Bundy’s ‘People’s Rights’ network keeps expanding reach, drawing recruits into extremist web

We already know that the recent spate of far-right attacks on local government entities—particularly school boards, health districts, and various county commissions and city councils—involving threats and intimidation from aggravated right-wing activists, with accompanying violence, is being orchestrated by a handful of extremist groups operating primarily on social media, using such names as Parents Defending Education and No Left Turn in Education.

Among these groups, one in particular stands out for its ever-expanding reach and its worrisome spread around the nation: Ammon Bundy’s “People’s Rights” network.  A fresh report from the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR) details how the organization has grown by over 50% in the past year, expanding from 13 to 38 states. And its purpose—to serve as a nexus for recruitment and radicalization into far-right patriot-movement ideology—continues to operate largely under the radar.

The study, which springboards from IREHR’s original 2020 report on what it calls “Ammon’s Army,” presents data showing how the People’s Rights, originally built largely on Facebook, expanded its national membership from 21,851 to 33,431 in the past year, an increase of 53%. The dedicated activists on the list with key on-the-ground roles as “assistants” grew from 153 to 398, a 160% increase.

The report includes detailed interactive maps that enable readers to examine the network’s reach in their own home areas. It also demonstrates how People’s Rights has expanded its reach into Canada, and charts how the organization has expanded its leadership roles for key members.

According to the data, Bundy’s network is primarily expanding its reach in the West, the region with far and away the largest numbers of both members and “assistants” (some 24,000 of them in 2021). Indeed, some 72% of its members reside in the West; the region also has the highest per capita membership, with 12.82 times the members-per-10,000 count of the Northeast and 7.74 and 7.26 times that of the Midwest and South, respectively.

However, the organization also grew by 39.17% in the South.  

“The states with the ten largest memberships are Washington (6,908), Oregon (5,544), Idaho (3,133), Utah (2,348), California (1,721), Florida (1,721) Colorado (1,306), Texas (1,142), Montana (952) and Arizona (895),” the report states.

And while the main focus of the network has involved organizing resistance to COVID-19 health restrictions, that is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the range of right-wing politics it encompasses. The pandemic, as it is, has primarily served as a recruitment tool for drawing people into its large alternative universe of extremist beliefs and conspiracy theories.

“The People’s Rights network’s COVID denial activism is not just about masks, mandates, or misinformation,” Devin Burghart, IREHR’s executive director, explained to Daily Kos. “Rather, COVID denial is used by the People’s Rights network as an entry point to draw people onto a quickly moving radicalization conveyor belt. While COVID denial activism has been the largest source of new recruits, it is far from the only area that the People’s Rights network is involved. For instance, in the Klamath River Basin, the group used last summer’s drought to threaten an armed standoff over water. During Bundy’s tour through Utah earlier this spring, in addition to COVID denial, presentation themes included food supply and federal land use. Militant on-the-ground activism is the most prominent factor driving the growth in recruits.

“Once involved with the group,” he continued, “though they might have joined to protest pandemic restrictions, recruits are immediately inundated with the far-right ideology, including the ‘constitutionalism’ of figures like KrisAnne Hall and the middle American neighborhood nationalism of Ammon Bundy. At local meetings and online, recruits are exposed to a myriad of conspiracy theories beyond COVID denialism. Attacks on democracy and democratic institutions, political violence, and talk of a second Civil War have become disturbingly common topics inside the People’s Rights network.”

The group’s initial spread on Facebook was temporarily stunted by the platform’s decision to ban COVID denialism, though in fact “People’s Rights maintains a presence on Facebook through posts on members’ personal pages and People’s Rights activists and supporters’ participation in other COVID denial Facebook groups.” Undeterred, the network moved its recruitment and organization efforts to an internal text network, as well as such chat platforms as Telegram, Mewe, and Wimkin.

The Washington State chapter of People’s Rights operates a Telegram channel with 1,359 subscribers and an active chat group of 558 members. In Florida, People’s Rights activist Chris Nelson has 1,377 subscribers to his Telegram channel. Activists also communicate through the network’s website, as well as using Slack and more traditional forms of technology, including telephones, walkie-talkies, and Ham radios.

