Key Organizing Themes in the Movement

Property, Guns, Government, and Nativism

The Patriot movement draws on images of the American Revolution and the related early period of the United States to root its credibility and power. One of its main claims is that its members are “defending the Constitution.” But this is actually a duplicitous phrase; the “Constitution” they invoke is the movement’s profoundly unusual interpretation of the document—one that is often in direct opposition to how Constitutional law has developed over the last two centuries. The movement uses their dubious appeals to the Constitution to attack federal and state laws regarding land ownership, regulatory authority, redistribution of wealth, programs for social equality, and gun restrictions. It should be noted that it is a broad movement with no real center, and differing factions may hold different views on any one topic.

Property: Opposing Federal Land Ownership and Environmentalism

Land use issues are the Patriot movement’s most popular organizing issue in the West. As part of their effort to oppose the powers of the federal government, they seek to either water down or abolish environmental and other restrictions on land use, as well as to transfer federally held lands to state, county, or private control, as a scheme to circumvent use restrictions.

Even in the 1970s, Posse Comitatus was involved in conflicts over land use. More recently, the Patriot movement has taken up arms over land use issues.(1)For more information, see “Land Use & the ‘Patriots’,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 20, 2014, The standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada in 2014 led to a series of other armed confrontations. This included the Sugar Pine Mine in Josephine County, Oregon, in spring 2015; White Hope Mine near Lincoln, Montana in August 2015; and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January and February 2016. In Oregon, movement members also become involved in controversies over mining claims and the removal of a dam on private property.

It is a common belief in the Patriot movement that the federal government has no legal right to own most public land. The recent occupations are only the latest of decades of movements trying to wrestle public lands away from federal control—especially as environmental groups were able to gain more influence over how they are managed. The first uprising, known as the Sagebrush Rebellion, emerged after the federal government decided in 1976 that it would not redistribute its remaining landholdings in the lower 48 states; this land makes up a total of 46.9 percent of 11 western states.(2)The states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. See Carol Hardy Vincent, Laura A. Hanson, and Jerome P. Bjelopera, “Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data,” Federation of American Scientists, December 29, 2014, 20, Land was redistributed in Alaska until 1986; see Mary Apple, “BLM Commemorates Homestead Act,” Bureau of Land Management, Winter 2011,

The Patriot movement’s opposition to environmentalism and land use restrictions goes hand-in-hand with the movement’s widespread denial  that human actions contribute to climate change.(3)Josephine County Oath Keepers leader Joseph Rice and Baker County Commissioner Bill Harvey both said they do not believe in human-caused climate change. Rice, telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016; Harvey, email to author, August 11, 2016. The Oath Keepers run articles defending climate change denialists and attacking climate change science. See, for example, Larry Diffey, “The Government KNOWS That Global Cooling Will Kill Millions But Still Refuses To Admit It Exists,” Oath Keepers, February 4, 2014,; Larry Diffey, “Anti-Science: Those Who Wish To Debate Climate Threatened With Death Or Jail,” Oath Keepers, March 24, 2014, This helps Patriot movement activists support increased destruction of the environment without feeling conflict over preserving the climate.

The most mainstream approach that challenges federal land holdings is championed by the American Lands Council and Federalism in Action, Patriot movement allies which are tied to the Republican Party and have received funding from the billionaire Koch brothers, whose family made its fortune in the fossil fuel industry. Both groups seek to transfer federal lands to state governments via traditional political avenues.(4)Eric Ethington, “Militias and Public Lands: A Utah Story,” Salt Lake City Weekly, January 13, 2016,; “Free the Lands,” Federalism in Action, The 2016 national Republican Party platform calls for Congress to “immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states,” as well as to increase exploitation of natural resources on the lands currently held.(5)“Republican Platform 2016,” Republican National Committee, 21,

A more radical position regarding federal ownership, championed by many in the Patriot movement, is transfer to county control. Ammon Bundy, for example, stated he wanted the Malheur Refuge “turned over as public land to the county with private rights.”(6)“Thursday – 1/14/16 – Update (1) from Malheur Wildlife Refuge In Burns, OR – #OregonFront,” YouTube video, 3:51:13, posted by “Pete Santilli Show,” January 14, 2016,; see around 41:50. Joseph Rice of the Oath Keepers of Josephine County said he favored a mix of state and county control; telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016. This idea was popular in the 1990s in the “county supremacy” movement. Many counties claimed that under the Tenth Amendment, they had authority over public lands, and by 1996, 70 counties, mostly in the West, had passed laws attempting to gain control.(7)Stern, A Force Upon the Plain, 125.

