Graphic: The hidden connections of the Sagebrush Insurgency

Where a sprawling network of actors find common cause.

 

As the armed occupation in Oregon’s high desert unfolded in January, it initially looked like little more than a widescreen version of the flare-ups we’ve seen in the West ever since the Sagebrush Rebellion erupted in the 1970s: “oppressed ranchers,” anti-federal rhetoric, and even stoic cowboy-hatted heroes to ride to the rescue. But a closer look — and the occupation’s violent culmination — revealed a bigger, more sinister problem than your run-of-the-mill local-control scuffle.

For starters, precious few locals (or even ranchers) were among the couple dozen occupiers of the Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The lead occupier, Ammon Bundy, may look the part, but he actually owns a truck-fleet maintenance business in Phoenix and a McMansion in Emmett, Idaho. At one of his press conferences, Bundy said that he wasn’t just sticking up for “the ranchers, the loggers and the farmers,” but also the “auto industry, the health-care industry and financial advisors.” That remark, which ignored the federal largesse those industries receive, revealed the crusade’s true scope.

Whereas the Sagebrush Rebellion of old was driven largely by pragmatic, grassroots concerns, today’s version is purely ideological — a nationwide confluence of right-wing and libertarian extremists. Many of them have little interest in grazing allotments, mining laws or the Wilderness Act. It’s what these things symbolize that matters: A tyrannical federal government activists can denounce, defy and perhaps even engage in battle with. This movement, which has grown increasingly virulent since President Barack Obama’s election, has created a stew of ideologically similar groups, ready to coalesce around each other when necessary.

Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore speaks at a press conference following the Bundy ranch standoff in Nevada in 2014. Stewart Rhodes, president of Oath Keepers, and former Sheriff Richard Mack also spoke in support of Bundy.
Aaron Preciado

As we head into an election year, it’s worth noting that many of the extreme actions carried out by fringe groups, such as the Malheur occupation, inspire other hard-core ideologues and ultimately translate into votes for like-minded politicians. In return, those politicians support the extremists and try to push their views via legislation, thereby legitimizing and empowering them. The Sagebrush Rebellion, in other words, has been co-opted: militarized in some places and politicized in others. Politicians, militants, sheriffs and others from across the right-wing spectrum have, over the last few years, found common cause (for some examples, see chart below), attending conferences, rallies and events together, and putting their support behind a variety of agendas.

The groups are bound together by libertarian-tinged ideology, disdain for Obama and fear that the government will take away their guns, their liberty, their money, their land, their Confederate flags, and, yes, Christmas.

“What we’re seeing in the West is a number of extremist streams coming together to form a backdrop that is complicated and frankly confusing,” says Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The confluence has occurred at incidents like the Bundy Ranch standoff, where members from all of these different movements stood shoulder-to-shoulder to defend the “rights” of what they portrayed as a persecuted rancher. It also happened at Malheur, though in a less harmonious way: The Oath Keepers, a constitutionalist militia that has backed ranchers and miners on public lands, did not fully support the occupation because of its objections to the way it was carried out. Yet the more hardcore politicians, such as Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, continued to stand by the Bundys during and after the occupation. And other groups, like the American Lands Council, whose president is Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory, while condemning the violence of the act, supported the beliefs behind it.

It’s not entirely clear why all of these folks, many of them urban, have taken up a rural Western cause. It might be because ranchers and loggers better fit the populist image they’re trying to project, or because they actually have some legitimate gripes regarding land-use regulations. It’s not so easy to fight against gun control when the laws are laxer than ever, or revolt against the tax man when taxes on the rich are far lower than they were in the 1950s. Perhaps it’s partly a matter of expedience: The dire economic straits in which many rural, extractive industry-reliant counties have found themselves have made them ripe for insurgencies of the Bundy sort.

Past rebellions weren’t entirely nonviolent, either; land was bulldozed, federal officials were threatened and Forest Service facilities bombed. “Now, however, the acts of violence are less random than they once were,” says Edward Patrovsky, a law enforcement agent for the BLM who worked in Southern California and Colorado from the late 1980s until 2004. “We have this network of militant groups working together, and I consider them to be much more dangerous than the more individualized, localized nature of the Sagebrush Rebellion.”