For his part, Bundy complained afterwards that the report actually undercounted the People’s Rights membership. He told the Associated Press that the network now had over 62,000 members.

“The IREHR report is drastically inaccurate. Not sure where they pulled their info from,” Bundy wrote in an email. “I’m glad they under reported so the FBI does not think we are too much of a threat to ‘democracy,’” Bundy wrote. “If we keep growing the way we are the FBI may get jealous and throw me in jail for no reason again.”

But in fact, IREHR’s researchers admitted as much when they published the study, noting that they took a conservative approach to counting membership. Its methodology information notes: “There are likely individuals in the People’s Rights network overall membership not assigned to a state or area, but that data was not available to IREHR researchers.”

“The data was collected a bit ago, and there are undoubtedly people that don’t have an assigned area,” Burghart told Daily Kos. “Unfortunately, those numbers aren’t available to anyone but Bundy. If he wants to make that info publicly available, we’d be more than happy to revise our figures. Until then, it’s the most accurate estimate of membership data available.”

Burghart also noted that Bundy—who is currently running for Idaho governor—may have admitted to campaign-law violations with his remarks to AP. “The quotes are an admission that Bundy is still running the organization while in the midst of a gubernatorial primary,” he observed. “The admission poses serious questions about the co-mingling of the campaign and the organization that the Idaho secretary of state might want to explore.”

“I think the report underestimates their overall strength, because they’ve also built out alliances with a range of groups, from the tea party to the Proud Boys and anti-vax groups,” Chuck Tanner, IREHR’s research director, told AP. “In certain places they are able to mobilize at levels that make an impact on policy.”

The central fact, as he explained, is that the organization is rapidly expanding its reach in an increasingly radicalized American right. “What People’s Rights does is spread really radical ideas about overturning civil rights in the United States,” Tanner said. “This is a broad-based, antidemocratic and bigoted social movement.”

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Facebook’s Oregon cable project alienated its neighbors and led to new regulations being passed

Last week, Insider published a lengthy article detailing the many missteps Facebook made in its Edge Cable project running under the Pacific Ocean from the Oregon coast. The project was meant to provide high-speed services to Japan and the Philippines and has come at a total cost of less than $500,000 to the company.

Facebook completed the project last month—nearly two years after its original completion date—yet issues persist, including a small sinkhole that was discovered Sept. 28. According to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), the sinkhole appeared on the beach “roughly in line with the conduit installed under the ocean shore.”

It was the OPRD that ultimately filled in the sinkhole and surrounded it with safety tape. The department said it’s working with Facebook contractor Edge Cable Holdings to create a response plan to address issues like these, though no further updates have been made available since Oct. 8. The Sept. 28 sinkhole discovery marks at least the second such sinkhole that appeared as a result of the project. The first was discovered on April 1 and filled in by Edge Cable. Sinkholes pale in comparison to the issue of 6,500 gallons of drilling fluid spilled last April, however.

Facebook’s drilling site disrupted an entire neighborhood in Tierra Del Mar.

Edge Cable crews smashed into rock while drilling down about 500 feet offshore, resulting in 1,110 feet of broken pipe as well as drilling machinery being abandoned nearly 50 feet under the seabed. Facebook only disclosed the mishap after a resident flagged the problem to the Oregon Department of State Lands (ODSL) nearly two months later. Facebook was ultimately forced to pay $250,000 to ODSL for breach of contract.

Even before Facebook began its ambitious project to lay down 8,500 feet of fiber optic cable, the company faced pushback from concerned Oregonians, including its neighbors in Tierra Del Mar. The small, coastal town played host to Edge Cable’s drilling site located in a residential neighborhood mere steps from the beach. Nonprofits like the Oregon Coast Alliance slammed Facebook’s many missteps. Tierra Del Mar resident Marie Cook, whose house is right next to the drilling site, called Facebook’s plan “unethical.”

“There are 365 miles of coastline in Oregon,” Cook said in an interview with Oregon alternative weekly Willamette Week. “And yet they come here and put this thing that has no benefit for our community right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”

Not everyone opposed Facebook’s plan. The Oregon Fishermen’s Cable Committee worked alongside the social media giant to help move the project forward and earned hundreds of thousands of dollars patrolling the area where Edge Cable was laying down fiber optic lines.

