Bundy Backers, Fundamentalist Christians, Libertarians Set to “Rage Against the State”
Event Seeks to Stoke Anger at Pandemic Prevention
The upcoming “Rage Against the State” events feature a combination of Bundy Family supporters, candidates running on the Montana Libertarian Party ticket, and fundamentalist Christians. Described as a “three-day tent revival,” this anti-democratic roadshow will be staged in Livingston, Belgrade, and Whitehall on consecutive days between July 3-5, 2020. Promotional materials allude to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the events are organized by people who are “united in our rage” at the “men who would rule us rather than serves us.” While organizers mention taxes and the size of government as issues they care about, the Montana Human Rights Network believes the point of the “Rage” events is creating and harnessing anger over the public health measures taken to slow the spread of the virus, while also targeting the officials making those decisions. The “Rage” speakers (see profiles below) are a tight-knit group with pre-existing relationships.
Four of the “Rage” speakers have direct connections to the notorious Bundy Family which garnered national news by engaging in armed standoffs with the federal government in both Nevada and Oregon. The family has become a favorite of the anti-government “patriot” movement and has supporters in Montana. As the Bundys look for their next opportunity to orchestrate a standoff, family members have spoken or appeared in Montana a handful of times in recent years.
Three “Rage” speakers are current Libertarian candidates for office. While some Libertarians embrace social issues close to the political Left, the Montana Libertarian Party has historically attracted “patriot” activists and others who think the Montana Republican Party isn’t conservative enough when it comes to issues like guns, taxes, and government regulations. The three “Rage” speakers running for office exemplify these Far Right, anti-democratic views.
The “Rage” events help illustrate how militias and other “patriot” groups seek to capitalize on the COVID-19 pandemic. When states implemented shelter-in-place orders earlier this year to slow the spread of the virus, militia activists used it as a recruiting opportunity. COVID-19 led to fear in communities, which made people susceptible to misinformation spread by militia groups. As shelter-in-place and other public health orders continued, some folks grew angry at the government for having to stay home, keep a business closed, or other prevention measures. This anger and fear eventually manifested itself as the lockdown rallies held in Montana and across the country. Militias didn’t always organize the rallies, but they strategically showed up at them. The rallies were perfect recruitment opportunities, as they featured crowds of scared and angry conservatives protesting the government. “Rage Against the State” is trying to both create and tap into that type of anti-democratic fervor.
Roger Roots: Bundy Paralegal, White Nationalist Past
One of the main “Rage” organizers is Livingston’s Roger Roots, an attorney licensed to practice law in Rhode Island, but not in Montana, who has a long history with the “patriot” and white nationalist movements. He’s also a perennial, if not successful, candidate for statewide office. Roots participated in the legal defenses of both Cliven and Ryan Bundy when they faced charges from the armed standoffs in both Nevada and Oregon. Since Roots isn’t admitted to practice law in either state, he ended up serving as a paralegal in both cases.
His contribution to the Bundy defense was his longtime involvement with the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), which pushes an idea known as “jury nullification.” Jury nullification encourages jurors to ignore laws they don’t like and set defendants free, even if evidence proves guilt. Instead of basing verdicts on whether a law is broken, jury nullification teaches that jurors can ignore laws with which they don’t agree. Jury nullification, and FIJA, have been mainstays of the militia and white nationalist movements for years. FIJA distributed fliers in Mississippi supporting Byron De La Beckwith when the white nationalist was on trial for murdering a 1960’s civil rights leader. Jury nullification famously played a role in the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. FIJA has also rallied support for militia members facing criminal charges.
Roots’ involvement with the Bundys was just the latest in a history filled with supporting militia and white nationalist causes. Throughout the 1990s, Roots frequently popped up around the white nationalist movement in Montana. He was an associate of John Abarr, a Klan organizer in Montana and Wyoming. In the early 1990s, Roots authored the pamphlet Whites and Blacks: 100 Facts (and One Lie). Among other things, the pamphlet stated whites are more intelligent than people of color and suggested people of color should be classified as a different species.
Roots also supported anti-Semite Red Beckman during Beckman’s battles with the IRS over income tax evasion. Serving as a correspondent for The Jubilee, Roots frequently wrote articles supporting Beckman. The Jubilee was a Christian Identity publication. Identity is a racist theology claiming people of color are subhuman beasts and Jews are the literal children of Satan. For The Jubilee, Roots also wrote articles denying the Holocaust.
Roots now claims he no longer holds racist views. In an affidavit he sent to MHRN in 2008, Roots stated he has “no involvement in the white supremacist movement” and has not “spoken or written a racist statement in years.” He also said, “I do not endorse any opinion I expressed during my twenties.” The same year he sent MHRN the affidavit, Roots represented Rudy Stanko in a Nebraska lawsuit. Stanko is a self-proclaimed reverend of The Creativity Movement, a white nationalist group active in Montana and internationally.
Before first coming to Montana decades ago, Roots was convicted of a felony for a weapons charge that led to 20 months in prison. While living in Montana, Roots has lost numerous runs for statewide office.
Ryan Payne: Coordinating Militia Ops for the Bundys
In 2013, Ryan Payne helped found Operation Mutual Aid (OMA), a coalition of militias around the country. In April 2014, Payne offered OMA’s armed services to Cliven Bundy to protect him from the federal government as the situation in Nevada evolved. Payne put the word out to OMA members and headed to Nevada, where he put his military training as an Iraqi War veteran to work against the government.
Payne was one of the first militia members to show up at Bundy’s Nevada ranch. He worked with Bundy to develop a tactical plan for militia members to carry out against the Bureau of Land Management to free Bundy’s impounded cattle. As militia members arrived, Payne divided them into units with specific objectives. He characterized himself as “Mr. Bundy’s militia liaison.”
When the militia mobilized and attacked the area where the BLM had impounded Bundy’s cattle, Payne says he acted as the “on-the-ground commander” of the militia forces. He proudly told the media that he had militia snipers trained on BLM agents and, if the agency had done anything, “every single BLM agent in that camp would’ve died.” In the end, the BLM retreated and let Payne’s militia forces free the cattle.
Payne played a similar role a few years later when two of Cliven Bundy’s sons staged an armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was described as the pivotal “architect” of the armed takeover. Payne served three years in prison for his role in the Oregon standoff. In mid-May 2020, a judge ended Payne’s federal supervision early. A little over a month later Payne is a featured “Rage” speaker. He currently lives in Belgrade.
Nick Ramlow: Ammon Acolyte
Nick Ramlow is a Kalispell contractor who began his militia organizing to protest public health measures taken in the Flathead Valley to slow the spread of COVID-19. He began holding “People’s Meetings” in defiance of shelter-in-place orders and insisted measures to slow the virus’ spread were illegal and infringed on constitutional rights. Ramlow claimed to be working with militia icon Ammon Bundy.
Ramlow’s efforts are indicative of the tactics of the sovereign citizens movement, which the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorist threat. Ramlow is currently operating as the Montana leader of a group called “People’s Rights.” He filed a grievance in Montana District Court in late April, claiming Governor Steve Bullock didn’t have the authority to issue his public health directives to slow the spread of COVID-19. He filed similar paperwork, along with cease and desist orders, with local city and county offices as well. Ramlow has said that he and his supporters will arrest any public official who tries to make a business close during the pandemic. He even casted about social media and offered a bounty of $100 for the address of Kalispell’s mayor so he could make a citizen’s arrest.
Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino told the local newspaper that Ramlow’s efforts could be considered “kidnapping” if he went through with a citizen’s arrest. In response Ramlow said he’s been working with militias around the state. He warned Sheriff Heino “better keep his nose clean,” because Ramlow has “a bigger army than he [Heino] does.”
John Lamb: “Patriot” Media Maven
Bozeman’s John Lamb is a prolific blogger and vlogger in fundamentalist Christian and militia circles. Referring to himself as “The Last Free Man,” his videos often feature prominent figures of the militia and white nationalist movements. Lamb started reaching more of a national “patriot” audience when he spent time producing and uploading videos from outside the courthouses in Nevada and Oregon where the Bundys were on trial.
