He was part of a 1,000-strong coalition of armed militiamen, cowboys on horseback, gun rights activists and others who rallied to Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch, about 80 miles (130 km) northeast of Las Vegas, in a standoff with about a dozen agents from the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Citing public safety, the BLM agents retreated, suspending its operation and even handing back cattle it had already seized.
“Do laws no longer apply when the radical right no longer agrees?” asked Ryan Lenz, a writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors militia group activity.
Energized by their success, Bundy’s supporters are already talking about where else they can exercise armed defiance. They include groups deeply suspicious of what they see as a bloated, overreaching government they fear wants to restrict their constitutional right to bear arms.
“Americans showed up with guns and said, ‘No, you’re not,’ “ before confronting the armed BLM agents, Jones said in an interview. “And they said, ‘Shoot us.’ And they did not. That’s epic. And it’s going to happen more.”
Mack, who proposed putting women on the front line of the standoff with the agents, said armed resistance was a justified response to a “totally unnecessary” show of force by the BLM.
“It was so obvious it looked like it was going to be another Waco or Ruby Ridge,” Mack said, referring to two bloody sieges in the 1990s involving federal agents and armed civilians that fueled the militia movement. “We weren’t going to let that happen again.”
A number of Bundy supporters wearing military fatigues and carrying rifles and pistols had traveled from California, Idaho, Arizona, Montana and beyond. Most kept their handguns in their holsters. Mack, who wore his gun on his hip, and other Bundy supporters interviewed said they would not shoot first but would retaliate if fired upon.
The showdown last weekend marked the latest resurgence of violent, anti-government sentiments that have existed in rural U.S. regions for centuries, said Catherine Stock, a history professor at Connecticut College who specializes on the subject.
“The question is whether we’re going to see sustained flame-up now. We could see more of that if they actually think that the federal government is going to stand down,” she said. “It’s not the groups, it’s not their concerns, it’s not their anger, all of that is old, but the federal government backing down? I was like, wow! Seriously?”
Stock said the rise of right-wing media outlets and websites and the election of Republican politicians who have shifted the party further to the right have given a new legitimacy to groups that were once dismissed as being on the fringe.