The politicians who OK’d the project also profited from Facebook. Willamette Week reported that as of last year, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has received $12,500 from Facebook and the company’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, since 2016. State Treasurer Tobias Read has received $38,900 from Facebook and Sandberg since 2008. Read was the one who suggested that the land board sign off on Facebook’s permit for its Edge Cable project in June 2019; Brown seconded that motion.

It was Brown who first tried to entice tech companies to “come ashore” in Oregon in the first place, according to a letter she sent to attendees of the 2018 Pacific Communications Conference. Since then, local leaders appear to have fallen in line with that welcoming messaging, noted Oregon Coast Alliance Executive Director Cameron La Follette.

“The Facebook cable made it clear that coastal communities are vulnerable to being targeted as the siting location of a cable, as Tierra del Mar was—if the local jurisdiction grants the land use permit, as Tillamook County did in this instance,” La Follette told Daily Kos. “Industrial activity in the midst of a residential area is extremely disruptive and damaging; it should never have been permitted, and should not be again.”

Lawmakers have yet to put the kibosh on projects like Facebook’s Edge Cable, but they have passed legislation tightening restrictions on such endeavors. HB 2603, which was signed into law in July, “requires owners or operators of undersea cables to obtain financial assurances for installation and removal of cable and create plan for removal of cable.”

La Follette praised the law, which she said will “require much more specific planning, as well as requirements for cable removal and funds for restoration and/or cleanup in the case of accidents.”

Facebook, for its part, has continued to invest in Oregon. The company’s Prineville data center, which opened its doors in 2009, is its largest in the U.S. and is in the process of being expanded. Facebook sweetened its latest expansion deal by creating a $60,000 grant for K-12 robotics classes in Crook County public schools, earning it praise from local officials. Extensive tax breaks have kept Facebook interested in Prineville. According to The Oregonian, Facebook saved nearly $130 million thanks to local tax breaks from 2012 to 2020.

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Republicans claimed votes from dead people weighed in 2020 results. It’s important to follow up

All of Team Trump’s screaming about voter fraud recently got a couple of excellent punchlines with Republicans getting caught attempting to commit voter fraud. First, Texas Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was forced to pay out $25,000 to a poll worker in Pennsylvania who caught a Republican man attempting to vote twice—the second time in the name of his Democratic son. Then, a Nevada man was charged with voting in the name of his dead wife after having made a big public fuss about how some evil person had fraudulently voted in the name of his dead wife.

There are more. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake runs down the results of investigations into 11 names claimed by Republicans as cases where the identities of dead people were allegedly used to vote. 

In addition to the Nevada case involving Donald Kirk Hartle voting in the name of his late wife, Rosemarie Hartle, Pennsylvania had a case of a Republican man, Francis Fiore Presto, voting in the name of his dead wife, Judy Presto. Also in Pennsylvania, Bruce Bartman registered and voted for Trump in the name of his dead mother, Elizabeth Bartman. In a final Pennsylvania case, a ballot was cast in the name of Judy Ondick just days after her death, with her family saying that, though a registered Democrat, she had intended to vote for Trump.

Multiple other cases where Republicans claimed dead people had voted turned out to be cases where Republicans failed to consider the possibility that more than one person can have the same name. In another case, the late James Blalock did not vote, but his widow, Mrs. James Blalock, did, in that name. The great boxer Joe Frazier simply did not cast a vote years after his death, as Rudy Giuliani claimed he did in willful disregard of facts. Three other cases touted by Republicans as proof of wrongdoing remain unresolved. Still, even if they all turn out to be cases where Democrats voted for President Biden in the names of their deceased family members, the score is at best tied. And none of it was ever anything approaching evidence of large-scale fraud of the type required to steal an election.

Republicans also tried to find that proof, with, for instance, their problematic audit of votes in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which increased Biden’s margin in the county while failing to uncover any wrongdoing. And their barrage of lawsuits that got thrown out of court after court. And their defamation of Dominion Voting Systems and one of its executives. They threw everything at the wall, and nothing stuck.

