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Violent Acts Have Occurred In Western U.S.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Violent acts like the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol have been incubating in the Western U.S. for years. Self-identified patriots have stormed government buildings, vandalized property and threatened federal workers, often with few, if any, legal consequences. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

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KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: As the violent mob broke into the U.S. Capitol and livestreams showed Trump insurrectionists vandalizing property and posing in the House speaker's chair, here in the West, the shock quickly faded to familiarity.

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AMMON BUNDY: And we will go out of this state and out of this county as free men.

SIEGLER: That's the anti-government militant Ammon Bundy. Five years ago this month, he led an armed siege of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon in an attempt to take over U.S. public land. Bundy was later acquitted. And just the other day, he posted this video urging his followers to go to Washington January 6.

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BUNDY: And God bless you. Drive safe. Fly safe. Travel safe. Don't wear a mask. And stand for freedom.

SIEGLER: The freed Bundy has been a fixture in the pandemic, leading protests portraying public health mask restrictions as tyranny. In August, he violently forced his way into the Idaho Capitol, disrupting legislative hearings. And his people's rights followers target the homes of local elected officials, like during this recent public health board meeting.

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DIANA LACHIONDO: My 12-year-old son is home by himself right now, and there are protesters banging outside the door.

SIEGLER: A panicked board member, Diana Lachiondo, had to race home.

LACHIONDO: You know, Ammon Bundy was at my house just earlier in December.

SIEGLER: Bundy didn't go to Washington, but Lachiondo says she's traced several of his same followers from outside her house as being part of the U.S. Capitol mob. She sees it as a misguided notion of freedom with regard for no one else.

LACHIONDO: Now we see that nationally, people have adopted this sort of ethos, whether they are aligning with the Proud Boys or the Three Percent (ph).

SIEGLER: Many more Westerners are connecting the dots.

ERIC WARD: There are years of warning signs.

SIEGLER: Eric Ward runs the Western States Center in Oregon, which tracks far-right extremism in the region.

WARD: What we're seeing now is the anticipated outcome of allowing these groups to practice their insurrection on the streets and the rural roads of the Pacific Northwest and Western region.

SIEGLER: And Ward says the Trump loyalists are emboldened after watching these recent Western uprisings where most of the scofflaws are now free. President Trump pardoned the Oregon ranchers who were jailed on arson charges and whose fight with the feds inspired the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Trump also just pardoned a Utah legislator convicted on federal charges for leading an off-road vehicle ride through sensitive public land. And then there's Cliven Bundy and his armed standoff in 2014 against federal agents. He walked out of a Nevada courtroom a free man in 2018 after the government's case against him collapsed.

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CLIVEN BUNDY: We're not done with this.

SIEGLER: Bundy continues to graze his cattle on federal land without paying or following any federal environmental laws. After the Capitol insurrection, the rancher took to Facebook, heaping praise on President Trump, who Bundy said pointed his loyalists toward Congress, nodded his head and told them to go get the job done. Again, Eric Ward.

WARD: It is a movement that feels that it has received permission to act out its fantasies of political violence.

SIEGLER: And that movement enjoys support from some elected Republican leaders in this region. After returning from D.C. last week, Otero County, N.M., Commissioner Couy Griffin posted this video that's since been taken down from Facebook.

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COUY GRIFFIN: Could have a Second Amendment rally on those same steps that we had that rally yesterday, you know? And if we do, it's going to be a sad day because there's going to be blood running out of that building.

SIEGLER: But these aren't just the sagebrush rebels and cowboy hats, as they're so often cast. The Western uprisings drew people from cities around the nation, from Alex Jones and his conspiracy theorists to anti-Islamic campaigners to white nationalists. Diana Lachiondo who lost her seat on the Ada County Commission in Idaho last fall.

LACHIONDO: So I don't have a lot of patience for the people who all of a sudden, it was a step too far to see some people take over the Capitol when there are politicians who have been coddling those sentiments for years.

SIEGLER: Westerners like Lachiondo drew another parallel as they watched the Capitol insurrectionists post their illegal entry and vandalizing right to their own social media feeds. The Bundys and their followers largely did the same, all but prosecuting themselves before their trials, only to be mostly free men today.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Boise.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIR'S "SPACE MAKER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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