Although many advocates of transfer to both state and county control are sincere, others see it as a step towards privatization. Either the lower-level governments will be more sympathetic to selling lands off, or they will be unable to shoulder the costs of maintaining them and will be forced to sell them. For example, Idaho has sold 41 percent of its state lands.(8)“Idaho lands—and recreation access—lost to the HIGHEST BIDDER,” Wilderness Society, May 2016, lands – TWS Report %28May 2016%29.pdf.

The American Stewards of Liberty, and the group’s former President, Fred Kelly Grant, do not directly not seek to transfer federal lands; instead they promote the use of “coordination” clauses, asserting the legally novel idea that the federal government must comes to agreements with local governments—instead of merely consulting with them—in managing federal resources.(9)“About,” American Stewards of Liberty,; “About Fred Kelly Grant,” Stand & Fight Club, This way road maintenance, law enforcement, and fire suppression will continue be to subsidized by the federal government. Both transfer to county control and coordination fit in with other Patriot movement visions of empowering county-level officials, especially the notion that the county sheriff can interpret the U.S. Constitution.

Some opponents of government ownership have advocated full privatization of public lands—although this is not heard so loudly in recent years.(10)For example, by the CATO Institute. See Terry L. Anderson, Vernon L. Smith, and Emily Simmons, “How and Why to Privatize Federal Lands,” Policy Analysis, November 9, 1999, More recently, CATO has called the lands not to be transferred, but for fiduciary trusts to manage the lands. See Randal O’Toole, “A Matter of Trust: Why Congress Should Turn Federal Lands into Fiduciary Trusts,” CATO Institute, January 15, 2009, Others appear to want federal ownership (and the subsidies that go with it) to remain, while individuals or groups can make claims and exploit the natural resources with fewer or no restrictions. This faction includes those who do not necessarily seek to transfer ownership out of federal hands, but argue that the 1872 Mining Act means that mining claims can be treated basically as private property, for example in regards to building cabins or other structures on them.

In addition to their general opposition to environmental regulations, many Patriot movement activists deny that humans have created climate change. They also frequently trot out a conspiracy theory regarding Agenda 21. This non-binding United Nations resolution, signed by George H.W. Bush in 1992, encourages new development to take environmental sustainability into consideration. Conspiracy theorists claim that the federal government, acting under United Nations control, seeks to use the rubric of environmentalism to seize land from rural people so it can control  the country and institute a socialist dictatorship. (Some claimed the Hammonds were victims of the Agenda 21 conspiracy.) Rightists use it as an argument for opposing environmental and public land-use initiatives as simple as building local parks.(11)Greg Harman, “Agenda 21: a conspiracy theory puts sustainability in the crosshairs,” Guardian, June 24, 2015,; Ed Kemmick, “Dividing Lines: ‘Patriots,’ ‘Oath Keepers’ rattle Big Timber,” Billings Gazette, May 16, 2010,


Gun ownership was a binding, central issue for the militia movement of the 1990s. This remains true for today’s Patriot movement. A common belief in the movement is that there is a plot to disarm the civilian population, which is the first step in allowing a foreign invasion of the United States.
Opposition to gun restrictions are the central issue for the CSPOA and the Three Percenters. The latter, for example, pledge to resist attempts to end private gun ownership, implying this will be the signal for an armed uprising against the federal government. The CSPOA, meanwhile, has promoted the notion of the “constitutional sheriff”: county sheriffs who refuse to enforce laws they don’t believe are constitutional. While this may range from sheriff-to-sheriff in how broad they interpret this power, the assumption is that their reading of the Constitution is consistent with Patriot movement political views. The Second Amendment, in particular, is to be interpreted in an extremely permissive way.

In 2013, the CSPOA started a campaign asking county sheriffs to send letters to Vice President Biden, saying they will not enforce new gun restrictions. This stance has only discouraged the sorely needed public discussion about how the United States will deal with the mass shootings phenomena.
For example, the Umpqua Community College mass shooting in October 2015 occurred in Roseburg, Oregon, where the county sheriff had written a CSPOA-inspired letter, opposing new gun restrictions; he had previously publicly criticized gun regulation as a response to mass shootings, and even made a social media post claiming the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown was a hoax. Patriot movement activists helped organize a well-publicized protest when President Obama visited Roseburg afterward. These sheriffs who refuse to enact new gun control laws, and CSPOA generally, seek to take options off the table regarding gun restrictions, and by doing so hurt our ability to have a frank national conversation on how to prevent these massacres.

President of the Oregon III% admits Patriot movement involved in the rally in Roseburg opposing President Obama’s visit after the UCC school massacre. Three Percenters are advised to attend but not wear identifying organizational symbols.
President of the Oregon III% admits Patriot movement involved in the rally in Roseburg opposing President Obama’s visit after the UCC school massacre. Three Percenters are advised to attend but not wear identifying organizational symbols.
Oath Keeper Joseph Rice admits that Pacific Patriots Network helped organized Roseburg anti-Obama rally in 2015.

