The controversial standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon between members of a militia and local authorities began on a January 2 as a protest against what the group said was the federal government’s illegal seizure of land. Since that time, apparent evidence of funding for groups sympathetic to the militia’s cause have been traced back to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
That charge was connected to a recent change in the hierarchy of the Koch-funded American Lands Council (ALC), a group that also is against what they feel is illegal government seizure of land. In that case, Utah representative Ken Ivory resigned as the organization’s president to become part of a group based out of South Carolina known as Federalism in Action (FIA). That group was also created by the Koch brothers’ political organization.
To replace Ivory, the ALC selected a state senator from Montana, Jennifer Fielder, who has previously been connected to groups that are against land seizures by the government. She also reportedly has ties to the Militia of Montana, which has been described by critics as a white supremacist organization. In addition, she has a link to the Bundy family, which was behind a similar 2014 standoff, with Cliven Bundy the focal point of that controversy. The leader of the Oregon militia group is Ammon Bundy, his son.
The Koch connection was apparently confirmed in private e-mails to members of the FIA, with the basis for that organization’s creation being a supposed desire by the Kochs to increase their overall influence in all matters related to land seizure protests.
Ivory’s controversial past with the ALC saw the organization cited by the Colorado Secretary of State for violating three laws related to lobbying during his tenure. The ALC was also accused of using taxpayer money to help in the funding of land seizure efforts by groups sympathetic to their cause.
The entire issue of whether federal land should be given back to individual states has become part of the conversation connected to the 2016 presidential race, specifically on the Republican side.
One of those candidates, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, spoke on February 1 about how he would make every effort to transfer land back to states if he were elected to the presidency in November.
Cruz indicated that he had repeatedly withheld consent on federal lands expansion in the Senate since being elected in 2012. He also ndicated that ordinarily such consent is usually unanimous. He noted that he had emphasized the need to balance any land expansion with a give-back of an equivalent amount of land.
After winning the Iowa caucus, Cruz finished third in the New Hampshire primary behind businessman Donald Trump and Ohio governor John Kasich. He remains in contention to win the Republican nomination at the party’s convention in Cleveland this July.
The fear by critics of the Koch brothers and Cruz is that the Kochs have pledged to heavily fund Republican candidates this year. Such funding goes through their Political Action Committee, with those critics indicating that Cruz will be beholden to the interests of the Kochs if he ends up winning.
Since one of the Koch brothers business interests is related to oil, environmentalists are fearful that allowing them to use federal land in the search for the commodity will destroy what is considered by some to be a natural wonder.