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In the wake of the December 2017 mistrial in the case of Cliven Bundy – the racist Nevada rancher charged in connection with a 2014 armed standoff with federal agents – and the October 2016 acquittal of leaders of the paramilitary takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Reserve in southern Oregon, many observers speculated that far rightists might be encouraged to engage in further weaponized conflicts over federal lands management.

The fruits of these failed federal prosecutions are potentially ripening in southeast Washington State. On February 13, 2018, the Washington State chapter of The Three Percenters – Original issued a statement declaring that it “fully and wholeheartedly backs and supports rancher Walter ‘Sonny’ Riley in Pomeroy, Washington.” In terms now all too familiar, the Threeper group accuses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of “overreaching…regarding the use of public land,” adding that the federal government is engaging in “similar tactics…to those which led to the eventual Bundy Ranch and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Standoffs.”

According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the federal government charged Riley with unlawfully grazing cattle on federal lands adjacent to his ranch as well as operating a “winter feedlot operation,” building unauthorized structures and placing a range of equipment and debris on the property. Chad Lindgren, employed by Riley, told the Spokesman-Review that the ranch has traditionally used the federal lands for calving heifers. Both Lindgren and Riley have stated that the rancher will not back down.

While the Three Percenters are currently calling for a peaceful resolution, such incidents can escalate quickly and lead to armed mobilizations. The Three Percenters take their name from the “three percent” of colonists they claim were “actively fighting in the field against British forces” during the American Revolution. As the group frames it, “We do not seek to incite a revolution. However, we will defend ourselves when necessary.” Individuals espousing the Three Percenter ideology mobilized around the Malheur and Bundy standoffs; IREHR research indicated that these and other armed mobilizations over federal lands were accompanied by a spurt of growth in national online Threeper activity.

The Three Percenters – Original – National Council has distanced itself from white nationalists of the Charlottesville, Virginia-rally type, declaring that we “strongly reject and denounce anyone who calls themselves a patriot or a Three Percenter that has attended or is planning on attending any type of protest or counter-protest related to these white supremacist and Nazi groups.” Kaleb Hill, a contributor to the group’s blog, has also criticized the “extremist ideology” of Threeper movement founder Mike Vanderboegh.

Despite such efforts, Three Percenters – Original has its own history of racist politicking. The group’s National Council declares that “leftist elites” have created “a racial and political divide” not seen since the Civil Rights Movement. These elites, they continue, “have fueled race war, spawned BLM [Black Lives Matter] and ANTIFA [short for anti-fascist], and is (sic) now focusing all of their efforts on the removal of our history” – that is, seeking to remove monuments to the leaders of the slave-owning Confederacy. “We condemn the BLM, ANTIFA, KKK, Neo-Nazi, white supremacy, and all other hate groups,” states the National Council. On the topic of Confederate monuments, Kaleb Hill wrote on the group’s blog that, “These monuments were raised to give honor and praise to good, brave and courageous men” – Hill’s examples: Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The failure of the federal government to effectively prosecute armed far-rightists who spin conspiracy theories and use guns to settle legal conflicts has helped create a tinder-box waiting to be lit. We must stay engaged and continue to expose and oppose these groups.

Chuck Tanner

Author Chuck Tanner

Chuck Tanner is an Advisory Board member and researcher for the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. He lives in Washington State where he researches and works to counter white nationalism and the anti-Indian and other far right social movements.

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