Oath Keeper Joseph Rice admits that Pacific Patriots Network helped organized Roseburg anti-Obama rally in 2015.


The Patriot movement advocates a form of radical right-wing decentralization, rooted in libertarian economics. The movement does not just intervene on land use and gun issues; it wishes to diminish or dismantle the parts of the federal government which redistribute wealth and act to correct for inequalities between social groups—such as differences because of race and gender.

In order to accomplish these goals, there are several—sometimes overlapping and sometimes contradictory—strategies to promote local control. These include nullification (the idea that lower governments do not need to obey state or federal governments); and promoting political power on the county level, in particular, with strategies like coordination and the supremacy of the county sheriff. The movement also promotes jury nullification, the longstanding idea in common law that juries do not need to follow a judge’s instructions in finding a defendant guilty. For many the vision is this: the federal government will still exist, but its power will be limited to foreign affairs, passing laws which counties will have the option to follow or not, and limited in property to owning military installations and Washington, D.C.

It should be noted that these are a grab bag of sometimes conflicting ideas. For example, if a county passes coordination, who has authority: the county government or the sheriff? What happens if multiple bodies in a county—for example, the county commission, sheriff, and mining districts—all proclaim coordination?

There appears to be a range of views on these matters, with some factions rejecting virtually any government authority, no matter how local. It is said that in some remote Oregon communities that are rife with Sovereign Citizens, even the authority of a constitutional sheriff isn’t acknowledged. CSPOA’s Richard Mack, who focuses on recruiting county sheriffs, is opposed to the self-proclaimed judges and Sovereign Citizen-style “continental marshals.”(12)Regarding the fake judges, Mack says “we’re totally against that,” and says the National Liberty Alliance “has been nothing but a pain in the butt to us; they’re run by dishonest people and it’s a dishonest premise, and it’s absolutely nothing that the CSPOA will have anything to do with.” Richard Mack, telephone interview with author, August 20, 2016. In Harney County, the Malheur occupiers refused to follow the orders of the county sheriff, whose authority they claimed they respected. Movement members adhere to a circular reasoning to justify this: If a sheriff disagrees with them, they must not be following their oath to the Constitution.

Movement activists also pressure standing governments to embrace two antifederal, hyperlocal visions of government: nullification and coordination.
Nullification is the idea that lower-level governments have the power to legally set aside or ignore federal laws; this idea was forwarded by advocates of slavery in the 1820s.(13)“Nullification crisis,” Encyclopedia Britannica, In the 1970s, Posse Comitatus’s claim that county sheriffs could ignore Supreme Court rulings, laws passed by Congress, executive orders, and federal arrest warrants were forms of nullification. Kim Davis’s more recent refusal to register same-sex marriages in Kentucky was, in practice, an act of nullification.

The Hard Right version of “coordination” holds that lower-level governments, such as county commissions, can declare themselves legal equals to the federal government in terms of land-use decisions, forcing it to “coordinate” with them. (See “Coordination: How the Patriot Movement Reimagines Governmental Ties” box.) While “coordination” appears as a concept in a number of federal acts, it promotes consultation and does not allow lower government to have veto over federal agencies, or direct them to comply with local governments. In least six Oregon counties a Hard Right interpretation of coordination, or a version influenced by it, has been invoked, by county commissions, sheriffs, and even a mining district. However, if there is vigorous enough resistance from below, and a lack of resources or political will to enforce the law from above, sometimes local governments can get away with these tactics—or at least force compromises from the federal government. Sometimes it can be used in conjunction with other tactics in a “good cop, bad cop” scenario to pressure the federal government: for example, a county government might press for the Hard Right version of coordination; if ignored, the sheriff might (as happened in two recent instances) threaten to arrest federal agents who are performing their jobs, or imply that a Malheur Refuge-style armed takeover is in the wings.(14)For a takeover threat in Oregon, see “Sheriff warns Eastern Oregon monument proposal could spark standoff,” Mail Tribune (Medford, OR), May 23, 2016, For a threat to arrest federal workers in Utah, see Kirk Siegler, “Utah Sheriffs Threaten To Arrest Rangers If They Try To Close Public Lands,” NPR, May 31, 2016,

As part of their “inside” strategy, both the Oath Keepers and CSPOA recruit active law enforcement personnel who swear not to enact laws claimed to be “unconstitutional,” which means they are being recruited to practice nullification. For CSPOA, nullifying gun laws is their most popular issue—just as the Three Percenters’ central claim is to resist new gun laws.

