Culture

The Vegas Shootings, the Bundy Ranch, and the Splits on the Radical Right

The dynamics of radical politics.

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No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.

An interesting detail in the Review-Journal's report on the couple who killed two cops, a shopper, and themselves in Las Vegas yesterday:

"The man told [a neighbor] he had been kicked off Cliven Bundy's ranch 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas while people from throughout the U.S. gathered there in protest of a Bureau of Land Management roundup of Bundy's cattle." Jessica Anderson, 27, said. She lived next door [to the killers].

As always with the first claims that bubble up after a high-profile shooting, you should take this with a grain of salt. Obviously, there's a bit of a telephone game going on here: One neighbor heard something from another neighbor who said he heard it from the shooter, who may or may not be reliable. For what it's worth, the paper reports that "the rancher's wife, Carol Bundy, said the shooting and the April standoff against the federal government were not linked"; it quotes her saying "I have not seen or heard anything from the militia and others who have came to our ranch that would, in any way, make me think they had an intent to kill or harm anyone." That isn't exactly a denial—it says nothing about whether the Vegas couple showed up at the ranch and was told by other activists to leave, which is what the man appears to have been claiming. I expect we'll see more detailed reporting on this in the next few days.

But if this is true, it reinforces a point about the dynamics of radical politics. As I've noted before when writing about the militia movement, violence on the far right often comes from hotheads who have been kicked out of the more mainstream militias. (Is "mainstream" the right word? It's all relative, I suppose.) When actual organizations talk up non-defensive violence, they are often isolated and despised within the larger militia milieu. Yet these divisions are frequently missed in public discussions of the issue, which often lump all the "extremists" together—and, as a result, look in the wrong places for terrorist threats. Even when analysts argue that lone wolves acting on their own are a more likely source of violence than militias acting as groups, there's a mistaken tendency to treat "radicalization" as the problem and to ignore all the cross-currents within a particular radical community. (J.M. Berger offers some strong arguments against that habit here.)

One last thought: I see The Washington Post is already tentatively tying this to other "slayings…linked to hate movements." So it's wise to remember the sociologist Joel Best's comment that "crime waves" often turn out to be "waves in media attention: they occur because the media, for whatever reason, fix upon some sort of crime, and publicize it." Shortly after Obama's election, a flood of stories suggested that right-wing violence was on the rise; a few years later, a study from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point indicated that incidents of that sort actually declined in that period. So don't assume that a new age of domestic terror is dawning. The Vegas killers seem to have believed they were the vanguard of an uprising, shouting "This is the start of a revolution!" before they opened fire. But I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they were wrong.

Update: Amanda Miller, one of the shooters, has a couple of videos from the Bundy ranch on her YouTube page.

Update #2: In this Google Plus thread cross-posted from YouTube, the other shooter, Jerad Miller, explains his expulsion from the ranch:

I was out there but they told me and my wife to leave because I am a felon. They don't seem to understand that they are all felons now for intimidating law enforcement with deadly weapons. So don't tell you that they need people. We sold everything we had to buy supplies and quit our jobs to be there 24/7. How dare you ask for help and shun us dedicated patriots!

A later post in the thread is even more bitter. "Unlike all those loyal Nazis, I will not tolerate despotic rule over me and my family," he writes. "My family has bled for this nation and our freedoms and I will not let their sacrifice go unanswered without my own sacrifice. So let them call me a criminal. Let them smear my name all over the place. George Washington would be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with me and my wife. Who cares what all these loyalists think." And in a different post, he says: "I was down there. I was shunned by my fellow patriots. Don't go there thinking you will be accepted."

Update #3: Yet more on why the Millers were kicked off the ranch, this time from the Bundys' point of view:

Cliven Bundy's son…told The Associated Press that Jerad and Amanda Miller were asked to leave his father's ranch after being there for a few days this spring.

He said that while details were still sketchy, the Millers' conduct was the problem. He called the couple "very radical" and said they did not "align themselves" with the protest's main issues.

"Not very many people were asked to leave," he said. "I think they may have been the only ones."