None of this will stop Republicans from repeating a politically useful lie about a stolen election, especially with Donald Trump out there trying to soothe his ego after his big loss. But the real outcomes of the supposed fraud cases touted by Republicans are a corrective to anyone tempted to think that average Republican voters upset about voter fraud are just innocently bought into Trump’s Big Lie. Some of them are, for sure. But we know that some of them are out there trying to build the case for the lie through their own acts of fraud.

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‘We are way off track’: New climate report shows sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions

A newly released U.N. climate change report revealed that not even pandemic lockdowns could combat rising greenhouse gas emissions. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, “the increase in CO2 from 2019 to 2020 was slightly lower than that observed from 2018 to 2019, but higher than the average annual growth rate over the last decade. This is despite the approximately 5.6% drop in fossil fuel CO2 emissions in 2020 due to restrictions related to the coronavirus disease pandemic.”

Additional findings showed concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide well above pre-industrial era levels. The WMO defines this period as occurring prior to 1750, when “human activity began to be a destabilizing factor.” The pre-industrial period is considered a yardstick for combatting climate change. For example, the 2015 Paris Agreement requires signees to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.”

That agreement was adopted six years ago at the U.N.’s annual climate conference by 195 parties and entered into effect Nov. 4, 2016. This year’s conference, dubbed COP26 and held in the U.K., is mere days away. The WMO is hoping the report it released Monday will reinforce the urgent need to recommit to the Paris Agreement and enact sweeping changes in an effort to reduce emissions.

“The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin contains a stark, scientific message for climate change negotiators at COP26,” WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas said in a press release. “At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We are way off track.”

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin showed fossil fuel combustion and cement production as being the two primary factors contributing to carbon dioxide emissions. All of these factors are human-caused, though a poll released Tuesday by Vice showed that nearly half the country doesn’t believe that outright fact. Nearly 70% of Americans surveyed believe that global warming is real, though respondents were divided on the root cause. More than a third believe that natural changes in the environment are primarily to blame.

There have indeed been changes, especially when it comes to carbon sinks and sources, but the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin found that land and ocean carbon sinks, which absorb more carbon than they emit, grew proportionally with rising emissions. Still, the WMO warned that changes in land use and climate conditions could deeply impact that balance and force readjustments of the Paris Agreement in order to meet its commitments.

One example of a changing carbon sink is the southeastern portion of Amazonia. For the first time, scientists were able to confirm that a portion of the Amazon rainforest had changed from a carbon sink to a source of carbon emissions. Much of this was due to deforestation and environmental factors like decreases in precipitation and rising temperatures during the rainforest’s dry season.

Much of the eastern Amazon has been impacted by those factors, while the western region has sat relatively untouched by humans and faces milder dry seasons. Climate change isn’t something that solely affects the many natural wonders of our planet. Nearly every facet of our lives could be impacted if we don’t invest in climate change mitigation, from agriculture to national security

The climate crisis is not an abstract idea. It’s not a political talking point. It is a real emergency impacting all of our communities, especially vulnerable communities of color, and almost every day we are reminded of that. It’s time we make bold investments to address it.

— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) October 26, 2021

As Rep. Barbara Lee noted on Tuesday, the only way to truly fight climate change is to invest in solutions. Lee met last week with President Biden about the Build Back Better Act, which provides investments into green initiatives that would put the U.S. on track to cut economy-wide carbon emissions in half. Ahead of COP26, the U.S. could send a bold global message by becoming a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Call on lawmakers to pass the Build Back Better Act.

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‘So many lies told’: Judicial inquiry begins seven years after Eric Garner killed selling cigarettes

Some seven years after Eric Garner was killed after being targeted by police and put in a chokehold, a judicial inquiry into his death started on Monday. It is the very least officials can do after blocking several measures to hold the officers who targeted Garner accountable. Judge Erika Edwards has called for 13 witnesses, including New York City police officers and sergeants to testify in proceedings aimed at offering a transparent look at the use of force used against Garner, ABC News reported. Edwards is also looking to focus on allegations Garner did not receive adequate medical care and how Garner’s arrest history and medical past were allegedly leaked from his autopsy report.

“It’s trailblazing if you ask me,” Edwards said at the start of the inquiry. “Nobody will be charged or found liable. It’s about transparency. It’s about creating a record. It’s about letting the public better understand what happened and what did not happen seven years ago.”