Last fall I talked to Sean Thomas, a Forest Service law enforcement officer stationed in southern Oregon, and the vice president of the National Federation of Federal Employees Local 5300. Thomas, who has faced the belligerence of a constitutional sheriff before, believes we stand at a pivotal moment. “The feeling we all have out here in the West,” he told me, months before the explosive events at Malheur, “is that this is a pressure cooker, and something’s about to blow.”

*If the graphic below is not interactive on your device, try the graphic in the sidebar, "Sagebrush Insurgency connections," to the left (make sure you are using the most updated version of your browser).

**The graphic below is representative of how intertwined these networks are, and does not comprehensively include every group or individual connected.

Nick Milodragovich
Nick Milodragovich
Feb 05, 2016 07:32 AM
Both infographics: how were they made?
Beautiful
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 05, 2016 01:05 PM
"“The feeling we all have out here in the West,” he told me, months before the explosive events at Malheur, “is that this is a pressure cooker, and something’s about to blow.”"

...and no doubt cost more lives, both law enforcement and civilian, LOTS more taxpayer money (that's us, folks), more fear, more hatred of the feds because they arrested and imprisoned popular criminals...

I hope that all the people involved in this stupidity realize what they are costing our country and their fellow citizens, and what the backlash may be like.

Steve McCarthy
Steve McCarthy Subscriber
Feb 07, 2016 06:53 PM
I'm wondering if the American west is becoming an unfriendly place to visit?
Rich Fairbanks
Rich Fairbanks Subscriber
Feb 10, 2016 05:07 PM
Excellent reporting. You have tracked the rise of fascism in the west better than any other news organization.
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 10, 2016 10:20 PM
No, Steve. it isn't.
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 10, 2016 10:21 PM
Rich: Wouldn't "spread of" be more accurate than "rise of"?
Rich Fairbanks
Rich Fairbanks Subscriber
Feb 10, 2016 11:23 PM
Mr. Grosland: You have a point. The "spread of" rather than the "rise of" fits better. These ideas "spread" like blister rust or metastatic cancer, rather than rise.
Thomas Vonalten
Thomas Vonalten Subscriber
Feb 12, 2016 09:14 AM
Reply to Steve McCarthy's question -- I don't think the west is becoming unfriendly; there are pockets of occasional trouble, and the long-standing malcontent "survivalists," but that's been true for a long time. Spaces are wide open, and people are still generally friendly.
Thomas Vonalten
Thomas Vonalten Subscriber
Feb 12, 2016 09:16 AM
Add a link from Idaho's Rep. Heather Scott and the Malheur occupation. She visited (with Matt Shea) in January, and drove over from Boise to be there for yesterday's (Thursday 2/11) grand finale.
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 13, 2016 07:11 PM
Rich: Thanks, yes, sometimes the way one says things is important. Hmm. The spread of fascism, like that of the pine beetles, is ravaging parts of the west..." ;)

Thomas: re reply to Steve: I agree, and I'd say that it's becoming even friendlier in general, at least amongst the older folk who often seem the least friendly. If you're honest and decent you're family almost by default, because there's not as many like that anymore. I'm a transplant from Minnesota - and some would disagree about me being a "westerner" at all, as I live in the Black Hills of SD - but after years of proving up here, I've been accepted and have gone native in more senses than the usual. Friendly? Minnesota was never so friendly to me and my ideas and way of life as this area has been.
 
 Yeah, there are parts of the West that aren't so great, for many different reasons. But overall, I will take any of it over anything east of the Missouri any day ;)

Rich Fairbanks
Rich Fairbanks Subscriber
Feb 13, 2016 10:54 PM
Andy: I would stick with blister rust as an analogy for fascism. White pine blister rust is a fungus from Europe, just as fascism is an ideology from Europe that has infected our social order.
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 14, 2016 09:37 AM
Rich: I see your point, but must disagree about it being imported from Europe. I think the lust/fear for power that is behind fascism and similar kinds of human behavior is part of our inheritance from the kill or be killed survival time in our genetic heritage. Even if it didn't have a history socially and culturally, we would have invented it here, anyway. We are a very self destructive species - we kill our own kind more than any other species outside the insect orders - and that is a part of our genetic heritage that seems to reproduce itself far too easily. Not an infection in that sense. Perhaps one could say we're vulnerable to it? The analogy breaks down there...

