When a group of mostly-White armed men occupied Oregon’s federal Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to ostensibly protect local ranchers’ land ownership rights in January, it prompted outrage from local Native leaders and others perplexed by their claims, their privileged resource access and the federal government’s largely non-violent response tactics. A new report traces this occupation’s link to Oregon’s Patriot movement, detailing its racist ideologies and local political reach in communities affected by their actions.
“Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement” was published Monday (October 3) by Oregon-based community advocacy group the Rural Organizing Project and think tank Political Research Associates. The report, co-written by researcher Spencer Sunshine (who reported from the Malheur occupation for Colorlines earlier this year), explores the movement’s origins in the ’90s and the constellation of personalities that make it so dangerous:
The Patriot movement is not a new phenomenon. In the 1990s, the movement galvanized millions of Americans around the idea that the most dire and imminent threat to their freedom and safety came from their own federal government. The Patriot movement peaked during—and in opposition to—the administration of President Bill Clinton. Animated by the Brady Bill’s restrictions on assault weapons and the tragedies at Waco and Ruby Ridge, the movement spun conspiracy theories that warned of imminent foreign invasion, secret concentration camps, treasonous politicians and a shadowy “New World Order.” It drew participants and ideas from a wide range of right-wing movements, among them White supremacist “Christian Identity” followers, gun rights groups, anti-globalists of the John Birch Society, apocalyptic Christian evangelicals preparing for the coming millennium and anti-environmental “wise use” campaigners.
The report says the movement, notable for using self-styled armed militias across the country, revived during Barack Obama’s presidency and the accompanying economic crisis. It also lists movement leaders, including Malheur occupation leader Ammon Bundy and various local politicians and law enforcement officials in rural Oregon.
The report also functions as a toolkit for organizers and media, offering strategies for impoverished rural communities negatively impacted by Patriot movement-affiliated officials, armed protesters and illegitimate legal tactics:
[The Rural Organizing Project has] been on the ground during national Patriot movement mobilizations that draw activists from across the country to armed camps and occupations in rural Oregon, terrorizing and ripping apart rural communities to advance a national narrative that helps them fundraise and recruit. We also have witnessed the ways this movement undermines local democracy, which includes creating fake, unelected bodies which claim to have power over the federal government and the right to make decisions on the behalf of the community. This so-called Patriot movement funnels out-of-state money into local elections, supporting candidates for county commission, sheriff and other local positions, creating a dynamic where candidates and local politicians are more accountable to national Patriot groups than the people and the communities they are supposed to serve.
What we have learned is that when communities organize around their shared values and publicly resist attempts by outside groups to speak for them, paramilitaries lose support and move on.
Read the full report here.