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Ammon Bundy’s Emmet, Idaho-based People’s Rights touts itself as protecting people from a tyrannical government. “Who would you call right now,” the group asks, “if you needed help protecting your rights?” – rights threatened by a government that won’t allow you to “educate your children” or “operate your business,” or that “mandates” vaccines, allows “criminals to roam your neighborhood undeterred,” denies due process and promotes “contact-tracing.”[1]

Recent weeks have seen Ammon Bundy claim to support Black Lives Matter (BLM) and express concern about immigrants facing repression at the hands of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).[2]  Bundy’s qualified support for BLM apparently led some in People’s Rights to want to leave the group.[3] Other parts of People’s Rights website hint at a right-wing agenda, proclaiming that people do not have a right to health care or internet access.[4]

People’s Rights claims to be 26,000 strong and in “every State of the Union.”[5] Other evidence indicates that that the group has chapters in Idaho, Washington, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah Arkansas, California, Florida, and Georgia.[6]

Despite the group’s name, and Bundy’s overtures, People’s Rights and the broader movement in which they maneuver are not allies of those who seek racial and economic justice in the United States. A recent protest hosted by the group in Nezperce, Idaho, in the homelands of the Nez Perce Nation, drove this home.

People’s Rights in Nezperce, Idaho

On August 1, about 50 people attended the “Justice for Sean” rally hosted by People’s Rights in Nezperce, Idaho. The event was held on behalf of Sean Anderson, a Riggins, Idaho-based People’s Rights “area assistant” injured in a July 18 shootout with police and subsequently charged with aggravated assault on a peace officer.

Speakers throughout the day called on police to release recordings of the incident, a reasonable-enough demand in any officer-involved shooting. Some even praised Black Lives Matter.[7]

David Barnett, of Orofino, opening the event armed with a pistol, described himself as a close friend of Sean Anderson who had recently travelled to Lewiston, Idaho with the People’s Rights activist for a “second amendment” rally and “to help defend the town against the BLM, the antifa people that were going to be gathered there.” Barnett characterized Sean Anderson as “an in your face patriot…there’s what he believes and he is going to tell you.”[8]

As IREHR previously documented, Sean Anderson’s “patriot” status involves paramilitary activism and using Facebook to spread anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-Mexican ideas – an example of the variety of bigotry that was displayed during the Ammon Bundy-led armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, in which Anderson participated.

While Barnett acknowledged that there were some “patriotic people” in Blacks Lives Matter, he stressed that “if our lawmakers, our elected sheriffs in our towns, that we’ve chosen, are upholding their Constitution and doing things right, I stand behind them one hundred percent.” He continued that Sean has attended “blue lives matter” rallies, that he is “pro-Constitution,” but that he just “doesn’t like the overreach. He doesn’t want any of that.”[9]

Just what Barnett, Anderson, Bundy and this movement view as “overreach,” however, lies at the heart of the problem. A pocket-U.S. Constitution displayed by both David Barnett and Ammon Bundy during their speeches offered a hint. Not just any pocket-Constitution, this one is produced by the late Cleon Skousen’s National Center for Constitutional Studies.

David Barnett (left) and Ammon Bundy (right) display the NCCS pocket-Constitution

Skousen, whose work has influenced the Bundy family, was a John Birch Society fellow-traveler who espoused a far right brand of Mormon religious nationalism and a distorted, racist, version of U.S. history. Ammon Bundy’s speech on “who holds the power” echoed writings found on the NCCS website.[10] In addition to boosting the Christian nationalist idea that the Constitution is based on the Bible, Skousen and NCCS’s “constitutional” interpretation, translated into public policy, would dramatically exacerbate inequality in the U.S.[11]

David Barnett’s stress on the centrality of the sheriff displayed the influence of Posse Comitatus-like ideas in this mobilization – a far right tendency with roots in white supremacy that espouses conspiracy theories and holds the sheriff to be the highest law of the land.[12] Ammon Bundy and speakers at People’s Rights of Washington events have expressed similar ideas. As if to drive this influence home, one attendee seated on the stage as the event wound down displayed a sign stating, “SHERIFF ONLY: ALL OTHER COPS UNCONSTIUTIONAL.”[13]

Just one sign of Posse Comitatus influence at the People’s Rights protest

For his part, Ammon Bundy continued vocal opposition to policies intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This time the  far right leader absurdly compared such policies to the droit du seigneur, the custom/law attributed to medieval times holding that a king or lord could force themselves sexually on a newly married woman. Bundy had previously compared wearing a community-protecting mask to slavery – an offensive idea possibly influenced by Cleon Skousen’s own interpretation of slavery casting the brutal institution as humane and Abolitionists as villains.

