The number of anti-government militia groups is dramatically on the rise, according to a prominent anti-bigotry organization.
There were at least 276 militia groups active in the United States last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — a 37 percent rise over the 202 such groups in 2014.
The new statistics come as armed, anti-government activists continue to control a government office in rural Oregon, citing opposition to federal wildlife policies.
The militia members in Oregon, who organized around two sons of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who sparred with the government in 2014, have now occupied their remote government cabin for five days.
Armed with weapons and accusing the federal government of imposing “tyranny” through land management practices, the protesters have promised to stay in their facility until a local wildlife refuge is given to private citizens.
According to analysts that track extremists in the U.S., such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-government activists have been on the rise since President Obama’s election in 2008. Members of the militia movement have only been emboldened, critics say, by extreme rhetoric about Obama’s policies throughout his tenure.
“We believe these armed extremists have been emboldened by what they saw as a clear victory at the Cliven Bundy ranch and the fact that no one was held accountable for taking up arms against agents of the federal government,” Heidi Beirich, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s intelligence project, said in a statement this week announcing the new annual count of militias.
In 2014, Bundy engaged in a weeks-long standoff with the government for refusing to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees. Initially a conservative icon, his prominence dropped after a series of racist statements. However, he has still never been arrested or forced to pay the outstanding fees that he owes to the government.
Bundy’s resistance — and the government’s inability or refusal to hold him to account — “energized the entire movement,” Beirich said.
“The fact is, Bundy is still a free man and has not paid the money he owes to the federal government — and the militiamen who aimed rifles at federal agents have gotten away with it,” she claimed.
Critics complain that concerns about conservative extremists are often overshadowed by higher profile concerns about Islamic extremism. Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center were outraged last summer when an apparent white supremacist’s alleged massacre at an historic African-American church appeared to have been treated differently than less deadly plots by Islamic extremists.