'Den of Rattlesnakes'

  • Membership in a far-right militia network in the Northwest reportedly has exploded since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The Montana Human Rights Network and Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights find that Ammon Bundy, leader of armed standoffs in Oregon and Nevada, has exploited fears over the novel coronavirus to expand an anti-government group known as People's Rights to 20,000 followers across 16 states.

    Travis McAdam, Combating White Nationalism and Defending Democracy program director with the Montana Human Rights Network, said local groups in this network were not formed to have civil debates about policy.

    "They view this world as the battle between the righteous and the wicked," said McAdam. "And frankly, there's a lot of discussion in People's Rights circles about how we need to form these paramilitary militias or other similar groups to protect the righteous and to deal with the wicked."

    According to the report, Bundy says he wants to turn People's Rights into a "den of rattlesnakes" to protect Americans' rights. There are about 700 members of this group in Montana, who mostly organize on Facebook.

    McAdam said the Montana leader of People's Rights, Nick Ramlow, wants to turn the group into an "Uber-like" network of self-styled militias.

    In April, Ramlow said he was pursuing criminal charges against Gov. Steve Bullock for his shutdown order. McAdam said that Ramlow encouraged businesses to open up, saying militia members would arrest state officials who tried to shut them down.

    "The Flathead County sheriff says, 'Hey if he does that, that's going to be considered kidnapping,'" said McAdam. "Does that deter Ramlow? No. He's quoted in the paper as saying, 'The sheriff should really stay in line because I've got a bigger army than he does.'"

    Devin Burghart is president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. He said history shows that it takes more than law enforcement to stop the threat of far-right groups such as People's Rights.

    Communities also need to mobilize against the threat.

    "Coming together, uniting, facing the fear together, and building effective barriers against bigotry," said Burghart. "Those are the essential things that make the difference on the ground, and those are things that will turn the tide from these folks dominating and dividing communities."

    Berghart noted that since the report was released, Facebook has taken down pages associated with People's Rights.