militia aimed its guns at federal officials who eventually withdrew from the ranch on April 12. The issue of Bundy’s million-dollar tab remains unresolved, and law enforcement authorities say Bundy will be held accountable for the standoff.
The SPLC report begins by noting that “[t]he Bundy standoff has invigorated an extremist movement that exploded when President Obama was elected …”
The 26-page document includes a thorough retelling of the Bundy standoff timeline, and points to instances of violence against federal officials that have occurred since the skirmish ended. Among them is a June shooting in California that wounded both a Bureau of Land Management ranger and a California Highway Patrol officer.
The report concludes that this kind of Bundy-style violence has only encouraged more rhetoric from outspoken anti-government groups. “The Bundy standoff has actually brought the spotlight to the antigovernment movement,” it reads, “and its leaders are soaking up the attention.”
In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok said, “This battle over land use and the use of public lands did not come out of nowhere.” Instead, Potok said, the fight followed a surge in anti-government groups that the SPLC has been tracking in recent years.
The organization says the number of anti-government groups in the United States has surged since President Obama took office. According to their numbers, there were approximately 150 anti-government groups in America in 2008. Last year, the Center counted more than 1,000.
The SPLC also says that those who elevated Bundy as a sort of freedom-loving hero share the blame for the uptick in anti-government sentiment that has followed the standoff. That includes, they say, FOX News host Sean Hannity and Nevada’s Republican Governor Brian Sandoval, who, in early April, went so far as to issue a statement blasting the federal Bureau of Land Management for “trampl(ing) upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights.”
Bundy, however, was abandoned by these high-profile supporters in late April when video surfaced of Bundy making racist comments.
The SPLC report says those who “pointed their weapons at BLM and Las Vegas officers need to face criminal prosecution because the rule of law must be enforced or it will be challenged again,” adding that in order to quell this kind of anti-government sentiment, the Department of Homeland Security “must put more resources into assessing the threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.”