Boise, Idaho (Associated Press) – A far-right group launched by anti-government activist Amon Bundy is rapidly expanding across the country and making its way to Canada, according to a new report from the Institute for Human Rights Research and Education.
The rapid growth occurred despite legal issues faced by some prominent people’s rights leaders, and continued even as some of the organization’s Facebook groups were removed from the social media platform. The organization has grown by about 53% in the past year, due in large part to persistent anti-public health sentiment, according to the report.
People’s rights kicked off in deep red Idaho, which remains one of the least vaccinated states with only about 43% of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group now includes activists in 38 states, according to the report.
“I think the report underestimates their public power, because they’ve also forged alliances with a range of groups from the Tea Party to the Proud Boys and anti-vaccination groups,” said Chuck Tanner, director of research at IREHR. “In certain places they are able to mobilize at levels that affect policy.”
People’s rights kicked off in 2020 amid a wave of backlash against public health measures taken at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Started by Bundy — who famously led a group of armed activists occupying an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016, and is now one of several candidates in the Idaho governor’s race — the group has often organized protests in the state’s public health districts. Capitol buildings, schools, and homes for public officials. The Institute for Human Rights and Human Rights’ report analyzed internal membership data from the People’s Rights Network.
Bundy did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left by The Associated Press.
Last year, the organization had just under 22,000 members nationally, according to a report by the Institute for Human Rights and Human Rights and the Montana Human Rights Network. Now it’s grown by nearly 53%, according to a new IREHR report, With over 33,000 members including nearly 400 official leaders in 38 states. It also has more than 100 members in Canada – largely in Ontario – although most of its political ideology centers on marginal interpretations of the US Constitution and Christian nationalism, according to the report.
“We noticed three or four months ago that they started listing Canadian provinces on their website. It’s not big, but it’s kind of weird,” Tanner said.
People’s rights are still mostly concentrated in the northwestern states, particularly Idaho, where Bundy and about 17 out of every 10,000 members live, according to the report. Most of the growth has been around activity related to COVID-19, Tanner said.
“There has been rapid growth in places that didn’t have many members to begin with, but there has also been significant growth in areas that we know are really organized on Earth, like southern Washington and central Oregon,” Tanner said. “They’ve really built up the activity of COVID denial, and as a group they are playing a huge role in attacking public health measures to respond to the pandemic.”
Prominent members of the organization faced serious legal problems. In Idaho, Sean Anderson relinquished a leading role after being sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in a police shootout last year.
Another prominent people’s rights activist, Pam Hemphill, faces several federal charges after prosecutors said she participated in the January 6 rebellion at the US Capitol. Hemphill pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Earlier this year, Bundy was convicted of trespassing and obstruction of officers after prosecutors said he refused to leave a locked room at the Idaho State Palace after protests attended by hundreds, including many people’s rights members.
That doesn’t seem to slow the organization’s growth, Tanner said. Tanner said the organization has promoted extreme political concepts including secession of the state and repealing Amendments 14, 15 and 19. The People’s Rights website calls on members to prepare to defend themselves and others against government officials.
“What people’s rights are doing is spreading really radical ideas about bringing down civil rights in the United States,” Tanner said. “This is a broad-based, anti-democratic and intolerant social movement.”
But Joe Lowndes, a University of Oregon political science professor who researches conservative and right-wing movements, said it was not clear whether the organization’s growth would survive in the post-pandemic world.
“People’s Rights were kind of early adopters of the anti-mask and anti-vaccination movements, and they’ve been able to build from that to push this vague, conspiratorial anti-government notion,” Lowndes said. But it is difficult to say how this can sustain itself in the long term. I can’t see that there’s a lot of power left behind the pandemic cause, unless it’s some kind of horrific public thing. “
Jacqueline Kettler, of Boise State University, said that in places like Idaho, where some far-right political factions already had a stronghold, it’s hard to tell whether people’s rights are driving the anti-epidemic movement or if they go hand in hand with the far-right. political scientist.
“It’s a little more difficult right now to track the influences they’ve had compared to others who have similar kinds of ideologies,” Kettler said. “It will be interesting to see what happens in the long term here. For example, a lot of tea party organizations are not as active as they were in 2010, but we can still see their impact.”