Speaker Diego Rodriguez, pastor of the Boise Freedom Tabernacle Church, also serves as Communications and Marketing Director for the Freedom Man Political Action Committee – an organization that has hosted at least one “reopen” event and promoted the idea that “everybody who attends a weak church that shut its doors because of the ‘coronavirus scare’ should leave that church immediately.”[14] The Freedom Man PAC contends that “COVID-19 hysteria is a giant scam” and that the disease shares something in common with the claim that black people are disproportionately killed by police – that is, both are “false narrative[s]…being done in order to empower government in ways previously unimagined.”[15]

Diego Rodriguez of Freedom Man PAC and Dominion Books

In the lead up to the event, the city of Nezperce had declared a state of emergency on the grounds that “we’ve kept (COVID-19) out of Nezperce this long, and we have a lot of elderly people here. So we’re kind of concerned about that,” in the words of Mayor Steve Bateman.[16] Speaking about this decision in a video produced by North Idaho Exposed, Rodriguez, laughing, mocked the idea, stating “you can’t make this stuff up.” Videos of the event showed some attendees in possession guns, but virtually no one wearing protective masks.[17]

Armed, but not masked

Brand Thornton, who led the opening ceremony at the event, has lashed out at Christian churches asking to people to wear masks to protect the community as “false prophets.”[18] A meme Thornton posted to Facebook urged people to “avoid the [COVID-19] test at all costs” on the grounds that it may be used to plant a “clandestine brain virus, nano-tech, or plant a chip in someone.”[19] Another Thornton-posted meme offensively declared that, “Masks are the modern day Star (sic) Just like during The destruction of Germany.”[20]

From COVID-19 to Theocracy

If the National Center for Constitutional Studies crafts a Mormon-based far right religious nationalism, speaker Diego Rodriquez displays this movement’s trans-denominational theocratic leanings through the Freedom Tabernacle church’s promotion of “Christian Dominion” – described as the “the duty of taking dominion over the Earth.”[21] Rodriquez has also promoted this idea through his Boise-based Dominion Books, a publishing outlet dedicated to “equipping believers to take dominion in this world.”[22]

The Freedom Tabernacle church couples this framework to the bigoted view that “Homosexuality is an abomination unto God and to all Christians.” The group also promotes equality-gutting policy positions akin to NCCS. This includes opposing “state-run educational institutions that have no authority in the Word of God” and viewing “Government subsidies,” such as “welfare, food stamps, subsidized housing, state run health care (i.e. Medicare, etc), social security and publicly funded education,” as an “unlawful expansion of state government into areas of life that are ordained by God to be fulfilled by church and families.”[23]

If “Christian Dominion” and the call to “take dominion in this world” sounds theocratic, this is no accident – nor is its association with Diego Rodriguez.  In September 2016, Rodriguez signed onto “An Open Letter to Christian pastors, leaders and believers who assist in the anti-Christian Progressive political movement in America.” Calling on progressive religious leaders to “repent of their work that often advances a destructive liberal political agenda,” the letter included the anti-Semitic canard that “wealthy, anti-Christian foundations, following the lead of billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, fund and ‘rent’ Christian ministers as ‘mascots’ serving as surprising validators for their causes.” Continuing themes that animate a broad swath of the nationalist far right, the letter declared,

“In the ironic rhetoric of compassion, Soros and friends also fund mass immigration followed by redistricting schemes and ‘voting “(sic) rights”…One wonders if the end goal is the destruction of national identity through demoralization, open borders and debt, thus the ‘fundamental transformation’ (weakening) of American civil society for their leveraged global power. (They have done this to other nations.)”[24]

A number of prominent Christian nationalists and Christian Right leaders joined Diego Rodriguez in signing the letter, including multiple anti-choice groups, representatives of the anti-LGBTQ American Family Association and Pat Robertson’s Regent University, and Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton.

