Air Date: Week of April 28, 1995
Anti-environment violence expert Daniel Barry speaks with host Steve Curwood about the ties between the Wise Use movement and anti-government militia groups.
CURWOOD: Back in the late 1800s, the Federal Government actively promoted the settlement of the American West by helping people with land giveaways and cheap access to grazing timber and minerals on public lands. But today, many westerners see Uncle Sam as anything but helpful. Much of the west is still owned by the public, and this land is under the care of a host of Federal agencies. And as they have imposed more and more restrictions to protect environmental quality, and have asked for higher fees for resource extraction, many local residents have felt less and less happy. Some have joined the anti-environmentalist Wise Use Movement, and the related County Movement. And, according to Daniel Berry, head of the Clearinghouse for Environmental Advocacy and Research in Washington, DC, both of these movements have some overlap with the anti-government Militia Movement.
BERRY: The County Movement is a part of the Wise Use Movement, the anti-environmental, anti-regulatory Wise Use Movement. The primary concern of the County Movement is to challenge the authority of the Federal Government. Part of that ideology is based is interpretations of the Constitution that they claim say that the main power of government rests at the county level.
CURWOOD: What are the specific grievances that the County Movement has against the Federal Government? I mean, why replace the Federal Government with the counties?
BERRY: Their main grievance is that Federal land use regulations, particularly those that regulate extractive industries such as grazing and mining and timber operations, that Federal Regulations inhibit the custom and culture of the - of the county residents, and keep them from making an honest living. Their grievance is based in language in one of the original environmental pieces of legislation, the National Environmental Policy Act, saying that any Federal and state land use regulations need to comply with the custom and culture of the county. One of the main organizations pushing county ordinances around the country is the National Federal Lands Conference, the NFLC. They're based in bountiful Utah. Their main political mission is to push ordinances that challenge the authority of the Federal Government to rule at the county level.
CURWOOD: This ideology sounds much like that of the Militia Movement.
BERRY: Well, the County Movement does indeed share a lot of ideology with the Militia. In fact, there seems to be growing evidence that there are concrete connections between the Militia and the National Federal Lands Conference, in fact. October 1994, they published their newsletter with the title story entitled, "Why there is a need for the militia in America." At the end they gave credit to a couple of organizations that had supplied information for the article, including the Militia of Montana.
CURWOOD: So you're saying that the County Movement, which is part of the Wise Use Movement, is publishing material about the Militia Movement.
BERRY: Yes; indeed, that's the case.
CURWOOD: Are there people that are in both movements?
BERRY: Well, one of the primary links that we've discovered is, revolves around the Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver, who is pushing County Supremacy, and has appeared in the Jubilation, which is a publication of Christian identity, part of the Militia Movement, broadly speaking. So on at least that one occasion, that individual has shown up in 2 places. There is also evidence that Mr. Carver's speaking tour these days intersects to a large degree with Militia organizing as well. Some of this information is speculative that we're currently working on nailing down some of those connections.
CURWOOD: Why should we be concerned about this? I mean, these people have a constitutional right to meet, to discuss, to raise their concerns. They don't think the Federal Government is doing things right.
BERRY: In my work, what I see is, are comments and press reports where people connected with the Militia are using threats of violence to intimidate people, to prevent them from exercising their right to free speech and their right to assembly. There are several specific incidents where local officials and local activists have been threatened with the posse coming in to get them. And prominent Militia organizers have been quoted as saying, "Go look your legislator in the face because at one point you may have to blow it off." That's serious talk.
CURWOOD: Is there any evidence whatsoever that these groups, the County Movement, the Wise Use Movement, have engaged in any acts of violence against Federal officials or facilities?
BERRY: At this point, no, there's no direct evidence that we're aware of. A lot of the incidents that are being investigated now, I think we just need to be patient and see what kind of evidence comes out of those. But at this point we don't have any evidence that there are direct links to acts of violence against Federal facilities or Federal employees.
CURWOOD: Tell me, what are your deepest worries here?
BERRY: My main concern is that while people have a right to express their political views, and I hope people will, at what point does violent rhetoric become violence? One can argue that it's harmless for folks to level threats or to be aggressive in a public meeting, and to express their First Amendment rights in that respect. But in fact, we are seeing actual threats being leveled and we're seeing people's property being threatened and actually damaged. And at one point does it turn into bodily harm?
CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Daniel Berry is director of the Clearing House for Environmental Advocacy and Research in Washington. Thank you, sir.
BERRY: Thank you; it's a pleasure.
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