The recruitment of law enforcement officers is especially worrisome since the Patriot movement engages in armed politics and threats. This was one concern with Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer, a CSPOA member who met with the Malheur occupiers on two occasions. Will constitutional sheriffs like Palmer enforce the law against their political brethren, or will they see their threats against community members as “constitutional”? CSPOA leader Mack says his group will be “the army to set our nation free.” While they claim they are merely trying to block federal overreach, it looks more and more like they are building a force inside the U.S. government to encourage officials to engage in seditious political actions.

There is also a tactical reason for the movement’s fixation on the sheriffs. An Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter pointed out that, “even if state regulators were to revoke Palmer’s law enforcement certification, it would not necessarily lead to him being removed from office. If he were to perform law enforcement duties without certification he would be breaking the law, but only a vote by Grant County citizens could force him from his job.”(15)Amanda Peacher, “DOJ Launches Investigation Into Grant County Sheriff,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, March 17, 2016, This insularity seems to be one of the reasons the Patriot movement gravitates towards county sheriffs as a vehicle for their antidemocratic politics.

Nativism: Islamophobia, Anti-Immigrant, and Anti-Refugee Activism

Today’s Patriot movement does not organize by making appeals to White racial purity, which is the ideological hallmark of the organized racist movement. While individual Patriot movement members have associations with organized racist groups, they are fairly small in number and not usually in leadership positions. But the Patriot movement does directly engage in issues whose outcome is, by necessity, to support maintaining white racial demographics at current levels and to oppose a redistribution of social and economic power in society across racial lines.

Anti-immigrant organizing has a special centrality to the Patriot movement, linking it to the mainstream Republican Party as it has shifted right on these issues. As mentioned, the Oath Keepers sent members to Murrieta, California, in 2014 to help block buses carrying immigrants being taken to a detention center. The Patriot movement is linked with vigilante border patrols as well.

One article on the national Oath Keepers website says that “many” “Third World immigrants and refugees” have “later proven to harbor terrorist intentions,” and therefore allowing them entry “is a form of assisted national suicide.” Immigration is fueled by “various subversive agencies and foundations striving to ‘consume the host’ with ‘seedlings’” [i.e., the United States and immigrants, respectively]. The article claims that these organizations are in turn controlled by liberal financier George Soros. In another, leader Stewart Rhodes declares that Mexican drug cartels are taking over towns on the U.S. border, while ISIS members “freely” cross into the country.(16)David Codrea, “Red-Green Axis Spells Out Danger Threatening to Destroy the Republic,” Oath Keepers, August 24, 2015,; “Note from Stewart Rhodes,” in Larry Diffey, “Obama Must be Impeached And Removed To Stop His ‘Amnesty’ Of Illegals,” Oath Keepers, November 20, 2014,

Islamophobia has largely replaced the open and coded antisemitism that was common in the 1990s militia movement,(17)While antisemitism is certainly more muted—many in the post-2008 Patriot movement have taken a pro-Israel position—it can still be found, usually in coded forms. Two Malheur occupiers, Brand Thornton and David Fry, were reported to hold antisemitic views. See “Anatomy of a Standoff,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016,; Ryan Haas, “Militant Website Creator David Fry: ‘I’m Not ISIS’,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, January 13, 2016, Some media outlets, like News With Views and The Voice of Idaho, run coded antisemitic articles. The national Oath Keepers website has also run several articles promoting the crypto-antisemitc conspiracy theory of “Cultural Marxism.” See, for example: Alan Stang, “Zionism and the Jewish Conspiracy, Part 1 of 2,” News With Views, February 17, 2009,; Alan Stang, “Zionism and the Jewish Conspiracy, Part 2 of 2,” News With Views, February 17, 2009,; Jonas E. Alexis, “Vladimir Putin Declares War on the Zionist Media,” The Voice of Idaho, April 3, 2016,; Brandon Smith, “How To Stamp Out Cultural Marxism In A Single Generation,” Oath Keepers, October 27, 2015, while using many of the same narratives—only now projected onto Muslims. This includes the widespread conspiracy theory on the Right claiming the President secretly belongs to a minority religion, and is acting against his country’s interests. Muslims are portrayed as a minority which refuses to assimilate, and is actively undermining the nation’s moral values from within.

