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Bundy ranch standoff ‘invigorated’ anti-government groups, report says

The Bundy family and supporters in April. (Jason Bean/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)
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The standoff between rancher Cliven Bundy and federal agents, which escalated into a national news story earlier this year as armed supporters of Bundy gathered at his Nevada ranch, “invigorated an extremist movement” in the country, according to a report issued Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Ultimately, the Bureau of Land Management opted to stand down after guns were pointed at its agents, which was seen by people with a strong hatred of the federal government “as a dramatic victory,” according to the report, “War in the West: The Bundy Ranch Standoff and the American Radical Right.”

In a conference call with reporters, Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC, said the showdown in Nevada was part of a larger issue involving anti-government groups. “This battle over land use and the use of public lands did not come out of nowhere,” Potok said. Rather, it followed a surge in anti-government groups the SPLC said it has identified in recent years.

The report also brings up Jerad and Amanda Miller, who had expressed anti-government views before shooting and killing two police officers and a bystander in Las Vegas. They had spent time at the Bundy ranch during the standoff, but Cliven Bundy’s son told the Associated Press that they were asked to leave because of their conduct, calling the couple “very radical.”

Authorities investigating the Las Vegas shooting have said they are not linking it to the Bundy ranch visit. But the bloodshed highlighted a different issue: That of the threat posed by what the Department of Homeland Security calls “domestic extremists.” The SPLC has said it has seen a “stunning” rise in the number of groups that believe they need to be prepared to fight back against a federal government they view as having dangerously overstepped its authority.

Officials and experts who spoke with The Washington Post in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shootings said that while many of these groups spout hatred, most of them never turn to violence or do anything illegal.

Still, when people with such beliefs do become violent, experts say people in law enforcement are at risk because they are highly visible and can be viewed as representative of government, as Jim Johnson, the Baltimore County police chief and chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, said after the Las Vegas violence.

Last year, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, warned in a report that when people who believe the federal government is their enemy turn violent, they “direct most [of] their violence against the federal government and its proxies in law enforcement.”

The new report issued by the SPLC called for prosecutions in the wake of the Bundy ranch standoff. The FBI has said it is conducting an investigation.

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