In April 2014, the Bundy family declared “range war” against the federal government and democratic rule of law. One seemingly “fringe” state legislator ventured to Bunkerville to stand with them in their “standoff”, and the rest is “her-story”… Or is it?
In October 2021, Las Vegas City Council Member Michele Fiore (R) announced her 2022 gubernatorial campaign. As we often say around these parts, this did not “come out of nowhere”. Even if Fiore’s own 2022 campaign ultimately goes nowhere fast, the far-right ideology at the heart of her political career has already taken us to new and ever more frightening depths.
WARNING: Today’s story includes some sensitive subject matters, including violent terrorism, mass shootings, sexual violence, and animal abuse. Reader discretion is advised.
In so many ways, Michele Fiore’s political trajectory has served as a harbinger for the Republican Party’s larger (d)evolution.
Last week, Las Vegas City Council Member Michele Fiore (R) set off another political inferno with her announcement that she’s joining the already crowded 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary field. Why would she announce a gubernatorial campaign in the midst of a FBI probe into her spending of campaign contributions on personal uses? Why would she feature certain photos on her social media feeds – photos that were taken on the very cruise ship where the Church of Scientology delivers courses for the highest level (OT VIII) on Scientology’s “Bridge to Total Freedom”? And why would she hire the same Republican operative who fostered the Nevada Republican Party’s working relationship with the Proud Boys?
We have so many questions about Fiore’s 2022 campaign and why the hell she’s embarked on a seemingly quixotic gubernatorial bid. What’s far less in doubt is Fiore’s influence on the larger Republican Party. As our own Mike McGreer pointed out earlier this week, Fiore supported violent insurrection nearly seven years before then President Donald Trump led a violent insurrection to overthrow American Democracy.
Fiore embraced the Bundy clan’s “range war” against the federal government, a “range war” that accelerated the process of the Republican Party aligning itself with fascist movements. The far-right extremist ideology behind Cliven Bundy’s declaration of “range war” was mostly considered “fringe” when Michele Fiore embraced it, but it’s now the Republican Party’s mainstream.
The Bundys launched a “range war” in Bunkerville… That Donald Trump eventually brought into the U.S. Capitol.
In April 2014, Cliven Bundy declared “range war” over the federal government’s attempt to stop Bundy’s illegal misuse of federal public lands to place his (malnourished and generally neglected) cattle. What should have been a clear-cut case of Bundy’s illegal misuse of federal public lands and refusal to pay past-due grazing fees quickly became another culture war battle thanks to a critical mass of Republican politicians and far-right media outlets endorsing Bundy’s “range war”, followed by far too many mainstream media outlets falling into the “both sides” fallacy trap that resulted in further wrongful legitimizing of criminal activities.
Michele Fiore was fast to embrace the Bundys and their “range war” in Bunkerville, and she stayed on their side after most other Republicans quickly distanced themselves from the Bundys following Cliven Bundy’s racist remarks to The New York Times. When Fiore and her fellow Republicans embraced legislation to challenge the federal government’s authority over federal public lands, Fiore brought the Bundys to Carson City and invited them into her legislative office. When the Bundys extended their “range war” to Oregon in 2016, Fiore followed them. When the Bundys initially stood trial, Fiore remained by their side. When federal Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed the case with prejudice in January 2018 due to prosecutorial misconduct, Fiore had already revived her political career and won a seat on the Las Vegas City Council.
Initially Michele Fiore appeared to be an outlier for maintaining support for the Bundys and their “range war”, especially when she lost her spot in Assembly Republican leadership before the 78th Session of the Nevada Legislature even began, then again when she only finished third in the Republican primary for the Third Congressional District (NV-03) in 2016. Eventually, Fiore became more of a trendsetter. Following then President Barack Obama’s declaration of Gold Butte National Monument (which includes the public lands where Bundy conducted his illegal cattle grazing operation), Donald Trump and his administration legitimized the Bundys’ local allies, gave short shrift to the Nevadans who supported public lands protection, and whitewashed other fascist militia movements with the same white supremacist roots as the Bundys’ “range war”. Following Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) rushed to endorse Trump’s lies about the election he lost.
Following Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s (R) rejection of Trump’s and Laxalt’s lies about the 2020 election, the Nevada Republican Party voted to censure Cegavske. We later learned that the Proud Boys fascist militia network played an integral role in that censure vote, and that the Proud Boys used that censure vote as a sort of launch pad to cement their power within the Nevada Republican Party. Michele Fiore may have privately argued against the anti-Cegavske censure move, and she may publicly say some nice words about Cegavske, yet Fiore nonetheless chose Rory McShane – the Republican consultant who coordinated the Nevada GOP’s alliance with the Proud Boys to further advance Trump’s and Laxalt’s lies about the 2020 election – to run her 2022 gubernatorial campaign while Laxalt himself runs for U.S. Senate.
Let’s zoom out. The Bundys’ “range war” encouraged more fascist extremism – online and IRL.
For a few weeks in 2014, the Bundys and their allies appeared “politically toxic”. Following the assasination of Las Vegas Metro Police Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo, and of armed civilian Joseph Robert Wilcox, in June of that year by two radicalized fascists who spent time at the Bundy Ranch, it appeared for a moment that America hit a turning point. Yet just three months after the Battle of Bunkerville, the “range war” moved to Murrieta, California, and a wide array of Republican politicians rushed to embrace the fascist militia backed attack on the Obama administration’s attempt to provide shelter for Central American refugee children. From there, fascist militia violence proliferated across the country – from a campground near Lake Tahoe to a courthouse in the Atlanta exurbs and beyond.
At the same time, and as we’ve covered in prior editions of this series, we witnessed the rise of extreme far-right online collectives. The seemingly isolated messageboards of “men’s rights activists” and incels exploded into full public view with the Isla Vista (California) Shooting in May 2014, and with the Gamergate harassment saga that continues to motivate very online misogynists to campaign for “ethics in gaming journalism” (read – continuing to normalize violence).
From 2014 onward, these once “fringe elements” gained more traction within the Republican Party and in the mainstream media. Far-right “influencers” like Alex Jones, Ben Shapiro, Dave Portnoy, and Gavin McInnes saw a major “business opportunity”, took up their cause, and helped them rebrand as “anti-establishment”, edgy, and cool. Donald Trump then united all these one-time “fringe elements” behind his own 2016 presidential campaign. Trump and these formerly “fringe elements” then proceeded to take full control of the Republican Party – here in Nevada, and nationally.
Less than two years after the Bundys staged their “sequel standoff” at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon, the Proud Boys and other fascist militias launched a series of incursions into Portland – incursions that have since devolved into an ongoing flow of armed “street fights” . From Charlottesville, Virginia, to El Paso, Texas, and from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Poway, California, fascist terrorism became more frequent and more disturbingly “normal”. As long as far-right politicians and “thought leaders” continue to rationalize and normalize the extreme ideology at the heart of this violence, this will only continue to set in place as our “new normal”.
Let’s return closer to home for a moment. Let’s check in on some other frequent players in these online-turned-IRL “war games”.
Jim Caviezel gives a speech riddled with religious fanaticism and Q propaganda at the QAnon conference in Las Vegas. pic.twitter.com/9gugWfoyaG
— PatriotTakes 🇺🇸 (@patriottakes) October 25, 2021
Following Caesars Entertainment’s decision to drop the QAnon-linked “For God and Country Patriot Double Down” event from their autumn conference schedule, major Trump campaign donor (and host of multiple Trump campaign events that violated public health safety rules) Don Ahern greenlit the QAnon conference for his own Ahern Hotel last weekend. Lead organizer “QAnon John” (or John Sabal) may have given some local media a very “polite” show to cover here in Southern Nevada, but in his home base of Dallas, Sabal is best/worst known for endorsing “total military mutiny” and another coup to forcibly remove President Joe Biden from office.
At this allegedly “polite” conference, Hollywood star actor turned QAnon devotee Jim Caviezel called on his fellow QAnon believers to send their enemies “back to hell where they belong” and invoked additional religious imagery that can easily open the door to a permission structure for violence. In addition, QAnon ringleader and 8chan/8kun administrator turned congressional candidate Ron Watkins (R-Arizona) declared himself the “Digital Rosa Parks” because some “Big Tech” social media operators finally deplatformed Watkins after he used their platforms to spread false propaganda about Trump’s loss in the 2020 election.
Ron declares himself the "digital Rosa Parks" because he wants to get on the "Twitter bus," the "Google bus," the "Facebook Bus," and the "Chase Bank bus."
— AZ Right Wing Watch (@az_rww) October 23, 2021
Former Assembly Member and current Secretary of State candidate Jim Marchant (R) attended this QAnon “Patriot Double Down” , and Marchant indicated at this event that his 2022 Secretary of State campaign is part of a nationwide effort to prevent another Democratic presidential election victory in 2024 regardless of whether Democrats again win the most votes. In addition to Marchant, a long list of prominent out-of-state Republican politicians showed up – including multiple Arizona legislators (one of whom is running for Secretary of State there), a Michigan Republican who’s running for Secretary of State there, and a California Republican who’s running for Secretary of State there and claiming that her prayers “inspired” the murder of a neighborhood witch.
In addition to Trump’s greatest hits of 2020 election Big Lies, this QAnon conference featured a wide array of disinformation on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, and “Satanic Ritual Abuse” akin to the wildly false claims of the 1980’s-90’s era of “Satanic Panic“. Even though Donald Trump himself and his high-level apparatchiks avoided the QAnon “Patriot Double Down” and sometimes play coy over whether they themselves believe QAnon’s broad portfolio of baseless conspiracy theories, it’s been obvious for some time how Trump and his top operatives utilize and weaponize QAnon to advance their own fascist agenda.
Don’t fall for the “range war” fantasy wishcasting. Pay attention to what they actually do.
2004, an unnamed official in the George W. Bush administration talking to journalist Ron Suskind.
Reading it now is chilling. This is the hubris that led us to our current moment.
— ContextFall (@ContextFall) October 26, 2021
If they didn't plan on going to the Capitol, why were they spreading color-coded maps with the doors and tunnels marked?
A week before sitting Representatives were giving this thing legitimacy. Transport was arranged ahead of time.
— ContextFall (@ContextFall) October 27, 2021
Since 2014, the Bundys have eagerly sought to frame their “range war” as some epic “David v. Goliath” fight to save some Norman Rockwell-esque folksy, “Classic Americana”, rural way of life. Yet between the Trump administration’s efforts to turn over a record amount of federal public lands to multinational oil and gas corporations for fossil fuel extraction (that the Biden administration has yet to fully reverse) and the Trump network’s recruitment of fascist militias as the armed combatant wing of Trump-land, it’s become clear that the wealthy and powerful right-wing “establishment” used the Bundys, their “range war”, and the fascist militias who have grown more powerful since the 2014 Battle of Bunkerville to consolidate money and power for themselves.
It’s quickly becoming the same story for QAnon. Ron Watkins, Jim Watkins, Donald Trump, Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, and other highly revered figures (within the conspiracy cult) indulged QAnons’ fantasies of imprisoning Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, killing all the pedophiles in “the cabal”, bringing about some Nesara fueled Age of Aquarian Abundance, and returning JFK Jr. to his rightful throne. Spoiler alert: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama remain alive and free, Donald Trump did not singlehandedly stop the kinds of sexual abuse of children and additional sexual violence that crime-lords like Jeffrey Epstein and Keith Raniere orchestrated, Trump did not magically solve all our economic woes, and JFK Jr. has been dead for the last 22 years.
And yet, despite all these false pretenses, the “range war” continues. The fascist militia movement long ago set their sights far beyond the Bundy Ranch, and the QAnon conspiracy cult continues to mutate despite the lack of “Q Drops” since December 2020. As long as QAnon and the militias continue to serve purpose for the “establishment cabal” at the top of Trump’s power pyramid, the ends will continue to justify their means.
Finally, let’s bring this home and full circle.
"This is not just a matter of what the Trump Crime Cult did in office and that they went unpunished. It's that they are preparing for a sequel, and doing it openly. They are not running a mere grift or campaign. It's an aspiring autocratic takeover." https://t.co/oKX9JuG0Td
— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) October 27, 2021
Since Michele Fiore has not said much publicly about her involvement with Scientology, we don’t know how far along she is on the “Bridge to Total Freedom”. We do, however, notice some interesting similarities among Fiore’s apparent political strategy, the ethos of the Bundy clan, and the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. According to Hubbard, truly ethical Scientologists always fight back by going on the offense. Everything is “Fair Game”. All opponents are “criminals”. Get the “criminals” “hit by a Mack truck” in order to “clear the planet”. According to Hubbard, “I fight, and I get things done.”
Does any of this sound familiar? The Bundys have often proclaimed that they will do “whatever it takes” to get their way, Fiore continues to run for higher office despite the legal investigations surrounding her, and Trump continues to utilize his faux-tweet press releases and far-right media hits to rewrite history on the January 6 Attack and his plan to stay in power after losing the election.
Regardless of what becomes of Fiore’s involvement in Scientology, Fiore’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign, and the Bundys’ ongoing attempts to remain prominent in the “wingnut welfare” circuit, the “range war” continues. We’re all living and suffering through it. Unless the policymakers who say they want to “save democracy” actually address this existential threat to our democracy, they may very well be no match against fascists who are perfectly willing to do “whatever it takes” to win this war.
Before we go…
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. For LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available. And if you know anyone who’s currently experiencing domestic and/or sexual violence, the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence has a list of resources available across the state. And if you want to do more to help, check out the Nevada Coalition’s action page for ideas on getting more involved.
The cover photo was taken by me.