Arizona’s John Ritzheimer is a well-known Islamophobic organizer who came to Oregon as part of the Malheur occupation. Oregon Patriot movement organizers had picked up Ritzheimer’s October 10, 2015 “Global Rally for Humanity” targeting Muslims (The Oregon group, under pressure from local progressive group Oregon Action, changed their rally’s name).(18)Peter Holley, “The ‘unhinged’ Oregon protestor that the FBI has been tracking for months,” Washington Post, January 5, 2016,; Nick Morgan, “Purported ‘anti-Muslim’ protest in Medford turns out to be pro-police rally,” Mail Tribune (Medford), October 10, 2015,; David Neiwert, “Militiamen Plan to Bring Guns to Mosques Around Nation in ‘Global’ Protest of Islam,” Southern Poverty Law Center, October 9, 2015, Oregon Action fused with the Center for Intercultural Organizing, and they are now a new organization called Unite Oregon. Another participant at the Malheur occupation and Sugar Pine Mine action was Blaine Cooper, who made a video of himself wrapping pages of the Koran in bacon and setting them on fire.(19)“A Message to Muslims Islam and President Obama Blaine Cooper Burns the Quran Islam Roast,” YouTube video, 4:29, posted by “Boddyxpolitic,” May 13, 2014,

The October 10, 2015 “Global Rally for Humanity” was organized by Islamophobe John Ritzheimer. The Medford, Oregon event completely changed its Islamophobic theme after opposition from Oregon Action.


These two nativist strains of anti-immigration and Islamophobia come together in the movement as activism opposed resettlement of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria. The 3% of Idaho group, which is influential in the Oregon Patriot movement and in activism in Burns, Oregon, held a number of public rallies in Boise and Twin Falls, Idaho, in 2015 opposing the potential settlement of Syrian refugees.

In contrast to the otherwise libertarian economics—but pandering to their base—some Patriot movement activists claim that the refugees should not be allowed in the country because the funds should go to veterans instead. Their slogan is “Vets Before Refugees.”

Coordination: How the Patriot Movement Reimagines Governmental Ties

“Coordination” is a process which allows state, county, and other lower-level governments to give input to federal agencies’ land use plans, in an attempt to achieve consistency. While this process is mentioned in a number of federal acts, the Hard Right promotes an interpretation of it which is close to its doctrines of the county governments as holding more power than the federal government, including the notion that county sheriffs can decide what laws are constitutional.

Coordination is mentioned in federal acts including the Federal Land Management Planning Act (FLMPA), the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (20)The American Stewards of Liberty name a number of other acts, including the Endangered Species Act, Travel Management Plan Coordination Regulations, Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (16 USC 2003), Metropolitan Transportation Planning (23 USC 134), Homeland Security Organization (6 USC 101), Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (16 USC 1271), Clean Air Act (42 USC 7401), and Clean Water Act (33 USC 1251). See “Key Federal Statutes,” American Stewards of Liberty, The most commonly cited one is FLPMA. It says the Bureau of Land Management, should, to the “extent” it is “practical”:

  • “keep apprised of State, local, and tribal land use plans,”
  • “assure that consideration is given to those State, local, and tribal plans that are germane in the development of land use plans for public lands,”
  • “assist in resolving, to the extent practical, inconsistencies between Federal and non-Federal Government plans,” and
  • “provide for meaningful public involvement of State and local government officials, both elected and appointed, in the development of land use programs, land use regulations, and land use decisions for public lands, including early public notice of proposed decisions which may have a significant impact on non-Federal lands.”(21)Section 202 (43 U.S.C. 1712) in U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and Office of the Solicitor, eds., The Federal Land Policy and Management Act, as amended (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Office of Public Affairs, 2001),, 4. Similar language appears in the Bureau of Land Management’s A Desk Guide to Cooperating Agency Relationships and Coordination with Intergovernmental Partners, 2012, 21–23,

The Hard Right changes the reading of this, following its tradition of redefining legal language for its own political ends. For instance, the American Stewards for Liberty, a Texas-based nonprofit which promotes coordination, claims that it provides local governments with “an equal position at the negotiating table with federal and state government agencies.” Joseph Rice, an Oregon Oath Keepers leader, says federal agencies must “coordinate to consensus”—thereby giving “veto power” to the lower governments.(22)“Coordination Overview, part 1 of the 3 part series,” American Stewards of Liberty, Joseph Rice uses the phrase “coordinate to consensus,” including in an interview with the author, July 17, 2016.

Some individuals go further, claiming that federal agencies must accept the lower government’s plans. And Hard Right activists have promoted the idea that “local governments” include not just states, counties, and tribes, but also cities, water and school districts, sheriffs departments, and mining districts. Rice even claims that Committees of Safety—Patriot movement shadow governments—can invoke coordination as well.(23)“Who Can Coordinate?,” American Stewards of Liberty, In Oregon, county sheriffs Gil Gilbertson and Glenn Palmer, as well as the Jefferson Mining District, have invoked coordination. Joseph Rice has claimed the power for the Committees of Safety; telephone interview with author, July 17, 2016.