Garner, 43, was accused of selling loose cigarettes outside a store on Staten Island when then-New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo choked and killed him on July 17, 2014, according to Atlanta Black Star. A transcript CNN obtained in the months following Garner’s death revealed that in his final conversation with authorities, Garner said:

Get away [garbled] … for what? Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today. Why would you … ? Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me [garbled]. Selling cigarettes. I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. Please please, don’t touch me. Do not touch me.

Viral video of Garner’s arrest shows four cops taking him down to the ground and wrestling him, at which point he added: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”

The chilling plea was also George Floyd’s last words when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes, eventually murdering the Black father. But unlike what transpired in Chauvin’s case, a grand jury failed to indict Pantaleo or any other officer involved in Garner’s arrest.

Human rights activist Monifa Bandele, who petitioned for the judicial review, told the Black News Channel she’s hoping to learn “why Eric Garner was stopped” and which officers were investigated for their misconduct. “We see, now that we have access to the police records, that there were so many lies told,” Bandele said. “One big thing that many people don’t know is that the lieutenant Christopher Bannon who was on the scene instructed officers to arrest Eric Garner even after they all knew that he was dead.” 

Bannon was also accused of telling Sgt. Dhanan Saminath the incident was “not a big deal” after learning Garner was likely dead, The Guardian reported of text messages between Bannon and Saminath. Bandele also mentioned Officer Justin Damico, who after riding in the ambulance with Garner was accused of inflating charges sought against him. Damico said in paperwork the Associated Press obtained that Garner sold 10,000 untaxed cigarettes, a tax felony.

“So we really want to get to the bottom of this,” Bandele said. “We’re hoping that if we can have a public record of all of the misconduct then we can take the next step forward to get some real accountability in this case and to show how the city and Mayor (Bill) de Blasio and the commissioner helped to cover up the fact that there were more than one police officers that killed Eric Garner.”

A judicial inquiry into the death of #EricGarner began today. @MonifaBandele, one of the original judiciary inquiry petitioners, joins @yodittewolde on #MakingTheCase to discuss the questions looking to be answered. pic.twitter.com/awTfoSDMgP

— Black News Channel (@BNCNews) October 26, 2021

Pantaleo was not only spared from federal indictment, but he wasn’t fired until five years after the violent encounter, according to the former New York City police commissioner who announced the termination in 2019. When that happened, tens of thousands of dollars poured in to support Pantaleo and his family, according to a GoFundMe page created for the officer. It had racked up $178,703 as of publication of this piece.

Scott Hechinger, a Brooklyn public defender, tweeted last Thursday: “Of course no ones getting fired for abuse of power & assault on civilians. Suspended. Or otherwise reprimanded for misconduct. The NYPD fought for 5 years & then threatened a strike when Eric Garner’s killer was finally fired after a judge recommended it. This is why cops kill.”

Of course no ones getting fired for abuse of power & assault on civilians. Suspended. Or otherwise reprimanded for misconduct. The NYPD fought for 5 years & then threatened a strike when Eric Garner’s killer was finally fired after a judge recommended it. This is why cops kill. https://t.co/imvY35OXM8

— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) October 21, 2021

New York state Sen. Julia Salazar tweeted on Saturday that injustices in the case are ongoing. “It’s been 7 years, and many of the NYPD officers & officials who ignored Eric Garner’s cries of ‘I can’t breathe’, lied on police reports, leaked sealed records, refused to bring disciplinary charges, and attempted a cover-up are still on city payroll,” she said in the tweet.

She added in a thread on Twitter:

”In 2019, Gwen Carr (mother of Eric Garner), Eric’s sister and @changethenypd members filed legal action to demand a judicial inquiry into the city’s handling (or mishandling) of the killing of Eric Garner. This Monday, 10/25, that judicial inquiry will proceed in court.

“This is an historic moment. For the first time in over 100 years, a judicial inquiry is scheduled to move forward in New York City courts.The Carr v. de Blasio proceedings will be remote, but accessible to the public. As ever, I’m amazed by the courage of Eric Garner’s family.”

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RELATED: ‘I can’t breathe’: Public outrage about 2 Black men killed over cigarettes leads to changes in law

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