   Way too much to discuss here and it's not really the right forum for it, but I'd love to exchange views about it. Email?

I would also respectfully point out to the peanut gallery at large, that it was very likely white man's greed that gave the blister rust a free ride to the New World ;)
Thomas von Alten
Thomas von Alten Subscriber
Feb 18, 2016 11:34 PM
Heather Scott made two appearances at Malheur. You should give her a link.
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 18, 2016 11:37 PM
Seconded.
Rich Fairbanks
Rich Fairbanks Subscriber
Feb 19, 2016 12:14 AM
Andy Grosland: Sure, e-mail is good. What is yours?
Larry Gilson
Larry Gilson
Feb 20, 2016 01:46 AM
I wonder how it would be if we all just dropped the labels and judgements and looked at all the "others" as simply human beings...just like us!

Yes, there are extremists out there....on all sides, but while they sometimes lean heavily to the right, the various groups mentioned here love our country and home as much or more so than the other side, and are no more fascist than the left-wingers "opposing" them are communists; or perhaps it's more accurate to say no more right-wingers could be called fascist than left-wingers in this country could be called communist. In truth, none of us fit perfectly under any label, but are all, in fact, fairly unique products of a wide range of experiences and influences...and of course genes.
When we look beyond the labels (which often, for all practical purposes, turn those we're labeling and classifying into non-human entities), we realize (remember) that there is far more connecting us than there is separating us. One of the most important things connecting us is that we all call this tiny ball spinning around the sun our home. When our attention is focused downward and we see only our immediate surroundings, our truth is, for example, that the sun always rises in the east, sets in the west and it's passing constitutes a day...and our perspective is that time is passing..the days are "slipping away." Is there anyone who would not swear that is the case?
What happens then to our "truth" when we step back...say way back to a few hundred miles above the earth? From that perspective (which is just as "real") the sun neither rises nor sets...it's always shining except for perhaps a brief eclipse now and then depending on our position. So what constitutes time? Most of our opinions are also simply matters of perspective and could easily change should we step back a little....or put ourselves in other shoes for a spell. As much as we love to be "right" (I mean 'correct'), there are very few concrete truths; or should I say that everything is true from some perspective?
If we REALLY want to come up with solutions to the many issues we're facing as residents of this tiny, but beautiful home of ours (and I think all of us ultimately want that) , we HAVE to focus on our commonality, let go of our fear of one another and learn to work together. The only option is to continue as we are and drag each other, and our home, down...down into a hell of our own creation. Which do you choose?
Rich Fairbanks
Rich Fairbanks Subscriber
Feb 20, 2016 02:54 AM
Larry: All true. It is also true that the right has most of the power and money right now in the United States.
 
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 20, 2016 07:08 AM
"but while they sometimes lean heavily to the right,"

How many leftist nutjobs with guns have you seen in the news lately?
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 20, 2016 08:24 AM
" Which do you choose? "

Well, duh, working together. When the GOP is ready to compromise again, I'm sure the other half will be there. Meanwhile the rest of us will just have to keep the country working until the radicals come to their senses, eh? ;)
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 20, 2016 08:28 AM
@Rich: can use laughingkittyproductions@gmail.com for now :)
Larry Gilson
Larry Gilson
Feb 20, 2016 11:50 AM
Andy, I've not seen many "leftist nut jobs" with guns making the news recently, but I've seen plenty in the comment sections of many articles around this subject that seem very ready to take up whatever arms they could find against these "others."...or are obviously ready for the "authorities" or someone else to "take them out" or "bomb the s@#t out of them", etc....which is just as violent (and pointless) as the actions of those they're speaking against. The fact is, we're all keyed up at the moment, but no where near ready to take up and actually use arms against one another personally. Where would you start? I'm sure you could throw out some labels, but would you be sure? Should we follow the example set in Cambodia and just shoot every one wearing glasses?...or in this case a cowboy hat, tin hat or feed co-op ball cap? Are we to be like the Israelis and Palestinians and go on forever waiting for the other side to make concessions and compromise first? Or can we set our fears and opinions aside, sit down and speak civilly to one another...even those we disagree with, knowing that we'll all on this ship together and are either ALL going down with it or staying afloat? What is needed now is clear-headed leaders willing to lead....and you could be one!
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 20, 2016 01:13 PM
But Larry, apparently there are some people who are "keyed up" enough to take up arms, notably the ones who have been doing so, and as far as I can tell they have nearly all been self described right wing radicals. I'm not sure where your "plenty in the comment sections" comment is directed, I've seen a few comments like that, but none really serious; as a whole it seems like the right wing extremists are the ones talking the loudest about guns and violence. Most other people are saying "Let's do it peacefully, and let the legal system do what it's supposed to, and hope it doesn't come down to violence." I suppose if you disagree, we could take a poll of the readers contributing here, and a forum search, and find out ;)

