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THREAT ASSESSMENT: US EXTREMIST GROUP PEOPLE’S RIGHTS

Updated: Aug 28

Halle Morel, Danielle Rybinski, Rachel Waldon, Historical Analysis Team

Week of Monday, July 12, 2021


Ammon Bundy, Head of the People’s Rights Network[1]


Summary

The far-right organization, the People’s Rights Network, has amassed 20,000 followers in the United States (US) through their belief in the use of physical force as a means to defend individual freedoms they deem infringed upon by COVID-19 restrictions upheld by the US government.[2] As the pandemic continues and the People’s Rights Network attracts more followers, the Counterterrorism Group (CTG) assesses the network will likely pursue further armed protests in detestation of health restrictions, posing a security threat to individuals and US institutions. CTG has high confidence that the People’s Rights Network is a domestic terrorist threat to the US through their increased presence and encouragement of physical violence to protest government institutions they feel impose on individual rights. The following actions by the People’ Rights Network pose a threat to the US:

  • Founder and head of the People’s Rights Network, Ammon Bundy, has used anti-government rhetoric to attract followers from pro-gun organizations such as the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and paramilitary groups.[3]

  • Prior to the People’s Rights Network, Ammon Bundy participated in the 41-day armed stand-off with federal agents at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest the federal government’s authority over the public lands.[4]

  • Since its founding, the network has gained 20,000 members through its social media and website presence, weekly chapter meetings in 16 states promoting their platform, and the advertisement of future protests.[5]

  • Ammon Bundy has led on a platform of COVID-19 conspiracy theories in addition to the belief that the requirement by the government to wear a mask, close businesses, and the encouragement to receive the vaccine, infringe upon individuals’ rights.[6]

CTG believes that as the People’s Rights Network continues to promote COVID-19 conspiracy theories, refuses to follow COVID-19 health protocols, and encourages the anti-vaxxer movement, this will likely lead to the prolongation of the pandemic in the US by aiding in the risk and spread of infection. The People’s Rights Network has the potential to take physical action against other movements in addition to COVID-19 health restrictions where they find the US government is overarching on individual rights, requiring countermeasures by the US government to thwart these threats.


Assessments

CTG assesses it is nearly certain that The People’s Rights Network poses a significant threat to the US healthcare system because of the Networks’ deep-seated belief that the US government imposing COVID-19 restrictions is a violation of the individual freedoms of the US citizen. This has led to a rise in those who refuse to get the vaccine and thus allow the spread of COVID-19. Ammon Bundy’s profound anti-government sentiments and encouragement of physical protestation have attracted members from other far-right organizations and those who align with militant and pro-gun ideals, such as members of the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers.[7] A large number of militant followers increases the likelihood of violent protests against the vaccine, further straining the healthcare system as doctors are confronted with not only COVID-19 patients but also those injured in various altercations with protesters. With the uncertainty of an end date to COVID-19, restrictions put in place by government institutions will likely remain or be enhanced, most likely resulting in further pushback from the People’s Rights Network. Their pro-gun rhetoric used to encourage taking action in opposition to COVID-19 restrictions, coupled with an increase in membership of militia and other pro-gun far-rights groups, will likely increase the potential for violent action.

In 2016, Bundy participated in a 41-day militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge advocating for ranchers, resulting in a standoff with federal authorities and one fatality, proving his willingness to violently oppose the government.[8] Bundy was acquitted of his charges and stood firm on his platform that the federal government had overreached with regards to the rights of the ranchers.[9] A standoff with federal authorities reinforced Bundy’s anti-government ideology as well as his belief that violent opposition will successfully prevent the government from enforcing the rule of law. Additionally, Bundy’s readiness to take up arms against federal authorities sets an example for members of the People’s Rights Network on protesting the government in violent means. This could also inspire his followers to opt for violent tactics over non-violent tactics when protesting the government.

The People’s Rights Networks’ actions and platform is attracting followers across the US and on social media. Since the Network’s founding in March 2020, the Network has gained 20,000 members in 16 states according to government investigators, although Bundy claims they have expanded to 50,000 members in 35 states.[10] Ammon Bundy’s ability to attract thousands of followers in a short period of time on an anti-government pro-violent platform raises concern as to the influence Bundy can have over the ideas and actions the followers will participate in. Bundy’s anti-government stance on COVID-19 will likely inspire supporters to take their own stances and violent action on issues separate from COVID-19 where they feel their rights are being infringed upon. Further, the lower barrier to connect with the advent of social media will likely continue to aid in the growth of the Network’s support by like-minded individuals and organizations.

Another probable threat that the People’s Rights Network imposes on the US is that the group helps prolong the pandemic by encouraging members of the Network to not abide by health protocols set in place by the government. This, combined with their spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories, expose not only their members but also others living in the same communities to greater risk of catching COVID-19. Requiring individuals to wear a mask, shutting down businesses, and asking individuals to get a vaccine, are all examples cited by Bundy and the Network that infringe upon their rights and actions that they refuse to partake in.[11] These are all basic measures that have proven effective against COVID-19, and by refusing to participate, the People’s Rights Network will extend the pandemic. If the hundreds of thousands of Network followers spanning across numerous states in the US refuse to follow the restrictions, the virus will very likely spread amongst the individuals and the communities in which the members reside, further exacerbating the national health crisis.