The best-known promoters of the Hard Right version of coordination are the American Stewards of Liberty and its former president, Fred Kelly Grant, who keeps a busy speaking schedule. For them, coordination is a vehicle for anti-environmental politics; the Hard Right version seems to be invoked by local governments seeking to maximize resource extraction on federal lands, which they hope will revive moribund rural economies. The American Stewards of Liberty, for example, also tries to “delist” species from the Endangered Species Act, and encourages lower governments to commission their own environmental studies.(24)“Delisting,” American Stewards of Liberty,; Joshua Zaffos, “Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds,” High Country News, May 11, 2015, Grant also loudly promotes the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory.(25)Ryan Sabalow, “Fred Kelly Grant talks Agenda 21, ‘coordination’ with local activists,” Record Searchlight (Boulevard Redding, CA), January 23, 2012,

Federal agencies reject the Hard Right version. So does the Montana Human Rights Network, an independent watchdog, which says coordination means that federal agencies are required to take the opinions of local governmental entities into planning considerations, but only when “it is practical, upholds the laws governing public lands, and is consistent with federal law.(26)See Montana Human Rights Network, “Recycled County Supremacy Gains Traction, Lacks Legal Basis,” Montana Human Rights Network, November 2, 2012, See also Kenneth P. Pitt, “Legal Analysis of the Montana Senate Bill—SB117, Entitled ‘The Montana Coordination Act of 2011,” Montana Human Rights Network, June 26, 2012, sheets and adivsories/Final Legal Memo on Coordination.pdf. They base this on a legal memo which affirms that neither the Forest Service, nor the Bureau of Land Management, are obligated to conform to local government land use plans. (The memo also notes that coordination obligations are limited to the “land planning process,” and are not applicable to the “general decision making process.”) And it points out that—despite attempts by Grant and American Stewards of Liberty to redefine the term “coordination” itself to mean an “equal position”—the courts will defer to the agencies’ interpretation of terms used in their own acts, as long as they do not clash with Congress’s intentions.(27)Kenneth P. Pitt, “Legal Analysis of the Montana Senate Bill—SB117, Entitled ‘The Montana Coordination Act of 2011,” Montana Human Rights Network, June 26, 2012, sheets and adivsories/Final Legal Memo on Coordination.pdf.
Federal land-use agencies have also issued documents dispelling Far Right interpretations of coordination, and defining what the process entails. A Forest Service FAQ says:

Under NFMA [National Forest Management Act] and the planning regulations, the Forest Service is required to coordinate land management planning for the National Forest System with land management planning conducted by state and local governments. However, the Forest Service is not required to adopt recommendations made by state and local entities. In particular, the Forest Service is not required to incorporate specific provisions of county ordinances or resolutions into land management plans or to comply with procedural requirements, such as a requirement to obtain county approval before amending or revising a land management plan. Neither the statutes governing Forest Service land management planning nor their implementing regulations provide for more than an advisory role for state and local governments.(28)U.S. Forest Service, “Frequently Asked Questions: U.S. Forest Service Coordination with State and Local Governments,” three page flyer. The Wallowa-Whitman Forest Supervisor, Thomas Montoya, sent this to Baker County Commission Chair Bill Harvey, along with a letter, dated November 19, 2015, discussing the meaning of coordination. PDF in possession of author.

How coordination plays out in real life between federal agencies and local governments is more complex, however. It appears that local governments, like Oregon’s Baker County, sometimes invoke coordination, use their legally guaranteed entry point, and then—fuelled by Hard Right theories and tactics—attempt to widen the gap of how much say they have over land-use decisions on federal lands by insisting on the Hard Right reading. At other times—as with Oregon’s Josephine County—it seems that they start the process with the Hard Right version in mind, and end up agreeing with the regularly accepted one.

Pressures on under-budgeted federal agencies that oversee public lands—the employees of which are sometimes literally under attack from more radical Patriot movement and other land use activists—appears to have some level of success in wringing concessions to county land use desires, even though agencies are not legally obligated to provide them. High Country News writes that, “Federal managers acknowledge that they meet more frequently with local officials in counties that have passed coordination resolutions and drafted resource policies—but not because they’re required to heed those plans.” (They also report that the Bureau of Land Management has done joint trainings with the American Stewards of Liberty.)(29)See Joshua Zaffos, “Counties use a ‘coordination’ clause to fight the feds,” High Country News, May 11, 2015,

It’s not clear why counties who invoke coordination get more attention. It may be a case of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” where counties that have been ignored by federal agencies are now brought into dialogue. It may also be true that federal agencies are worried that a county that invokes coordination is already rife with Patriot movement politics, and it is better to make compromises rather than risk a Bundy Ranch or Malheur National Wildlife Refuge-style armed standoff.

