The End of Bundy Clan Rules

Ammon Bundy sits at a desk he's using at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. Bundy is the leader of an armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge to protest federal land pol... Ammon Bundy sits at a desk he's using at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. Bundy is the leader of an armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge to protest federal land policies. The leader of an armed group occupying the refuge met briefly with a federal agent Friday, but left because the agent wouldn't talk with him in front of the media. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler) MORE LESS
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Despite intense security, the Trump militia turnout at Trump’s New York arraignment was fairly low energy. I suspect it will be the same in Florida today, too, though I hope and assume federal law enforcement is planning for the worst. To be clear, when I say low energy, I simply mean legitimate. There might be a big crowd of supporters saying nasty things. That’s their right. But I don’t think there will be violence.

One thing we need to remember is that Jan. 6 was, in a key way, a perfect storm. There was a specific operational thing the mob and the people who’d organized it were trying to do: stop the certification. Stopping the certification would give time for the fake electors scheme to work. If you stormed the courthouse and disrupted Trump’s arraignment, who cares? They’d just do it the next day somewhere else.

Juliette Kayyem made the point on Twitter that the big national right-wing paramilitary-type groups have been significantly disrupted by the Jan. 6 investigations. The temperature is possibly higher now. But the organization is lower. Lone wolves are the big danger now.

But there’s another factor worth discussing. Last night I was reading an email from TPM Reader JS (not the one from a couple days ago). He asked: “Could it be that perhaps the reason that only a few people showed up to protest the Manhattan indictment and this latest one seems to be producing a lot of Tweets and little action is because … the justice system prosecuted the perpetrators of January 6th, causing a deterrent effect?”

That’s a pretty good bet. At the time people were pretty outraged that the insurrectionists were allowed to leave the scene more or less unimpeded on the afternoon of Jan. 6. That was an understandable response from outside observers but largely a bad rap. The issue on Jan. 6 was that police were outnumbered or at least lacked the kind of overwhelming numbers required for that kind of operation. The priority was reestablishing control over the compound with as little use of force as possible. They could mop up the offenders later. And they did. Whatever else you can say, federal law enforcement has sent a pretty clear message that this kind of white nationalist militia cosplay can lead to doing some serious prison time.

And this got me thinking about the Bundy Clan.

Remember them? Patriach Cliven Bundy and large adult son Ammon. (COVID is Ammon’s latest racket, menacing hospitals and doctors in Idaho.) The militia-leading, federal subsidy-loving ranchers led a series of standoffs with federal authorities in which they were universally, comically handled with kid gloves. The Bundys first went national when they had their standoff at the family ranch in Nevada in 2014. Then in 2016 Ammon Bundy lead the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Harney County, Oregon. It went on for more than a month while Ammon and his clown posse wrecked the place, spouted off and generally engaged in your standard far-right militia performance art.

These are complicated situations. All law enforcement authorities should place a very high priority on ending crises without violence or the loss of life. But the upshot of the Bundy standoffs was to send a message that far-right extremists could defy federal law and law enforcement with impunity and essentially make a mockery of federal authority. I have little doubt that a significant backdrop to the events of Jan. 6 was the assumption that a similar set of rules would apply: that militia cosplay, LARPing and right-wing performance art generally get a pass. The fact that it didn’t on Jan. 6 is likely having an impact today.

That’s no protection against lone wolves. We’ve seen again and again in recent years that there is an almost endless supply of far-right domestic terrorists willing to commit acts of violence on behalf of Donald Trump or adjacent to his views. But most at least now realize that all the fun and games can lead to serious time in prison. And as the complaints about conditions in the D.C. jails make clear, they don’t have much taste for it.

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