Right-wing media are fanning the flames of a conflict between a federal agency and their new hero -- a scofflaw Nevada rancher who's threatening a violent range war against the federal government.
Cliven Bundy, a cattle rancher in Nevada, has been fighting the government over grazing rights on public land for nearly a quarter century. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay government fees required to allow his cattle to exploit public lands. In 1998, the government issued a court order telling Bundy to remove his cows from the land, as part of an effort to protect the endangered desert tortoise located there. And in July 2013, a federal court ordered Bundy to get his cattle off public land within 45 days or they would be confiscated. The confiscation began this month, and the cattle will be sold to pay off the $1 million in fees and trespassing fines Bundy owes.
Conservative media have held the confiscation out as a big government invasion of private property rights and have repeatedly hyped the rancher and his family as victims being intimidated by a heavily armed force of federal agents who are escalating the situation into the realm of notorious and deadly standoffs like Ruby Ridge and Waco.
Fox News hosted the rancher on the April 9 edition of Hannity, where Sean Hannity sympathized with Bundy's claims against the government and argued that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer."
Fox & Friends highlighted the situation and complained about the protections for the desert tortoise. Co-host Brian Kilmeade said, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition."
Meanwhile, Glenn Beck's TheBlaze.com played up the fact that the federal agents confiscating Bundy's cattle were armed. Alex Jones' Infowars.com posited that the government was attempting to "enslave us in an [United Nations] Agenda 21 future where we have no property and no rights." During an April 9 edition of Jones' conspiracy theory radio show, Jones said of Bundy, "So your bottom line, like Paul Revere, you're making your stand, you're telling folks we're being overrun by an out of control tyranny."
National Review Online's Kevin Williamson called the presence of armed agents "inflammatory" and described the government's actions as a "siege." The conservative American Thinker accused Attorney Gen. Eric Holder of enforcing the law against Bundy for racial reasons.
But if anyone is waging a campaign of intimidation, it's Bundy and his family, who have repeatedly threatened violence, invoked revolutionary rhetoric, and issued public statements making known that they own firearms and appear willing to use them.
Conspiracy theorist Pete Santilli, a spokesman for Truckers Ride for the Constitution, suggested that violence against the government would be justified if his group's plan to jam the Capital Beltway that surrounds Washington, D.C., and ask members of Congress to resign fails.
Santilli is the host of a radio show that promotes conspiracy theories, including the notion that "The World Trade Center towers were turned to dust in mid air by a very powerful energy source." He also drew widespread attention -- including from the Secret Service -- in May when he suggested that Hillary Clinton should be "shot in the vagina" for treason.
Reports that truck drivers would circle the Beltway to cause congestion from October 11 to October 13 and call for the arrest of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) quickly garnered national media coverage. But as U.S. News & World Report noted, the event is disorganized as a result of infighting among its organizers over logistics and what the protest should seek to accomplish.
Santilli and organizer Zeeda Andrews, who promoted the protest on Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, appear to have coopted the event from one of its original promoters, Earl Conlon, who now says he merely intended to "stir the feather of the mainstream media." Media Matters noted that Andrews has promoted racism and bizarre conspiracy theories, including the belief that President Obama and Osama Bin Laden are the same person.
Santilli, whose radio show is prominently featured on the Truckers Ride for the Constitution website, told U.S. News that no arrest attempt will be made on members of Congress, but that he hopes members will "voluntarily resign" as a result of his protest.
But on his radio show, Santilli threatened a "bloody battle" against the United States government if his peaceful protest failed and said that opponents of the government are presently "justified" in using violence.
Adam Kokesh is cancelling his planned July 4 armed march on Washington, D.C., and instead calling for a march on all 50 state capitols with the goal of overthrowing the federal government.
Kokesh, a former host for Russian state-sponsored RT television who now hosts an internet radio show, told conspiracy theorist radio host Pete Santilli that it was time to "escalate our tactics" before cancelling the Washington march and urging supporters to march on their state capitol instead.