However, other counties have not had such positive results. Craig Sullivan, the head of the County Supervisors Association of Arizona, testified during discussion about a 2011 coordination bill in the Montana legislature. Sullivan said a similar bill, passed in Arizona, did nothing to facilitate federal-local cooperation; its only effect was to give voters the idea that county supervisors could control federal agencies.(30)Montana Human Rights Network, “Recycled County Supremacy Gains Traction, Lacks Legal Basis,” Montana Human Rights Network, November 2, 2012, Counties that are insistent on pursuing the Hard Right interpretation may also empty their coffers on lawsuits that are bound to fail.

Travis McAdam, former executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, says Hard Right advocates of coordination have “merely put a new face on the longtime anti-government doctrine of county supremacy.”(31) Ibid, 13. During this movement, popular between 1991 and 1994, counties passed ordinances to try and gain control over federal lands—including six in Oregon.(32)The six were Coos, Grant, Lake, Union, Wallowa, and Wheeler. See Rob Eure, “Land Grab,” Oregonian, July 24, 1995, A1, (behind a paywall). Catron County, New Mexico, passed one saying the federal government had to have county approval to change public land use. On a more extreme note, Nye County, Nevada, challenged the legality of federal ownership altogether, claiming that these public lands belonged to the state. The Nye County ordinance was struck down by the courts, but Catron County rescinded their ordinance, and instead claimed “joint lead agency status” under coordination language in the Public Rangelands Improvement Act. The county said it gave them “equal footing” with the Forest Service; the agency claimed it did not diminish their authority, but signed a Memorandum of Understanding anyway.(33)Elizabeth M. Osenbaugh and Nancy K. Stoner, “The County Supremacy Movement,” Urban Lawyer 28, no. 3 (Summer 1996): 500–501, 508; Susan Schock, “Civil Unrest: County Movements Declare War on the United States,” in The Second Revolution: States Rights’, Sovereignty, and Power of the County, ed. Eric Ward (Seattle: Peanut Butter Publishing, 1997), 150–51.

The American Stewards for Liberty makes the clever argument that coordination is completely different than county supremacy. The group turns arguments about local authority on their head, instead affirming that Congress has “exclusive power over the federal lands.” They then argue that since the federal government is the highest authority, and coordination is based on federal laws, therefore federal agencies are obligated to coordinate with lower-level governments.(34)“Coordination, the 4 ‘C’s’, and Supremacy,” American Stewards of Liberty, In reality, their views are a continuation of the second tactic employed by Catron County used during the County Supremacy movement: re-reading federal coordination clauses to give the counties more power than the agencies have granted them.

Coordination in Oregon

This Hard Right version of coordination has attracted very mainstream support, and the Oregon Republican Party includes it in its platform.(35)As happens in some cases, it is difficult to tell if the Oregon Republican Party is invoking coordination in the normally accepted manner, or in the fringe interpretation—although the language of “economy, culture, and history” implies the latter. Their platform says, “We strongly support and encourage the ‘Coordination’ process, as defined by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, by local governments to ensure federal projects are consistent with local plans, economy, culture and history.” See section 5.1 in “Oregon Republican Party 2015 Platform as amended October 24th 2015,” Oregon GOP, There are also at least six Oregon counties where the Hard Right version of coordination, or one influenced by that approach, has been pushed. The proposal often bubbles up following one of Fred Kelly Grant’s paid seminars to local governments.

The chair of the Josephine County Commission brought Fred Kelley Grant to town in July 2011, where he gave a two-day seminar on coordination, one for county sheriffs and one for the public. Immediately afterward, the county commission and county sheriff pursued coordination efforts—although to what extent these complied with the regularly accepted version of the concept varies. The county commission has pushed a version of coordination influenced by Grant numerous times, starting in at least 2010. As of August 2016, they currently have established cordial relations with the Forest Service but apparently have had no success with the Bureau of Land Management. The former sheriff, Gil Gilbertson, also invoked coordination in 2011, claiming the right to keep roads open. The Jefferson Mining District in southwestern Oregon also claims right to coordination.(36)Jim Foley, “Mining Districts: A Concept Reborn,” ICMJ’s Prospecting & Mining Journal, 81, no. 2 (October 2011),; letter from Arthur Sappington (Jefferson Mining District) to Mr. Pena (USDA Forest Service), dated October 20, 2014, 2014refWalden.pdf. It appears that while activists pressing the commission for coordination adhered to the Hard Right version, the current county legal counsel says that coordination does not mean that counties can dictate land use to the federal government.

