The armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year in Oregon was either terrifying or a complete joke, depending on your point of view. While the far-right Bundy-inspired militia was making headlines, some decided to send fake care packages and glitter bombs to make a joke out of the armed extremists, while others like local Harney County judge Steve Grasty took the opportunity to look awesome while standing up to the occupiers at a public meeting. The group acquired the nickname “Y’all-Qaeda” by smart-alecky liberals in response.
Either way you look at it, it’s safe to assume that many of our readers were just dying for the whole thing to end as quickly as possible, and for the whole right-wing militia fad to just go out of fashion once and for all after the occupiers made complete asses of themselves.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. While many participants in the occupation are awaiting trial, a new in-depth report released by the Guardian this morning details the current activities of many who are affiliated with other “Patriot” militia groups, and they appear to be as influential and organized as they’ve ever been. Some members of these groups are making serious campaigns for elected positions in local and state governments under Republican tickets, and some may even have a shot at being successful (no pun intended).
The report focuses much of its attention on Joseph Rice, who is currently running for the position of Josephine county commissioner in south-west Oregon. His campaign was described as “well-organized” and “well-advertised” by the author of the report, in a way that could possibly make him the clear choice for many conservative rural voters in that county. Much of his appeal, according to the author’s analysis, corresponds with many of the same sentiments exploited by Donald Trump among Republican voters in this year’s GOP primary.
Rice has been heavily involved in the organization of right-wing Patriot groups for a number of years, including the armed occupation of Malheur itself. Like the other “Y’all-Qaeda” members involved in that occupation, he also has strong views about The United States government’s control over public lands, which many Patriots believe to be unconstitutional.
Much of Rice’s political beliefs and ideology comes down to the notion of “County Supremacy.” The report from the Guardian details this ideology as follows:
‘The doctrine of county supremacy embodies two key beliefs: that the county Sheriff is the highest law enforcement authority, and that the United States government has no right to public lands, which should properly be under local control. It derives from a peculiar reading of common law and the US Constitution, and it has underpinned western insurrections, from the Posse Comitatus to the Bundy Bunch.’
The report goes on to illustrate how the ideologies of Patriot members and voters sympathetic to their ideology, if they were to ever gain prominence in local governments, could pose a risk to both local citizens and to the environment, which is protected by the lands under federal control. The groups are largely seeking control of the lands so they can extract their resources for economic gain, regardless of the long-term damage their activities could cause to the environment being protected, and the long-term use of the land that directly benefits current and future generations. Lands are protected by the government for a reason, specifically as a safeguard against ecological devastation.
It is important to note however, as the Guardian report does, that much of Rice’s appeal is rooted in voters who are looking for easy answers to the very real but complex economic problems they face living in the county. Many of the political mishaps and harsh economic circumstances that have led to parts of the county becoming drastically under-policed and increasingly unsafe–especially for late-night domestic abuse victims who cannot be helped by police officers due to austere budget cuts–have provided fertile political ground for citizens who have no alternative visions of governance other than the extremist right-wing ideologies put forward by armed Patriot groups. It is important that these grievances are understood if they are to be counteracted by smart, progressive policies devoid of the reckless idealism driving these armed militia groups.
For more information on other far-right “Patriot” candidates running in Oregon’s May 2016 Primary, seek out Political Research Associate’s recent in-depth report on the matter.
Featured image via Getty.