On May 28, Santilli, a promoter of conspiracy theories about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks who recently drew scrutiny from the Secret Service over vicious comments made about Hillary Clinton, aired an interview where Kokesh read from a press release and provided other details about the expansion of his plans.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Kokesh detailed how he and others planned to march across the Memorial Bridge -- which separates Washington from Virginia -- while openly carrying firearms in violation of District of Columbia law. Kokesh told Buzzfeed that the event would be non-violent and said, "We're not going to resist government by force in any way." The Facebook description of the event stated, "This will be a non-violent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent." District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier stated that those who bring weapons illegally into Washington would face arrest.
In the press release, Kokesh called for "A new American revolution" where "the American Revolutionary Army will march on each state capital to demand that the governors of these 50 states immediately initiate the process of an orderly dissolution of the federal government through secession and reclamation of federally held property." Kokesh also gave the federal government a one-year deadline to comply with his demands before possibly taking violent action, writing, "Should one whole year from this July 4th pass while the crimes of this government are allowed to continue, we may have passed the point at which non-violent revolution becomes impossible."
As the debate over gun legislation has raged in recent months, prominent gun activists have been appearing on the radio and TV shows of fringe conspiracy theorists to push their message.
The hosts of these shows believe in a range of absurd conspiracies, including that the U.S. government perpetrated the 9-11 attacks; that the recent mass shootings in Newton and Aurora were somehow staged; and that impoverished black men are gearing up to kill "white heterosexual Christians."
Despite regularly uniting with fringe conspiracy theorists -- and often joining them in espousing outlandish conspiracies -- Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt, longtime National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent, and former NRA president David Keene represent organizations that still wield considerable influence in the debate over gun legislation.
The NRA says that it has millions of members and annual revenues in excess of $200 million, and their annual meetings regularly draw leading Republican presidential candidates. Pratt's group Gun Owners of America has also become an important player in the gun debate; an April article by The New York Times highlighted how GOA was "emerging as an influential force" over then-pending Senate gun legislation, while ignoring Pratt's own record of extremism.
In recent weeks, extremist radio host Pete Santilli has made headlines for violent comments he made about Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and the Bush family. (Santilli's inflammatory comments include saying the he wants to shoot Clinton "in the vagina and let her suffer right before my eyes" over her supposed "treason.")
While it's tempting to dismiss Santilli as just another crackpot with a microphone and an Internet connection, his show has been validated by appearances from major gun activists like Pratt and Nugent.
Nugent and Pratt's appearances on Santilli's show are not an aberration; they're symptomatic of how prominent gun activists have teamed up with fringe conspiracy theorists to oppose gun legislation and spin fantastical theories about the government disarming (or going to war with) American citizens.
Working with these fringe hosts may be a deliberate strategy; during an appearance with infamous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones last year, Pratt praised Jones for helping increase GOA's exposure, saying "thank you for having me on, because we have a much bigger voice because of you, my friend." (During that same interview, Pratt suggested the government may have been behind the mass shooting in Aurora.)
In this report, we look at gun activists' appearances with:
Extremist radio host Pete Santilli is defending and reiterating his inflammatory attacks on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stating on his program that he wants "to shoot her in the vagina and let her suffer right before my eyes."
In a May 17 rant captured by Right Wing Watch, Santilli called for the Bush family and President Obama to be shot and for Clinton to be "shot in the vagina." The Secret Service told TPM Media that they would investigate Santilli's comments in order to "determine what a person's intent is when making comments like this."
SANTILLI: You need to understand that what I said was very clear. I didn't want Hillary Clinton to die. I want her to suffer painfully, right in front of me, after she's convicted for committing crimes against humanity. Tried for crimes against humanity. For drug trafficking, for killing human beings, anybody that opposes that is an idiot.
Now, the penalty for which I would volunteer to shoot her right in the vajayjay. I want her to remain alive, I don't even want the death penalty for that. I think my penalty is more lenient than the penalty for treason.