 *tongue in cheek* Somehow I don't think that shooting everyone wearing glasses would go over very well, wouldn't be enough people left to run things. Are you including people who just use reading glasses? Yikes! I'm running for Canada, lol
  Nor people in cowboy hats (we'd run out of 2step dancers mighty fast and somebody has to keep the bar workers employed), or feed coop hats (who would run the farms?), or even tin foil hats like the one I see on your head :) Might be a public outcry, or something. Hard to tell, so much violence on the tv these days, maybe people would think it's another reality show. Sigh.
(this isn't Cambodia, Larry, although in some ways we are beginning to resemble Germany in the 30s, just with television)

 As to compromise, ask yourself, who are the ones trying to compromise, and who are the ones who aren't? You know, the ones who are concerned about skin color, religion, sexual preferences, etc, always trying to tell other people that if they aren't the "right kind" of people, they are animals. BUILD MORE WALLS! Like the self-described USSR communists did in Germany.

 Yes, Larry, we are all in it together. So be constructive, or please, be quiet. Ideas are great and always welcome. Ideologies, not so much. I think we're all sick of regurgitated ideologies.

 "Leader", me? Hah. I don't do partisan politics, Larry. Nor religion, for that matter. Never have, never will. I visit my ire or praise upon whomever deserves it the most and care not who or what they worship (unless it's money, I have a conscious bias against greedy people). I work 60-70 hour weeks and spend a substantial amount of my time being a good samaritan. I'm a major fan of open source and open access to knowledge as much as possible and I'm trying to change the world... not qualified at all, and I don't have the TIME to be a politician, and nobody would vote for me anyway, because I really am a smartass :)

Somewhat offtopic, but: weirdly enough, I really like Pope Francis. Never, ever thought there would be a Catholic Pope I could admire, respect, AND like :) He is indeed a human being. Who would'a thunk?

Cheers
Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 20, 2016 05:16 PM
"What is needed now is clear-headed leaders willing to lead.:"

When you find one, let the rest of us know...
Larry Gilson
Larry Gilson
Feb 20, 2016 06:15 PM
Good on ya, Andy! You're exactly the type of leader we need...someone who is not distracted by political opinions or a particular religion or ideology and who realizes that the way we bring about change is through one simple, kind act at a time!

I'm being as constructive as I know how to be...can you think of any better way to solve issues (outside of acts of kindness) than sitting down and talking civilly/ Everyone of us is qualified to do that...and to spread kindness.

You apparently hear me wrong....I don't follow any religion or particular ideology myself....and am also fairly apolitical. I do think though that we should each find whatever it is we were meant to do...and that generally involves the things we REALLY enjoy....and share that with the world. I used to think of myself as a mugwump...a person with his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on the other, but in recent years, I've come to regard my personal perspective as "big picture", and understand that rather than being :wishy-washy, I just have an ability to see most sides of issues...and to see the truth that lies almost everywhere you look. In short, I am a peace maker. That is what I do. Can you think of anything more important or more constructive than that?

Yes,,,there are definitely people hung up on color, sexual preference, religion, etc. and I don't consider that to be constructive any more than I do judging people or putting them into category based on their political opinions. I have been close to a number of people in their last days and hours in recent years, and oddly enough....I haven't heard one of them wasting breath talking politics., land rights, ideologies nor many other of the things we take so seriously in our day-to-day lives. In the end, all that really matters is the kindness we've funneled into the world and the relationships we've formed...the rest is just part of our experience here; distractions for the most part from the things that are really important.

