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A protester and sign outside the Portland courthouse in support of the defendants in the trial of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

It might seem as though the current Malheur occupation trial is winding down—the court expects a verdict in the case against seven defendants by Halloween—but that’s no excuse to turn a blind eye to the right-wing nationalist groups that continue to endanger rural Oregon.

The Rural Organizing Project, a statewide grassroots organization that works to defend human rights and advance democracy, certainly thinks we have something to worry about. The group has put together a 187-page booklet on the patriot movement in order to equip the local communities most at-risk. The booklet covers the movement’s historical background and core principles, as well as strategies to avoid a repeat performance of the early 2016 standoff.

It’s akin to an emergency preparedness kit in case of earthquake or flood, except this disaster is anything but natural.

“I think there’s a popular stereotype that folks in rural areas are all uneducated, far-right conservatives, but in reality, there are many people in these communities who feel isolated, who are being shut down and silenced by this movement,” says Jessica Campbell, co-director of the Rural Organizing Project and one of the authors of the toolkit. “During the Malheur occupation, people were being threatened, people were getting followed around by SUVs with out-of-state plates. It created a real climate of tension and fear.” 

Key takeaways from the toolkit:

  • Members of the patriot movement take advantage of areas that are in need of readily available law enforcement and medical support. “There are places in the state that don’t have 24-hour 911 dispatch,” says Campbell, referring to Josephine County, which was host to another militant occupation in 2015. “This infrastructure vacuum allows occupiers to insert themselves in a paramilitary formation as a solution.”
  • These groups aren’t just about dismantling federal power and protesting public ownership of land. They oppose all forms of gun restriction, spread anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and members have, on numerous occasions, proved hostile to the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights groups…. The list goes on.
  • In small towns, there is strength in numbers. Paramilitary movements can lose significant traction, and maybe be thwarted altogether, when communities challenge the idea that silence is support by coming together to publicly oppose occupiers.

Read all of Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon’s Patriot Movement.

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