Extremism experts say a fast-growing network of far-right activists could threaten the Mountain West and beyond. It’s called the People’s Rights network and, according to a new report, it includes anti-maskers, militia members and conspiracy theorists.
The network was started by Idaho anti-government activist Ammon Bundy – who led the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 – and has grown to about 20,000 members across the country.
Chuck Tanner is a research director with the Institute for Education and Research on Human Rights, which co-authored the report along with the Montana Human Rights Network.
“People’s Rights really looks out into the world and really views anyone who agrees with them as being righteous and anyone who doesn't agree with them as wicked,” Tanner said in a press briefing Thursday.
The group is “combining militia ideology and tactics with the kind of re-open, anti-masker mass mobilization,” according to Devon Burghart, president of that institute.
For example, Ammon Bundy has led several protests against health requirements. That included when he was barred from the Idaho Capitol building after being arrested twice in two days during a special legislative session. He also got a high school football game canceled by refusing to wear a mask.
By using different messaging than many militia groups, talking about protecting children and family, Burghart said women have also gotten more involved. There were more female leaders early on and now, he said, the majority of local leaders are women, which is unusual for a far-right group.
Burghart added that while the West has a history of far-right activism, ranging from racist groups to anti-government militias, those groups “spread quite rapidly over the country.”
According to the report, Bundy has developed a team of “assistants” in 16 states, including Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Report authors hope their work prompts people within the group to leave it, and also alerts communities to the dangers of the network so they will work to push it out.
"The continuing march of Ammon’s army requires people in local communities to stand united and speak out against those who misleadingly claim to speak for 'the People' while promoting paramilitarism and bigotry," the report states.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.