Just one year ago yesterday, millions of Americans sat and stared dumbfounded at their television and computer screens as chaos erupted at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., when a mob of insurrectionists forced their way into the building in an attempt to violently overturn an election and disrupt democracy.
As the collective audience began to grasp what was happening—a violent invasion of a government institution—many of us on the Western public lands beat were overcome with an uncanny sense of deja vu. We were watching an echo of Sagebrush Insurgents’ 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (which itself was a repeat of the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff, which also fed into the Recapture protest that same year). The Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group, aptly called Malheur, a “dress rehearsal for what we saw at the Capitol.”
But at the time, I thought the cast was altogether different, even if the script—and the ideology driving it—was similar. I combed through the names and places of origin of the pawns, or whatever you want to call the folks who actually stormed the Capitol, and I saw no Bundys or notorious Montana “militia” leaders or Idaho white supremacists—there was little to no overlap between the people at Malheur and those at the Capitol.
But over the last twelve months, we’ve learned through videos and eyewitness accounts just how serious the attack was and how close it came to being even more tragic, and a long and meticulous investigation has revealed that it was anything but spontaneous. In fact, a whole group of folks were hanging out backstage, some writing the script, others pulling strings, and still others providing cover or ideological support for the insurrectionists, unabashedly egging them—and their violent ways—on.
It turns out there was far more overlap between the anti-public land insurgents and the Capitol insurrectionists than was initially apparent. This week Accountable.us, a nonpartisan watchdog group, documented the overlap in its report, “Ground Zero: The Anti-Conservation Movement’s Common Ground With Domestic Terrorists.” Accountable combed through media reports, campaign finance records, and social media postings to make its case. Land Desk readers surely will recognize some of the principal characters the report scrutinizes. Two, in particular, jumped out for us:
Utah State Rep. Phil Lyman: Lyman, a former San Juan County Commissioner, fought adamantly against the 2016 designation of Bears Ears National Monument and organized an unlawful May 2014 ATV ride down Recapture Canyon, causing damage to archaeological sites in the process, to protest what he calls “federal overreach.” Lyman has been a Donald Trump acolyte for years and was repaid for his devotion with a Dec. 2020 pardon after being jailed and fined for his Recapture ride role. Lyman has downplayed the severity of the Jan. 6 event and justified the rioters’ actions while also fueling their fire by perpetuating lies about election fraud.
While Lyman easily won his 2018 bid for state office, his next race might not be so easy. Democrat Davina Smith, the first Navajo woman to run for the Utah State Legislature, plans to challenge Lyman in a redrawn district.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert: The hard-right, gun-toting firebrand from Colorado has declared “I am the militia,” expressed enthusiasm for QAnon, was seen giving tours of the Capitol the day before the riot, has been associated with the Three Percenters, a quasi-militia group, and has downplayed the severity of the Capitol riot. She takes an extreme right-wing stance on nearly every issue, including those relating to public lands and the environment, has pushed the limits on ethics and campaign finance rules, tends toward bigotry, and has adopted Trump’s disrespectful style.
Even conservative Coloradans, finding the congresswoman to be increasingly cringeworthy by the day, have condemned Boebert’s antics. The Delta County Independent, which is not exactly a liberal rag, the Grand Junction Sentinel, and the Durango Herald all bashed Boebert in recent editorials. The state’s Republicans have even fielded an alternative. State Sen. Don Coram, a popular Republican from a longtime Montrose County farming and ranching family, plans to challenge Boebert in this year’s primary.
Boebert responded to the Coram news in typical Boebert fashion:
"Anyone who has looked at Don Coram's voting record knows he is a self-serving, super-woke social liberal who would have a far better chance of winning the Democrat nomination." — Congresswoman Lauren Boebert
Also starring in the report: Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the hard-right Republican and Lyman ally who is leading the state’s fight against the restoration of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments; U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, the radical conservative from Arizona; Cliven and Ammon Bundy; U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, the oil and gas industry’s darling in New Mexico; and many more. I recommend reading the report in full.
Perhaps this will be the year some of these folks are held accountable for their actions.
“What if the elitists in power also used their paid political hacks to manipulate the voting process? We do know that ANY electronic voting machine can be rigged to make sure that only the elitist chosen candidates will win. That’s when it’s time for an alert and vigilant militia to be on guard. Don’t those in power, the elitists, realize that if they continue in their ways there could be some dire consequences?”
This quote may sound like it was uttered in 2021 by a Trump devotee. But it actually appeared in the Federal Land Update in 1994. Read more about that and some of the history behind today’s anti-conservation movement in our piece from last year:
Boebert and her ilk have made a lot of noise about the Biden administration’s energy policies, claiming Biden is stifling domestic oil and gas production, killing jobs, and driving up prices at the pump.
But if Boebert bothered to look at the facts, she’d see that Biden has, for better or worse, been pretty damned friendly to the oil and gas industry. Sure, he put a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing. But the industry had stockpiled so many un-drilled leases that it made no difference whatsoever. Meanwhile, Biden’s Bureau of Land Management handed out drilling permits at a pace not seen since the drill-baby-drill administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Last fiscal year the BLM approved more than 5,000 drilling permits for public and tribal lands. A significant chunk of those were issued in the last days of the Trump administration, but the records show that permitting kept up at a brisk pace for months after Biden took office.
1,712 Number of permits to drill approved in New Mexico between April 1 and Dec. 1, 2021.
500 Number approved in Wyoming during the same period.
274 Number approved in Utah during the same eight-month period.
9,630 Number of approved federal land drilling permits companies held and had available as of Dec. 1, 2021.
Yes, you read that last number correctly: Oil and gas companies collectively have the go-ahead to head out on America’s public and tribal lands and drill 9,630 wells if they so choose. Thing is, most companies have chosen not to use those permits yet, because oil and gas prices were below profitability levels for a long time. That’s changed in recent months, and now the active rig count is reflecting it. If prices continue to rise, expect drilling to continue to ramp up in coming months.
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