Roger Roots is often featured in Lamb’s videos, and that’s hardly the only connection between the two. Lamb is a “professor” for the online Lysander Spooner University created by Roots in 2014. Roots describes the venture as “the first truly antigovernment university” and is “everything that contemporary government supported universities are not.” Lamb is said to teach communications and journalism classes. His bio on the website claims he “launched a Facebook media empire” while covering the Bundy trials. While hyperbolic, it is true that Lamb was fixture outside the Nevada and Oregon courthouses. He frequently posted on-location videos and was also interviewed by mainstream news outlets.
Steve Wagner: Pious “Patriot”
Steve Wagner leads a small fundamentalist Christian congregation of a dozen families called Covenant Community Church in Whitehall. The church’s materials and events frequently promote the false idea that America is a “Christian Nation” founded by and for fundamentalist Christians. Wagner’s church has taken that basic notion a step further by promoting Christian Reconstructionism, which advocates that civil law should mirror Old Testament biblical law. Among other things, Reconstructionists would apply the death penalty to members of the LGBTQ+ community and medical professionals providing abortions. During its existence, the website for Wagner’s church has recommended Reconstructionist books, and the church sponsored a Reconstructionist conference in Helena in 2006.
Wagner has stated the congregation’s families homeschool their kids through a venture called the Education Station, which is directly connected to the church. The Education Station has stated that public schools show a “disdain for God” and teach “moral relativism and multi-culturalism.” Overall, the Education Station seeks to “promote the development of a distinctly Christian Community.” The Education Station is hosting the “Rage” event in Whitehall.
Wagner participated in a 2010 statewide conference of the militia-based Oath Keepers conference, and his church has sponsored speakers promoting church-based militias. Years ago, the website for Wagner’s church linked to information about living without a Social Security Number, a favorite issue of sovereign citizens groups like the Montana Freemen.
Wagner frequently testifies at the Montana Legislature for anti-choice bills. While testifying in 2019, Wagner seemed to downplay assassinating abortion providers. He casually told lawmakers that he had done “everything in the pro-life movement there is to do, except shoot an abortionist.” See the clip below.
Keturah Lamb & Druanna Koester: From Lockdowns to Rallying Fellow Women
Keturah Lamb, one of John Lamb’s children, is also listed as a speaker for the ‘Rage” events. In mid-April 2020, she announced on Facebook that she would be attending her “first public protest.” It was a lockdown rally outside the Helena Capitol against public health measures. Lamb said it would help show that people don’t accept the actions taken by the government and prove that we are “sovereigns under God alone.” While not carrying guns like the heavily armed militia groups that were present, Lamb attended the rally as part of a large contingent of fundamentalist Christians who commonly frequent anti-vaccine, survivalist, and anti-choice circles. Lamb runs a cleaning business in Belgrade and Helena, is a blogger on conservative religious women’s issues, and she’s been active in the Montana homeschool movement.
Lamb posted a photograph on social media of her and Helena’s Druanna Koester at the Helena rally. A month later, Lamb spoke at the “Women for Freedom” event in Helena that Koester helped organize. Koester promoted the event widely throughout Montana’s militia social media scene. Like Lamb, Koester is listed as a “Rage” speaker. Koester has produced YouTube videos titled “Dru Talks” since the beginning of the pandemic. Her approach is more measured then many of the other “Rage” speakers, and she has distanced herself from the white nationalist factions.
“Rage” Events Provide No Pandemic Answers
Militia and some groups of Christian fundamentalists have been trying to harness the genuine fear and hardship in our communities during the pandemic to elevate their profiles, recruit members, and expand their influence. This roadshow is nothing but an effort to stoke resentment and direct it at the public officials who are trying to slow the spread of COVID-19. In a time when we need to come together, these “Rage” events drive divisiveness.
With Montana’s COVID-19 numbers rising again, the last thing we need are events featuring speakers who will, no doubt, rail against public health measures as affronts to freedom. We should be raging against the spread of the virus, not heeding empty calls to patriotism that put more people in jeopardy.