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Antigovernment, anti-media views voiced at Montana conference

Antigovernment icon Ammon Bundy renewed his call for turning national public lands over to state governments at a weekend gathering in Montana where he shared the stage with prominent anti-American Indian activists and extremists.

Waving his ever-present pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution, Bundy asked the crowd, “Where does it give the federal government our permission to manage our lands locally or our lands anywhere?”

Bundy was the featured speaker at the "This West is OUR West” conference in Whitefish, Montana. The billboard event that championed stripping federal agencies from managing public lands was attended by a handful of state lawmakers from Montana, Idaho and Washington, the Missoulian reported.

At center stage was Ammon Bundy — a protagonist in both the 2016 armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon and the 2014 standoff at his father Cliven Bundy’s ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada.

After being acquitted of criminal charges in the Oregon case and seeing a federal judge dismiss the Nevada case, Ammon Bundy has capitalized on his fame in antigovernment and militia circles.

While there were an estimated 80 attendees lapping up his and other antigovernment speeches inside a Whitefish lodge Saturday, more than four times that many people attended a nearby “Rally for Human Rights and Public Lands” in Depot Park.

“We love our public lands, our neighbors and we reject the sale of our public lands,” Grete Gansauer, the Northwest Montana Field Director for the Wilderness Association, told the cheering rally, organized by human rights and public lands groups.

The “Our West” conference had heavy doses of antigovernment and blame-the-media sentiment, with Ammon Bundy claiming journalists had contributed to or were somehow responsible for the death of LaVoy Finicum.

The attendees were shown a documentary about Finicum, who was fatally shot in 2016 during the illegal occupation of the Malheur wildlife refuge in Oregon by Bundy, Finicum and other assorted militia supporters.

Finicum’s widow, Jeanette Finicum, who’s also become a regular on the antigovernment lecture circuit, showed up for the Whitefish conference. She also criticized the media for telling “us how to think and believe,” the Guardian reported.

The Finicum “documentary” was produced by the Center for Self-Governance, whose president Mark Herr lectured journalists covering the conference, accusing the media of “label-lynching” Finicum and other Malheur occupiers, the news site reported.

As the media bashing continued, Alex Newman of the antigovernment propagandist John Birch Society, claiming to be a journalist himself, “led a prayer for the media before delivering a lecture connecting the so-called ‘deep state’ to the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group,” the Guardian reported.

Other speakers talked about conspiracies by communists, Muslims and the United Nations.

Conference organizer Laura Lee O’Neil shared Bundy’s view that federal lands should be transferred to state governments, even though most states say they don’t have the financial resources for management and fire suppression.

“We are protecting our natural resources,” O’Neil told the crowd, according to the Missoula newspaper, and she urged those who agree with her and Bundy to “light a fire under our legislators here in Montana.”

The newspaper also reported there were several elected political officials and candidates in attendance. Those included Montana state representatives Mark Noland and Kerry White; former Montana representatives and candidates Jerry O’Neil and Dan Skattum; Idaho state representatives Judy Boyle and Dorothy Moon; Washington State Representative Matt Shea and Gale Decker, a county commissioner from Montana’s Lake County.

Shea, who formed a chapter of the anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America in Spokane, Washington, used the conference to spew more of his oft-repeated anti-Muslim rhetoric. He claimed the Muslim civil rights group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is connected with the terrorist group Hamas, the Guardian reported. Shea also claimed he is aware of a mosque owned by the Muslim Brotherhood.­­

The Republican state lawmaker is a partitionist who advocates separating central and eastern Washington into its own state (called Liberty), a move Shea hopes would provide state sanction for his own extreme brand of conservatism. This weekend, he offered words of support for Ammon Bundy, demanding that management of federal public lands be transferred to the states. At the armed standoff with federal law enforcement at the Bundy ranch in Nevada, Shea appeared in support of Cliven Bundy and railed against what he called a "war on rural America."

Also speaking was Elaine Willman, described by the Montana Human Rights Network as “the most prominent anti-Indian activist in the Pacific Northwest.”

Willman has said tribal governments and American Indian sovereignty have outlived their usefulness and should be abolished.

At Saturday’s conference, she didn’t back away from that stand, describing federal Indian policy as a “great big hippopotamus sitting on the United States.” Willman said tribal sovereignty and relationships with the federal government are unconstitutional, opaque and divisive, according to media accounts.

Photo illustration by SPLC

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