Another signatory was Jay Grimstead of the Coalition on Revival (CoR), a trans-denominational coalition that has brought together a range of tendencies on the Christian Right, as described in detail by Frederick Clarkson.[25] One of its early leaders was R.J. Rushdoony, founder in 1965 of the Christian Reconstructionist Chalcedon Foundation.[26]

If Christian Dominionism is a form of Christian nationalism, arguing that that Christians should take the reins of political and cultural power, Christian Reconstructionism represents its most radical form.[27] Christian Reconstructionism argues that its adherent’s version of the Bible should be the governing document in the United States, creating what one leading movement “theologian” termed “Biblical theocratic republics.” Christian Reconstructionism’s defining texts were released in 1973 by R.J. Rushdoony. Among other things, Rushdoony argued that such “Biblical law” demands the death penalty for homosexuals, those having sex before marriage, incorrigible juveniles and practitioners of witchcraft, among other categories of people.[28]

Another of Diego Rodriguez’s projects, the creationist 4th Day Alliance, took him into the world of Christian Reconstructionism. In December 2010 Rodriguez’s creationist efforts led to an appearance at the Trinity Covenant Church in Fresno, California – a church whose website declares that “R.J. Rushdoony is the greatest theologian of the last century.”[29] Rodriguez’s work on creationism subsequently drew high praise in a 2007 issue of Faith for All Life, a magazine published by the Chalcedon Foundation.[30]

Diego Rodriguez (middle on right) breaks bread where Christian Reconstructionist R.J. Rushdoony is the “greatest theologian of the last century”

People’s Rights Versus the Real 3% of Idaho

The most dramatic moment in the protest came when Sandra Anderson, wife of Sean and also a participant in the armed Malheur occupation, lashed out at The Real 3%ers of Idaho. A letter issued by the Real 3% described that the Idaho County Sheriff’s office had allowed members of the group to listen to the 911 recording of the incident involving Sean Anderson. [31] The Real 3%ers reported that Anderson had stated,

“I took off and I’m in hot pursuit, this is serious sh–…I’m not liking it. I’m not going to succumb to it. Deputies are out of line…They are putting me in position that life is on the line here…They have a road block. I’m going to run it, or I am going to shoot people. Call off this bullsh–.”[32]

After describing that Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings attempted to talk him down, the Real 3%ers describe Anderson saying, “Here we go…Don’t you do it, don’t you do it. I don’t have a gun. Here we go, here we go.” The letter continued, “Then, what appears to be a shotgun being fired followed by, what appears to be hand gun fire.” The group alleged that, “It seemed, to our team, because of his conduct and slurred speech that he [Sean Anderson] may have been intoxicated.”[33]

Sandra Anderson pointed out that Ammon Bundy had refused to listen to the recording because it was not released to the public, “except for Eric Parker and the supposed Real Three Percent of Idaho.” She continued, “how dare you [Eric Parker] elevate yourself to see that information, before even me, his wife…How dare you Eric Parker think that you’re above all the rest of us.” She then tore up the Three Percenters’ letter.[34]

Settler Colonialism Personified and the Call to Violence

Two final aspects of the protest demonstrate further cause for concern about People’s Rights. On the one hand, Bundy’s efforts have displayed a recurring disrespect for indigenous sovereignty and resources. This was seen when the armed Malheur occupiers undertook the action in Burns Paiute homelands despite objections from the tribe; damaged a tribal archaeological site and caused additional costs to the Burns Paiute, for which two occupiers were ordered to pay restitution; and when Ammon Bundy recently shared a stage with a leading anti-Indian figure.

This pattern continued in Nezperce. One attendee at the event, for instance, was Pamela Hemphill. Hemphill authored a 2019 book assailing the participants in the mobilization to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and defend the treaty-protected resources of the Standing Rock Sioux. A synopsis of Hemphill’s book, We Stand! We Rise! We Resist!: Where the Leftist Tactics Began & Now They’re Coming to a City Near You!, states,

“In this book, you’ll learn how the Leftist Tactics were ‘High Jacked’ by using a platform in the Largest North Native American Protest in history. They used the North American Indians past abuses, as the model for a NEW SOCIALIST Party.”[35]

P.A. Hemphill tells Nez Perce tribal police about her book: “You’re not gonna like it”

While waiting at the police staging area in Nezperce with Diego Rodriguez and others, Hemphill told Nez Perce tribal police of her book that, “You’re not gonna like it.” After being informed that they were on Nez Perce land, and as if demonstrating the very definition of settler colonialism, Rodriguez told the tribal police, “Yeah man, you guys are the tribe guys. We get you. This is your property, man, we get it. We Thank you for letting us come. It is your land, but in America we get to do what we want to do. [Italics added]”[36]

A defining feature of settler colonialism in U.S. history has been that, even when the federal and state governments and citizens voice respect for tribal rights, Americans “do what we want to do” in Indian Country.

Finally, and jumping back to the beginning of the event, Brand Thornton opened the day by blowing a shofar.[37] Asked by Casey Whalen of North Idaho Exposed why he blows the horn, Thornton said,

“I always tell everybody Numbers Chapter 8 and 9.” But today, he continued, “today it’s mostly to bring peace, compatibility, to get us all on the same page. Because I think we all want the same things inherently. So there’s just love and peace.”[38]

Despite these words, the Bible verses cited by Thornton call to mind preparation for war:

“When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the LORD your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.”

Brand Thornton: “I live to hear Antifa getting shot all day long.”

Ideas of preparation for war better fit Brand Thornton’s own expressed ideas and history. Thornton also blew the shofar when he accompanied the first men that undertook the armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.[39] On his Facebook page Thornton has offered up visions of violence against anti-fascists and Black Lives Matter, writing recently, “Antifa and BLM, your choice, you want peace or pushing up daisy’s (sic)?”[40] In another post, Thornton declared that “I live to hear Antifa getting shot all day long.”[41]

Brand Thornton has also simultaneously directed hostility at police and the LGBTQ community, writing “Take your thin blue line and lgbt flag and burn it.”[42] In another post Thornton declared that “I will never back the blue,” advocating instead that all police be fired and replaced with “constitutional neighborhood militias.”[43]

And, while posting memes rejecting the reality of white privilege; declaring that white people protesting racism are “brainwashed” and simply protesting against white people “because they are white;” defending the team symbol of the Washington D.C. football franchise; and repeating the common far right refrain that “It’s Ok to Be White;” Thornton posted a meme featuring a statue of Barrack Obama, declaring, “YOU WANNA TAKE STATUES DOWN? START WITH THIS USELESS MOTHERFU—- RIGHT HERE.!”[44]

Community members concerned about safety and all who care about human and civil rights should reject this movement out of hand.

Lewis County Sheriff Jason Davis (left)

And though Lewis County Sheriff Jason Davis would speak at the event, thanking attendees for “being peaceful,” police as well should be wary of this movement.[45] As the history of these particular leaders have shown, they may voice support for law enforcement right up until they don’t – that is, right up until enforcing the law is deemed at odds with their narrow and anti-democratic version of the U.S. Constitution.

At that point, they take up arms.

[1] People’s Rights. Accessed August 14, 2020.

[2] Ammon Bundy. Facebook. August 13, 2020.; Swenson, Kyle. Ammon Bundy breaks with Trump on anti-immigrant rhetoric: ‘It’s all fear-based.’ Washington Post. November 28, 2020.

[3] People’s Rights. Facebook. August 14, 2020.

[4] People’s Rights. Your Rights. Accessed August 17, 2020.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See People’s Rights Montana District 1.; Open Carry Utah-OCU (An Arm of Facebook.; People’s Rights. Accessed August 14, 2020. Holding Block. Accessed August 14, 2020.

[7] North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Rally – Nez Perce, Idaho. August 4, 2020.

[8] North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Rally – Nez Perce, Idaho. August 4, 2020.

[9] Ibid.

[10] North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Rally – Nez Perce, Idaho. August 4, 2020. For comparison, see National Center for Constitutional Studies. A Statesman’s Guide to Proper Lawmaking.

[11] Among the specific types of government action that this far right interpretation of the Constitution would disallow are the regulation of medical providers (respiratory therapists), a progressive income tax, tax credits for employers that provide day care for employees, taxation to fund government programs and raise the pay of government employees, and programs expanding health care benefits. Conversely, the NCCS would allow outlawing abortion services for women. See National Center for Constitutional Studies. A Statesman’s Guide to Proper Law Making.  See also Shupe, Anson and John Heinerman. Mormonism and the New Christian Right: An Emerging Coalition. Review of Religious Research. Vol 27 (No. 2). (Dec 1985), p. 146-157. These authors describe the broad attack on federal power, including institutions that potentially protect worker’s health, environmental quality, civil rights and economic fairness, noting that the center’s targets included “the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communication Commission’s fairness doctrine in editorial broadcasting, the federal government’s change of the gold standard in currency, all subsidies to farmers, all federal aid to education, all federal social welfare, foreign aid, social security, elimination of public school prayer and Bible reading, and (that familiar right-wing nemesis) the United Nations.”

[12] For background on the Posse Comitatuts, see Levitas, Daniel. 2002. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

[13] North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Rally – Nez Perce, Idaho. August 4, 2020.

[14] “My obligation is to protect the people of Idaho.” May 3, 2020.; King, Jane. Protestors voice support for full opening of economy at recent rally. Idaho Statesman. May 3, 2020.; Steele, Gunner. Scriptual Proof You Need to Leave Your Church. Freedom Man. July 6, 2020.

[15] Steele, Gunner. How COVID-19 and White Racists are the Same. Freedom Man Political Action Committee. April 2, 2020. For evidence to the contrary, see Edwards, Frank, Lee, Hedwig and Michael Espsito. Risk of being killed by police use-of-force in the U.S. by age, race/ethnicity, and sex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. August 2, 2019.

[16] Hedburg, Kathy. Nezperce declares state of emergency ahead of Bundy-led rally. Big Country News. July 31, 2020.

[17] North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Command Center. August 2, 2020.; North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Rally – Nez Perce, Idaho. August 4, 2020.

[18] Thornton, Brand. Facebook. July 29, 2020.

[19] Thornton, Brand. Facebook. July 29, 2020.

[20]  Thornton, Brand. Facebook. August 10, 2020.

[21] Freedom Tabernacle. Articles of Faith.

[22] Dominion Books. About Us. Accessed August 12, 2020.

[23] Freedom Tabernacle. Articles of Faith.

[24] TruthPR. A Call to Repentance & Renewal. TruthPR.Com. October 5, 2016. Other targets of the letter’s animus include common far right sound-bites such as “abandonment of the biblical view of marriage,” a “transgender agenda,” “welfare dependency,” “heightened racial division and tension,” “forced refugee resettlement” with “‘Refugees’ [that] are primarily non-assimilating Muslims,” “hostility towards Judeo-Christian religion,” efforts to “‘counter Christians and the Tea Party in the media” and supporting the “rights of jihadists and Sharia advocates.”

[25] Clarkson, Frederick. 1997. The Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.

[26] Ibid.

[27] See Clarkson, Frederick. Dominionism Rising. Political Research Associates. August 18, 2016.

[28]Clarkson, Frederick. 1997. The Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.

[29] Trinity Covenant Church. Seppi Blog. December 5, 2010.

[30] See Selbred, Martin G. Unfinished Business. Faith for All of Life. Chalcedon Foundation. July/August 2007.

[31] The Real 3%ers of Idaho. Idaho County Officer Involved Shooting involving Sean L. Anderson. July 31, 2020.

[32] Ibid

[33] Ibid

[34] North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Rally – Nez Perce, Idaho. August 4, 2020.

[35] Synopsis of Hemphill, P.A. We Stand! We Rise! We Resist!: Where the Leftist Tactics Began & Now They’re Coming to a City Near You!.

[36] North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Command Center. August 2, 2020.

[37] The shofar is a rams horn that has been used for many years in Jewish celebrations, particularly during Rosh Hashanah. See Friedmann, Jonathan L. and Joel Gereboff, editors. 2017. Qol Tamid The Shofar in Ritual, History, and Culture. Claremont, CA: Claremont. Press.; the shofar has also been appropriated by some Christians. See Shellnut, Kate. Why So Many Christians Sound the Shofar in Israel. Christianity Today. May 24, 2018. Brand Thornton is Mormon.

[38] North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Rally – Nez Perce, Idaho. August 4, 2020.

[39] Graves, Mark. Refuge occupier’s sounding of shofar becomes subject of disputed testimony.   The Oregonian. March 2, 2017.

[40] Thornton, Brand. Facebook. August 9, 2020.

[41] Thornton, Brand. Facebook. June 15, 2020.

[42] Thornton, Brand. Facebook. August 9, 2020.

[43] Thornton, Brand. Facebook. July 29, 2020.

[44] See Thornton, Brand. Facebook. August 9, 2020.; Thornton, Brand. Facebook. July 16, 2020.; Thornton, Brand. Facebook. June 29, 2020.; Thornton, Brand. Facebook. June 27, 2020.; Thornton, Brand. Facebook. June 27, 2020.;   Thornton, Brand. Facebook. June 27, 2020.

[45] North Idaho Exposed. Justice for Sean Anderson: The Rally – Nez Perce, Idaho. August 4, 2020.


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.

More posts by Chuck Tanner