Future Implications


If the People’s Rights Network continues to gain support for their pro-gun and pro-militia causes, there could be an increase of gun-related injuries in the communities where People’s Rights Network followers live, as individuals that own a gun are more likely to be harmed by guns.[12] To mitigate the potential for increased gun-related injuries, local law enforcement should increase training and preparation for responding to gun-related incidents and injuries. Further, local hospital and emergency medical personnel should maintain communication with local law enforcement to respond to trends in gun injuries. Increased membership for the People’s Rights Network will also likely increase volatility and the threat of violence at regional and national protests. As the group is politically motivated and utilizes tactics such as threats and intimidation with weaponry, the protests they attend will likely have increased rates of violence and volatility. Groups and citizens that come across this group at protests should remain vigilant. Lastly, the anti-vaccine message of the group will very likely harm the health of their members, the communities they are affiliated with, and the US healthcare system. As recent reports have indicated, the rise in COVID-19 cases is directly related to individuals deciding not to get vaccinated.[13] This trend has direct ramifications on individual health, community health, and the resilience and ability of the US healthcare system. To mitigate the impact of the People’s Rights Network spreading anti-vaccine propaganda, the US education system, and healthcare professionals could create educational campaigns explaining the pros and cons of the COVID-19 vaccination to correct misinformation.


Sources:


Ammon Bundy by Gage Skidmore licensed under Creative Commons


Ammon's army: Inside the far-right people's rights network, Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, October 2020, https://www.irehr.org/reports/peoples-rights-report/


Ammon Bundy is leading an on-demand, anti-mask militia. Some members have ties to far-right organizations., Los Angeles Times, February 2021,

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-02-09/idaho-ammon-bundy


Anti-government extremists created a phone tree to help them mobilize, VICE, June 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/k787av/amon-bundy-peoples-rights-anti-government-extremism-fighting-klamanth-water-basin


Dangerous network of militia members led by Ammon Bundy and spurred by COVID has spread to 16 states, report says, The Register-Guard, October 2020,

https://www.registerguard.com/story/news/2020/10/18/dangerous-network-militia-members-led-ammon-bundy-has-spread-16-states-report-says/3686003001/


​​Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault, Am J Public Health, November 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759797/


PEOPLE'S RIGHTS: Uniting Neighbors to Defend Their Families, Faith, Freedom and Future, People’s Rights, 2021, https://www.peoplesrights.org/


The Passionate intensity of Ammon Bundy and the People’s Rights Movement, Just Security, May 2021,

https://www.justsecurity.org/76636/the-passionate-intensity-of-ammon-bundy-and-the-peoples-rights-movement/


Voices: People’s rights chapters popping up in Montana have ties to Ammon Bundy, The Missoula Current News, August 2020, https://missoulacurrent.com/opinion/2020/08/voices-peoples-rights/?print=print


Where Are The Newest COVID Hot Spots? Mostly Places With Low Vaccination Rates, NPR, July 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/07/09/1014512213/COVID-is-surging-in-new-hotspots-driven-by-low-vaccination-rates

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] Ammon Bundy by Gage Skidmore licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Dangerous network of militia members led by Ammon Bundy and spurred by COVID has spread to 16 states, report says, The Register-Guard, October 2020, https://www.registerguard.com/story/news/2020/10/18/dangerous-network-militia-members-led-ammon-bundy-has-spread-16-states-report-says/3686003001/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ammon Bundy, part of deadly militia standoff with feds, files for Idaho governor, ABC7, May 2021, https://abc7.com/ammon-bundy-part-of-deadly-militia-standoff-with-feds-files-for-idaho-governor/10693470/

[5] Ammon Bundy is leading an on-demand, anti-mask militia. Some members have ties to far-right organizations., Los Angeles Times, February 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-02-09/idaho-ammon-bundy

[6] The Passionate intensity of Ammon Bundy and the People’s Rights Movement, Just Security, May 2021, https://www.justsecurity.org/76636/the-passionate-intensity-of-ammon-bundy-and-the-peoples-rights-movement/

[7] Dangerous network of militia members led by Ammon Bundy and spurred by COVID has spread to 16 states, report says, The Register Guard, October 2020, https://www.registerguard.com/story/news/2020/10/18/dangerous-network-militia-members-led-ammon-bundy-has-spread-16-states-report-says/3686003001/

[8] Ammon Bundy, part of deadly militia standoff with feds, files for Idaho governor, ABC7, May 2021, https://abc7.com/ammon-bundy-part-of-deadly-militia-standoff-with-feds-files-for-idaho-governor/10693470/

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ammon Bundy is leading an on-demand, anti-mask militia. Some members have ties to far-right organizations., Los Angeles Times, February 2021, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-02-09/idaho-ammon-bundy

[11] The Passionate Intensity of Ammon Bundy and the People’s Rights Movement, Just Security, May 2021 https://www.justsecurity.org/76636/the-passionate-intensity-of-ammon-bundy-and-the-peoples-rights-movement/

[12] ​​Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault, Am J Public Health, November 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759797/

[13] Where Are The Newest COVID Hot Spots? Mostly Places With Low Vaccination Rates, NPR, July 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/07/09/1014512213/covid-is-surging-in-new-hotspots-driven-by-low-vaccination-rates




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