A Koch-funded lobbying group is helping Ammon Bundy, the jailed Oregon militant leader, spread misleading information about federal land management agencies.
The American Lands Council, which promotes legislation that would give states and individuals control of federally owned land, posted a video on Facebook accusing the Bureau of Land Management of deliberately starting fires and allowing them to burn out of control.
The ALC video was ripped off from a misleading and “heavily edited propaganda video” that Bundy produced in December, reported columnist Paul Rolly, of the Salt Lake Tribune.
Rolly said the videos were so similar that the ALC’s text repeated the same spelling errors made by Bundy, among 16 militants indicted last week in federal court in connection with the ongoing takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve.
According to news reports and BLM investigators, the Oregon fire described in the video was actually caused by lightning, fueled by unusually dry weather and fought by firefighters from federal, state and local agencies.
But Bundy, and then the ALC, misrepresented claims made by John Witzel, an Oregon rancher who criticized the BLM’s efforts to fight the wildfire, to claim federal agents were intentionally “burning out ranchers.”
The columnist said research by an Oregon horse breeder showed firefighters had intentionally set smaller fires to starve the raging wildfire of fuel.
“What you see in the video are firefighting efforts — including the use of backfiring, which involves intentionally burning land ahead of a wildfire in order to create a black line devoid of fuel for the wildfire — not thuggery by the yellow-clad stormtroopers of the tyrannical BLM,” said Michael Heggen, the horse breeder.
The 40-year-old Bundy remains jailed — but he’s still trying to direct an uprising against the federal government.
Bundy released a statement recorded Saturday asking lawmakers in eight states to visit him and other jailed militants as a show of support, reported The Oregonian.
“This is a call to action for any elected representative in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, the state of Washington and Ohio,” Bundy said. “You have constituents in federal custody. Please visit and contact them to voice your support for free speech, the right to assemble and civil disobedience.”
Four militants remain holed up at the wildlife refuge nearly two weeks after Bundy and other occupation leaders were arrested during a surprise traffic stop on their way to meet with residents of another Oregon county.
One of the most prominent militants, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by officers after attempting to drive around a roadblock.
Possibly dozens of militants fled in the hours after the arrests and killing, but the four holdouts say they won’t leave until they’re killed.
One of the holdouts, 27-year-old David Fry, released a series of videos Sunday taunting federal authorities as “low-life scumbags” and asking like-minded “patriots” to engage in violence against their political enemies.
“They don’t believe in guns, so we don’t have to worry about them,” Fry said in one video. “They don’t have guns, they’re stupid.”
Fry expressed what appears to be anger at liberal critics and state governments that removed Confederate memorials and flags.
“So instead of letting these guys verbally abuse us, you know — going down and trashing down memorials, you know, things like that, it’s time to take a stand, it’s time to fight, it’s time to show these scumbags who’s really in charge of the country,” Fry said.
Bundy has called for Fry and the other three holdouts to go home, but they resisted an attempt by militia groups who offered to help them leave the wildlife refuge without being arrested.
The jailed Bundy portrayed himself as a political prisoner, and he asked lawmakers to show support and press for his release.
“It is your duty to hold federal agencies at bay, protecting the people in your state,” Bundy said. “And to those who disagree with my speech, or our civil disobedience, and may dislike our ideas regarding that the land belongs to the people: Please remember that you do not want free speech to be retaliated against by government officials. If you do not advocate for government to tolerate ideas that it hates, then the First Amendment and free speech mean nothing.”
“Arm yourself with ideas,” he added. “Arm yourselves with education. Argue and disagree. Be free. Thank you.”
The militants were visited during their occupation last month by at least six Republican lawmakers, and another longtime ally called to express her support.
Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) was not among the visitors, but he founded the ALC and successfully urged lawmakers in his state to pass the 2012 Transfer of Public Lands Act.
That law, which is promoted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council and Koch-backed American for Prosperity, demands the federal government hand over 30 million acres to Utah by the end of last year, and the state is now spending $2 million to convince the U.S. Congress to comply.
Critics say the law, passed before the 2014 standoff last year between scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy and the BLM, allows mining and timber companies to extract resources without following federal regulations.
An ethics watchdog complained that Ivory was selling “snake oil” by signing up county commissioners and conservative groups as dues-paying ALC members but keeping nearly half of those funds for himself and his wife.
The attorney general’s office closed the case in September after determining that contributors did not feel they’d been cheated and were satisfied with ALC’s work.
Ivory is now leaving ALC to work for Federalism in Action — another Koch-funded group that seeks the end of federal ownership of public lands.
The Utah Republican will be succeeded as ALC president by Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R-Thompson Falls) — yet another Koch ally who has proposed several bills sought by conservative advocacy groups to loosen federal control of land management.
Watch this video posted online by David Fry: