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Chapter Five:

The Posse Rides Again

Ammon’s Army: Inside the Far-Right People’s Rights Network

Chapter Five:

The Posse Rides Again

People's Rights & the Legacy of the Posse Comitatus

Besides the history of armed confrontations and long-established relationships, another thing potentially attracting militia members to People’s Rights is the deployment of old-school Posse Comitatus-like rhetoric and tactics.

As Daniel Levitas, author of The Terrorist Next Door explained, the Posse Comitatus (Latin for “power of the county”) was a violent far-right paramilitary group that swept through the farm crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, which fused medieval British legal practice with hardcore white supremacist ideas. The idea was that the county sheriff, or any individuals in a Posse, could arrest and put on trial in a “citizens’ jury,” any individuals or government officials who attempted to enforce “unlawful” legislation.[49]

The Posse Comitatus relied on the esoteric racism and antisemitism of Christian Identity and the notion of 14th Amendment citizenship to spread like wildfire during the farm crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, observed Leonard Zeskind in Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream. Christian Identity adherents hold that white, northern Europeans are the true Israelites of the Bible while Jews are satanic imposters. People of color, meanwhile, are pre-Adamic and inferior “mud people” or the Book of Genesis’ “beasts of the field.” Such racists also held “original” white citizens exempt from federal jurisdiction, while inferior 14th Amendment citizens were subjects of the national government.

By contrast, Ammon Bundy’s vision for People’s Rights is grounded in a broader “Constitutionalism,” and popular far-right conspiracies, particularly around COVID-19. Left unchallenged, the more expansive appeal gives People’s Rights the potential to build a larger movement than the Posse.

Fixation on the county as a locus of power, veneration of the county sheriff as “the highest law officer of the land,” promotion of racist and antisemitic conspiracies, outlandish pseudo-legal tactics, and calls for armed insurrection were the hallmarks of the Posse during their heyday. Many of those themes have been echoed by Ammon Bundy and other leaders in the People’s Rights network.

Bundy voiced the Posse Comitatus-like view that “we delegate policing and arresting power to certain people, but who do we, when it comes to law enforcement, do we the people delegate it to?…The sheriff, and only the sheriff.” He’s gone so far as to tell his supporters that city, state, and federal law enforcement agencies are illegitimate, “Your city police are not Constitutional policing agents. Your state police are not Constitutional policing agents. And your federal police are not.”[50]

Some People’s Rights leaders, including Bundy, have called for “defunding” city police. This, however, should not be construed as a nod towards the efforts of Black Lives Matter. Instead, the People’s Rights “defund” effort is in the context of shifting power and resources to the county sheriff.

Also like the Posse Comitatus, some People’s Rights activists, like Brand Thornton, have even called for replacing local police outright with bands of “citizen militias.”[51] Thornton’s vision is especially troubling given another post in which he declared, “I live to hear Antifa getting shot all day long.”[52]

Posse-like ideas don’t stop with Ammon Bundy. Take, for instance, People’s Rights Washington leader, Kelli Stewart, who also voiced a similar fixation on the county sheriff, “The county sheriff is the highest law enforcer, even when there are incorporated cities within his county…I would love to see the County Sheriff send in his deputes to keep the peace in the cities, and defund all police” [italics added].[53]

Stewart has not only echoed Posse ideas, she’s gone so far as to lend support to the cause of imprisoned Posse murderers. [54]  She recently wrote, “Let my people go! Free Yorie Kahl and Scott Fahl! Scot is my friend and brother in Christ, and I believe he should be released after almost 4 decades in prison for defending himself and his friends against a federal ambush!”[55]

The alleged “ambush” occurred on Feb. 13, 1983, near Medina, North Dakota, when Yorie Kahl and Scott Faul murdered two federal marshals and injured two other enforcement officers who were attempting to serve Yorie’s father, Gordon Kahl, with a probation violation warrant as they were leaving a Posse Comitatus meeting. Gordon Kahl had been a Posse Comitatus leader who refused to pay taxes to the, in his words, “Synagogue of Satan under the 2nd plank of the Communist Manifesto.”[56] Gordon Kahl escaped the gun battle and fled. Four months later, he killed an Arkansas sheriff before dying in a firefight.

Putting words into action, People’s Rights groups have attempted to get county sheriffs to intervene against local governments and police departments to prevent enforcement of COVID-19 health restrictions. At a Vancouver, Washington, People’s Rights rally in support of a woman ticketed for illegally reopening her business during the pandemic, Joey Gibson, leader of the violent far-right street-fighting group, Patriot Prayer, and a member of the People’s Rights Washington Area 8 group, fully embraced Posse rhetoric,

“For those of you who don’t know, it is the Sheriff’s responsibility to protect the Constitution within his own county. Doesn’t matter if it’s within the city, right? Doesn’t matter if he has to protect us from this guy, the city council or any other law enforcement. That is his job.”[57]

The embrace of Posse ideas by a far-right street activist like Gibson represents an expansion of these ideas into other far-right circles not known to be previously impacted by such ideas.

Gibson let slip the overall game plan for this manufactured conflict, “To flip it around on them, to get a movement going.” Creating fear is also part of the plan. “We’ve got to put fear into their hearts, so they don’t charge one more business owner. Not one. Not one. I talk about this all the time. They have to be afraid of us, guys,” he declared.[58]

In a similar vein to the Posse Comitatus, though not yet as relentless, People’s Rights groups have also taken up sending bogus documents to legislators which they claim have legal weight. Most recently sending a “Petition to Cease and Desist and Demand to Restore the Republic” to Idaho legislators to end the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.[59]

In Montana, People’s Rights leader Nick Ramlow drafted a “Petition for Redress of Grievances” against Governor Steve Bullock, claiming that the governor didn’t have the authority to issue public health directives.[60] He filed the grievance in Montana District Court and served copies to most government agencies in Flathead County.[61] Ramlow went even further, drawing up bogus forms for businesses to file complaints against public officials, threatening to use the militia to “arrest” public officials enforcing shelter-in-place orders, and even offering a $100 bounty for the address of Kalispell’s mayor so he could make a citizen’s arrest. [62]


Four: Den of Rattlesnakes


Middle American Neighborhood Nationalism


[49] Levitas, Daniel. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. 2002. P. 2.

[50] Bundy, Ammon. “When there is no place for the truth then where do the truthful reside.” Bundy Ranch Facebook Video. September 9, 2020.

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

[52] Ibid.

[53] Stewart, Kelli. Facebook. June 17, 2020.

[54] Stewart, Kelli. Facebook. May 24, 2020.; Stewart, Kelli. Facebook. May 29, 2020.

[55] Stewart, Kelli. Facebook. August 13, 2020.

While Stewart does voice concern about African-Americans harmed by police, and places Leonard Peltier in with Kahl and Faul as victims of government tyranny, this is deceptive. While Amnesty International wrote in 2014 that Peltier, an Anishinabe-Lakota American Indian Movement leader, has been “imprisoned for 38 years despite serious concerns about the fairness of proceedings leading to his conviction,” Kahl and Faul’s conflicts with law enforcement were driven by Gordon Kahl’s (Yories) father tax protest that was itself driven by the  viciously racist and antisemitic ideology of Christian Identity and his involvement in the Posse Comitatus. For lengthy description of this involvement, see Corcoran, James. 1990. Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus: Murder in the Heartland. New York: Penguin Books; and Levitas, Daniel. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. 2002.

[56] Albrecht, Mike. “The Roots of the Posse Comitatus.” The Bismarck Tribune. February 9, 2003.

[57] Gibson, Joey. Video. Facebook. June 21, 2020.

[58] Ibid.

[59] People’s Rights. Video. Facebook.

[60] Ramlow, Nick. Facebook. April 27, 2020.

[61] Ramlow, Nick. Facebook. April 30, 2020.

[62] Ramlow, Nick. Facebook. April 14, 2020. Ramlow, Nick. Facebook.  May 8, 2020. Montana Human Rights Network, May 1, 2020. Ramlow, Nick. Facebook.May 11, 2020.

Ammon's Army

Inside the Far-Right People's Rights Network

A Special Report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and the Montana Human Rights Network

Copyright © 2020. Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights.