For Immediate Release
Yetta Stein, Communications Associate
Western Values Project
Assaults on Public Lands Employees Driven by Anti-Public Lands Sentiment, Lack of Security
GAO report finds public lands employees assaulted, threatened nearly 400 times in five years.
Whitefish, MT - Public lands employees have been assaulted or threatened with violence over 360 times in the last five years, according to a report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The investigation found that anti-public lands protestors and a lack of security at government facilities helped fuel the threats and violence.
“This GAO report is highly concerning and underscores some of the failings of current Trump administration hires and appointees, who have contributed to the fiery anti-public lands sentiment that other protestors are enforcing with violence in the past,” said Jayson O’Neill Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “In addition to implementing reforms that address the clear safety concerns, it is incumbent upon Interior leadership to condemn anti-public lands rebels who clearly aren’t afraid to use violence against innocent people.”
The report, which “faulted officials at U.S. land agencies for failing to come up with plans to assess the security of government facilities, leaving employees at greater risk,” also specifically called out anti-government protestors like Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his family for inciting the violence and threats. Three of the four agencies covered in the report fall within the purview of the Interior Department: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Park Service (NPS).
President Trump and his administration have long fostered a sociopolitical culture that undermines and disparages career public servants, often using inflammatory, even violent, rhetoric that aligns with anti-federal government sympathizers.
Acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley, for example, has been sympathetic to anti-government extremists like the Bundy family, including warning of more anti-government armed rebellions if the federal government didn’t sell off more public lands. Pendley shares the Bundys’ core belief that the federal government has no right to own public land.
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U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, criticized Pendley specifically, telling The Associated Press, "Making a folk hero out of Bundy, that sets a dangerous precedent … At the top of the agency, they reinforce and embolden some of these actions by doing nothing and previously being in support of them."
Karen Budd-Falen, Deputy Solicitor of Parks and Wildlife within Interior, also previously sided with the Bundy family, saying that their “situation goes to show how American citizens react when a government has so expanded that it believes that the citizens are subservient to political power.” Budd-Falen has remarked that she “totally” understood why the Bundy family engaged in an armed standoff at their ranch, saying, “you’re going to see more of that because we’re not left with any choice.”
Both Pendley and Budd-Falen have worked for the industry front group Mountain State Legal Foundation, which espouses a mission dedicated “to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.”
Earlier this year, Western Values Project issued a report detailing the anti-public land zealots within the Trump administration, many of whom are sympathetic to anti-government extremists like the Bundy’s and Hammond’s.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands will hold a hearing titled, “No More Standoffs: Protecting Federal Employees and Ending the Culture of Anti-Government Attacks and Abuse,” today.
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Western Values Project brings accountability to the national conversation about Western public lands and national parks conservation – a space too often dominated by industry lobbyists and their allies in government.