BUAZ, Idaho. A far-right group created by anti-government activist Ammon Bundy is rapidly expanding across the country and infiltrating Canada, according to a new report from the Institute for Human Rights Research and Education.
The rapid growth has occurred despite legal challenges faced by some prominent leaders in the human rights movement, and continued even after some of the organization’s Facebook groups were removed from the social media platform. According to the report, the organization has grown by about 53% over the past year, in large part due to lingering anti-public health sentiment.
Human Rights began in the dark red state of Idaho, which remains one of the least vaccinated states: only about 43% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group currently includes activists from 38 states, according to the report.
“I think the report underestimates their overall strength because they have also forged alliances with a range of groups, from The Tea Party to the Proud Boys and anti-vax groups,” said Chuck Tanner, director of research at IREHR. “In certain places, they can mobilize at levels that influence policy.”
Human rights began in 2020 amid a wave of backlash over public health measures taken at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Founded by Bundy, who is best known for leading a group of armed activists during the 2016 occupation of an Oregon wildlife sanctuary and now one of many candidates running for the governor’s race in Idaho, the group has frequently staged protests in public health, state Capitol buildings, schools and civil servants’ homes. The IREHR report analyzed data on internal membership of the People’s Rights network.
Bundy did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left by the Associated Press.
The country had just under 22,000 members last year, according to a report by IREHR and the Montana Human Rights Network. Now, according to a new IREHR report, it has grown by about 53% and has over 33,000 members, including nearly 400 official leaders in 38 states. It also has over 100 members in Canada – mostly in Ontario – although much of its political ideology focuses on marginal interpretations of the US Constitution and Christian nationalism, according to the report.
“Three or four months ago, we noticed that Canadian provinces began to appear on their websites. It’s small, but rather odd, ”Tanner said.
According to the report, human rights are still largely concentrated in the northwestern states, especially in Idaho, where Bundy lives, and about 17 out of every 10,000 people are members. Most of the growth has been attributed to COVID-19 activism, Tanner said.
“There has been rapid growth in places where initially there weren’t many members, but there has also been significant growth in areas that we know are really organized locally, such as southern Washington and central Oregon,” Tanner said. “They really created this COVID denial activism, and as a group play a huge role in the attack on public health measures to combat the pandemic.”
Prominent members of the organization faced serious problems with the law. In Idaho, Sean Anderson stepped down from his leadership role after being sentenced to 18 years in prison for participating in a police shootout last year.
Another prominent popular rights activist, Pam Hemphill, has faced several federal charges after prosecutors said she was involved in the January 6 uprising at the US Capitol. Hemphill pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Earlier this year, Bundy was convicted of trespassing and obstructing police officers after prosecutors said he refused to leave a locked room in an Idaho state building following protests that were attended by hundreds of people, including many from the movement for the rights of the people.
That didn’t slow the organization’s growth, Tanner said. According to Tanner, the organization promotes extreme political concepts, including secession of the state and the repeal of the 14th, 15th and 19th amendments. The People’s Rights website encourages members to be prepared to defend themselves and others from government officials.
“People’s rights are spreading really radical ideas about the abolition of civil rights in the United States,” Tanner said. “This is a broad, anti-democratic and fanatical social movement.”
But Joe Lounds, a political science professor at Oregon State University who studies conservatism and right-wing movements, said it was unclear if the organization’s growth would hold true in a post-pandemic world.
“People’s Rights were early adopters of the anti-mask and anti-vaccine movements, and they were able to use this to advance this vague, covert, anti-government message,” Lounds said. “But it’s hard to say how this can be sustained in the long run. I don’t understand that besides the pandemic problem, there is still a lot of stamina, unless it’s something general, apocalyptic-fictional. ”
In places like Idaho, where some extreme right-wing political factions already had strongholds, it is difficult to say whether People’s Rights led the anti-pandemic movement or simply supported the ultra-right, ”said Jacqueline Kettler of Boise State University. political scientist.
“It’s a little tricky now to track the impact they have had on others with similar ideologies,” Kettler said. “It will be interesting to see what happens here in the long term. For example, many tea drinking organizations are not active as in 2010, but we can still see their impact. ”