Letters From the West

Even Idaho militia leader can’t justify armed march on Nevada

Jeff Stankiewicz of the Idaho Lightfoot Militia  and his wife Leslie Brown-Stankiewicz.

Jeff Stankiewicz of the Idaho Lightfoot Militia and his wife Leslie Brown-Stankiewicz.

How you view Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management depends a lot on your politics.

For most people with a basic understanding of how grazing is managed on public land the issue is simple. Bundy hasn’t paid his annual grazing fees for pasturing his cattle on public lands since 1993 and owes the federal government $1 million. The Bureau of Land Management, decided, after getting a court order, to round up the cattle that were trespassing on public land.

But if you don’t believe the federal government holds title to that land or perhaps should hold title to that land, Bundy is just another American bullied by the federal government and needs patriots like Eric Parker of Central Idaho to come to his aid.

Who is Parker? He is the man lying in the prone position on a bridge overlooking the confrontation Friday, aiming an AR-15 at federal law enforcement agents. He was one of the hundreds of people who identified themselves as patriots and militia who rushed down to the ranch near Las Vegas to come to Bundy’s aid.

Jennifer Dobner, a reporter for the wire service Reuters who I used to work with at the Idaho Falls Post Register, interviewed a man she identified as Scott, 43, in camouflage pants and a black flak jacket carrying an AR-15 rifle. “I’m ready to pull the trigger if fired upon,” he told her.

The arrival of this mass of armed men (and some women) prompted the BLM to back off, wisely preventing another Waco, the 1993 raid of a religious zealot’s compound that ended with the deaths of 80 of his followers and four federal agents. Likely, the BLM’s Neil Kornze also was recalling the famous Ruby Ridge of 1992, where federal agents killed Randy Weaver’s wife and son in northern Idaho.

The Bundy standoff, which is by no means over, has provided a forum for people both on the fringe of politics and on the edge of paranoia about the intentions of their government. But not since Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb at the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 have so many Americans so openly challenged law enforcement authorities with guns.

That it was Idahoans who were carrying the guns won’t surprise most Americans. But even one of the leaders of the Idaho Lightfoot Militia, one of the groups that train and band together in Idaho, questions their authority.

Jeff Stankiewicz, a former commander and now liaison for the Idaho Lightfoot Militia, said in a Facebook post last week calling for militia to help the Bundys that he was doubtful they could legally justify it as an Idaho militia under the Idaho Constitution.

“I told people not to go, it would just inflame things,” Stankiewicz said. He said only if the governor of Nevada, or perhaps the local sheriff, had called in the militias could the Idaho Lightfoot Militia respond.

“Philosophically I’m on (Bundy’s) side,” said Stankiewicz, a production manager at a steel manufacturing plant from Bonners Ferry. “I think the states should be running that land in our state.

“If they want to make their stand, more power to them,” he said. “But I don’t live in Nevada.”

The Idaho Lightfoot Militia is set up with “battalions” in 10 counties, including Ada, and has “hundreds” of members, Stankiewicz said. It was formed after Barack Obama was elected because of members’ concerns over gun control and state sovereignty, he said.

Its members include former military personal, retired law enforcement officers and others who are preparing together for an emergency when the Idaho governor may call on them to serve, he said. But state officials say the Idaho Lightfoot Militia and others like them have no authority in the state.

Idaho Code divides the militia, identified in the state Constitution, into three classes: the National Guard, organized militia and unorganized militia. Idaho National Guard spokesman Col. Tim Marsano said he knows of only two states – Washington and Louisiana – that have organized militias established under the command of the governor and National Guard commander.

“I know for a fact my boss, Gen. Gary Sayler, is not in command of any organized militia other than the National Guard,” Marsano said.

So it appears to be hard to justify sitting on a bridge aiming at federal officials in the name of the Constitution, even if the BLM had no case for confiscating Bundy’s cattle, an issue already resolved in federal court.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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