In Baker County, County Commission Chair Bill Harvey has pushed coordination. After taking office in January 2015, Harvey and his supporters in the county’s Natural Resources Advisory Committee created a Natural Resources Plan, usually the movement’s first step in invoking coordination.(37)Joshua Dillen, “County, Forest Service discuss coordination,” Baker City Herald, October 2, 2015,; letter from Thomas Montoya to Bill Harvey (file code 1950), November 19, 2015, PDF in author’s possession. When Grant spoke at a Baker City banquet in May 2015, he said it was the seventh time he had come there. He returned in August 2015 to give a three-day seminar, which featured County Commission Chair Harvey as “emcee/moderator.”(38)For the May banquet, see: Kerry McQuisten, “Fred Kelly Grant, Rep. Kerry White come to FAFA event,” Baker County Press, May 22, 2015, and; The 10th Amendment Institute of the Stand and Fight Club Inc, “Coordination 101,” one-page flyer, Forest Access for All,; The 10th Amendment Institute of the Stand and Fight Club Inc., “Coordination 101,” event program, Forest Access for All, As emcee, see Fred Kelly Grant, “Letters to the Editor,” Baker City Herald, September 2, 2015 (updated Feb 13, 2016),

Fred Kelly Grant and others gave a three-day seminar on coordination in Baker City, Oregon in August 2015.
Fred Kelly Grant and others gave a three-day seminar on coordination in Baker City, Oregon in August 2015.

In Grant County, Sheriff Glenn Palmer deputized eleven people to create a “Natural Resources Plan” modeled on Baker County’s; all of this was apparently done in secret. In October 2015, Palmer announced to the county commission that he was invoking coordination, and asked for the commission’s support. They eventually turned him down for a more collaborative approach.(39)George Plaven, “Grant County sheriff demands coordination with Forest Service,” East Oregonian, October 9, 2015,; Sean Hart, “Local collaborative awarded $4 million in federal forest restoration funding,” Blue Mountain Eagle, April 5 (updated April 6), 2016, Fred Kelly Grant also spoke in John Day, the largest town in Grant County, at the end of November 2015.(40)Flyer for Fred Kelly Grant talk on “Coordination,” November 28, 2015, John Day, Oregon. PDF in possession of author.

Coordination advocate Fred Kelly Grant spoke in John Day, Oregon in November 2015.
Coordination advocate Fred Kelly Grant spoke in John Day, Oregon in November 2015.

In Wallowa County, Commissioner Paul Castilleja has attended Fred Kelly Grant talks, and has pushed for coordination.(41)Paul Castilleja, email to author, July 19, 2016.

In Crook County in February 2016, a private group, the Crook County Natural Resources Political Action Committee (tied to the Central Oregon Patriots group), brought Baker’s County’s Harvey to Prineville to give a seminar on coordination.(42)“Public Presentation: ‘Coordination’,” Facebook event for February 20, 2016, The event itself was recorded and is online: “Coordination meeting #1,” YouTube video, 57:41, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016,; “Coordination meeting #2,” YouTube video, 57:36, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016,; “Coordination meeting #3,” YouTube video, 24:45, posted by “Crooked River Currents View,” March 4, 2016,–rpc. The PAC developed a natural resource plan and attempted to get the county commission to adopt it. The scheme won the support of three county commissioners or judges at one point, although in August 2016 it was rejected.(43)“Jason Chaney, “Citizens to form local natural resource plan,” Central Oregonian, February 2, 2016,; Amanda Peacher, “Crook County Leaders Unexpectedly Table Natural Resource Plan,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, July 20, 2016,; Minutes of Crook County Court, “Discussion of Natural Resource Planning,” Crook County, Oregon, February 3, 2016, 7–8, February 3 2016.pdf; Amanda Peacher, “Crook County Rejects Controversial Natural Resources Plan,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, August 30, 2016,

Baker County Commission Chair Bill Harvey gave a seminar in Crook County to teach the Hard Right version of “coordination.” He met with two county commissioners and one candidate.
Baker County Commission Chair Bill Harvey gave a seminar in Crook County to teach the Hard Right version of “coordination.” He met with two county commissioners and one candidate.

Last, the Harney County Committee of Safety was touted as having the powers of coordination. Josephine County Oath Keepers’ leader Joseph Rice said, in the meeting held directly after the January 2, 2016 march (and while the occupation had just started), that, “The Committee of Safety that’s formed, what’s unique about that, is that is the establishment of a governmental entity. That forces BLM, in their own policy, they must coordinate with you. It becomes no different than a school district, a mining district, or a fire district; they’re pseudo-government entities.” It is unclear, however, if Committee members believed this themselves.(44)“Jan. 2, 2016 Town Hall Meeting,” YouTube video, 1:08:00, posted by “Liberty Under Attack,” April 11, 2016,; see around 5:23. Harney County Committee of Safety members did not respond to emails regarding this.