Read some of the comment sections in the many mainstream articles about Malheur that interest readers from all sides and you'll see what mean. There are radicals on all sides! And on that note, while I don't condone nor agree with the methods, or even the full message of Bundy et al., I will point out that not one of the people there with them fired a shot, despite all the armament displayed. They had a point to get across which they feel strongly about and the holding of the weapons DID add emphasis to their point and got the whole world talking about the issue...a millions times more than if it had been just another protest. I am a peaceful citizen with no axes to grind with anyone, but there was one photo of (I think) a state trooper fully geared up and "standing guard" I guess at the scene of the "traffic stop" where Levoy Finnicum died that scared me a whole lot more than any photo of the "patriots" and "militia" members. I think respect is a good thing, but should citizens feel fear at the sight of those who have taken oaths to protect us? Why does someone have to die nearly every time there is a standoff of some kind with the Feds involved? Does it really make any sense that so many "administrative branches" of the Federal gov. are now armed?

One thing I realized today is that the right is (generally speaking) resisting the control of a corrupt and oppressive government, while the left is resisting (generally speaking) the power and power of private interests...corporations, the banking industry, etc. The irony is....well, at least two-fold. First; It is the money and power of those corporations and their ability to lobby and influence our representatives that has allowed our government to become corrupted. Secondly; most citizens are invested to some degree in at least some of the corporations we rally against and we ARE the government! Neither corporations nor government has any power that we haven't given them! To a certain extent, we are all rallying against ourselves!...and getting REALLY worked up about it at times!

I'm happy to hear you have a sense of humor....at times, all one can do is laugh...and it's great medicine!

Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 20, 2016 06:39 PM
You are very good at sales pitches, Mr. GIlson. I am immune to them, having spend about two misguided decades in that game.


"Read some of the comment sections in the many mainstream articles about Malheur that interest readers from all sides and you'll see what mean."

I've been posting in them.



Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 20, 2016 06:46 PM
"You're exactly the type of leader we need...someone who is not distracted by political opinions or a particular religion or ideology and who realizes that the way we bring about change is through one simple, kind act at a time!"

 To walk side by side, each sharing in their own part, to their own ability.

 No, I'm not "the type of leader we need" - you understand not.

Andy Grosland
Andy Grosland
Feb 20, 2016 06:47 PM
"I'm happy to hear you have a sense of humor....at times, all one can do is laugh...and it's great medicine!"

I'm happy to hear I have one too. I doubt it often.
Larry Gilson
Larry Gilson
Feb 20, 2016 07:13 PM
I'
m not selling anything, Andy....unless it is peace and non-judgement! I never trusted a person who WANTS to lead!....what we need are non-leaders doing what they do best....being good Samaritans. I read a lot of different stuff and one thing I was reading about recently is the International Peace Project....first tried in the 70's sometime. The group sent groups of trained meditators (transcendental meditation) to about 20 odd "hotspots" around the world...places where there was a lot of fighting going on,acts of terrorism, etc. All the people did while in those places was meditate on peace...very little interaction with the locals, no activism, protests, etc. They logged the number of acts of violence occurring during the times they were meditating and compared those numbers to figures from other times and found that violence dropped by something around 45% on average while the groups were meditating. What this (and other things) tells me is that peace and kindness are powerful tools, even if practiced in quiet.
Just keep on doing whatever it is you do!
Mike Robinson
Mike Robinson
Feb 24, 2016 08:28 AM
With regard to both this article and Sagebrush Sheriffs, I believe both you and your readership would be better served without needless and biased personal opinions such as "when the (gun) laws are laxer than ever" and "Congress might pass modest gun control measures." No gun regulations have been removed recently, although there are many that are either not enforced or are enforced selectively, often to pursue other political agendas (see Fast and Furious as an example). "Modest" depends on your perspective, particularly when the history indicates knee-jerk emotional legislation results in additional regulation that would have done little or nothing to alter the event used as a trigger. These comments add nothing to the stories. Guns are tools, and attempting to demonize them is pointless and merely serves to further polarize your audience. Forty or fifty thousand people are killed in car wrecks annually, and pollution from vehicles is a serious problem, yet I don't see comments about cars peppering these articles. If we really want to get to the heart of virtually all our problems, it is overpopulation, yet offhand comments regarding that don't slip in here and there. If you want a demon, it is us, not inanimate tools. If you don't believe guns serve a purpose, then I need not invite you to our home for elk backstrap Nevada style, completely free of artificial ingredients, hormones, and antibiotics, and that has not come from a confined animal feeding operation dumping huge quantities of waste into ground or surface water.