RELEASE: CAP Calls for Congressional Investigation of Anti-Government Extremism on Public Lands

Washington, D.C. — A new analysis released today by the Center for American Progress makes the case that in the wake of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, the U.S. Congress should launch an investigation into the rise of violent anti-government extremism on America’s public lands.

Since 2014, anti-government militants have led five armed takeovers of national public lands, but Congress has yet to take any meaningful action to confront the violent extremism putting local communities, cultural and natural treasures, and public servants at risk. CAP estimates that at least 30 individuals who may have violated federal laws in these anti-government actions remain at large.

“Congress has been a compliant witness to the rise of violent extremism on America’s public lands, ignoring the dangers that so-called patriot militias and anti-government extremists pose to communities and public servants,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, Senior Fellow and Director of Public Lands at CAP. “Congress should send a clear message that violent extremism will not be tolerated and that anti-government efforts to seize and sell public lands do not reflect mainstream American values. Public lands must remain open to all, safe for all, and protected for all.”

CAP’s analysis identifies several financial irregularities among the militia and anti-government groups that helped organize and incite the recent armed takeovers of public lands. Donations to at least three of the groups, for example, appear to be routed to individuals or private companies, including an Arizona truck rental company and a knife store in Colorado.

The paper also argues that Congress’ investigation should aim, in part, to identify the resources and policies that U.S. land management agencies need to help improve public safety and protections for the resources with which they are entrusted. The Bureau of Land Management, for example, is so underresourced that it has only 124 law enforcement rangers to patrol 245 million acres of public lands. Moreover, Congress should ask the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review of the agencies’ preparedness and response policies for armed confrontations on public lands. The inconsistent response of the FBI and federal land management agencies to the five armed takeovers since the beginning of 2014 suggest that federal law enforcement officials have no clear policy or strategy for how to respond to armed assaults on public lands.

If Congress is to effectively respond to the rise of violent extremism on public lands, CAP’s paper argues that the institution must also confront its own members who are inciting the anti-government rage of militants and endorsing the radical ends that they pursue. CAP’s analysis identifies at least seven members of Congress who served as apologists for the militants during the Malheur takeover by blaming U.S. land management agencies for the takeover and endorsing the militants’ goal of divesting American taxpayers of their public lands.

Click here to read the brief.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at or 202.481.7141.