Congressman: Public Lands ‘Under Attack’ by ‘Right-Wing’ Extremists

Authorities and demonstrators wait at the Narrows roadblock near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, on Feb. 11, 2016, near Burns, Ore. (Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian via AP)

WASHINGTON – House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva urged House leadership to address the “disturbing threat” extremist groups pose to U.S. public lands such as national forests and national parks.

Before the forum on “countering extremism on public lands,” which wasn’t an official hearing but included some House members, Grijalva put the names of the victims of the Orlando terrorist attack on the screen and said it is too easy for Americans to purchase “deadly weapons.”

“We need Congress to act and stop being just observers and commentators and exercise our responsibility to serve and protect innocent people,” he said.

Rep. Benny Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, attacked the right wing of the Republican Party and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“Renewed calls to close our borders, ban Muslims from immigrating to the United States, and shut down the refugee process have hit the front pages of our newspapers,” he said at the forum. “These calls willfully ignore the perpetrator of the Orlando attack was a U.S.-born citizen. He was a homegrown violent extremist.”

In addition to terrorism, Grijalva said America faces an “extreme anti-government” philosophy on its public lands that threatens the rule of law. As an example, he cited an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon at the beginning of this year, which resulted in eight injuries and one death.

“Unfortunately, it appears we’ll see it again. I believe Congress has to understand this philosophy in order to defeat it,” he said. “I want to be clear on one thing: federal lands exist specifically so that everyone can access them and enjoy them.”

Thompson connected the safety of federally owned lands to gun control. He said the “anti-government movement” that poses a threat to public lands “embraces a distorted right-wing ideology.”

“The growing threat of violence and terrorism by anti-government groups is a threat that demands timely congressional attention and action, yet the Republican leadership has willfully ignored that threat in the wake of a deadly attack this weekend in Orlando,” he said. “Americans are against demanding action from Congress to prevent dangerous people from accessing deadly weapons to kill innocent Americans.”

Grijalva said America’s national forests, wildlife refuges and national parks were “created so all Americans regardless of wealth and regardless of social status” can experience “our shared natural world in perpetuity.” He argued that Republican leaders in Congress have “done nothing” to combat the “growing threat” to public lands.

“They ignored a Democratic request last month to hold a Natural Resources Committee hearing on this issue. Instead, some Republican leaders have chosen to support element of this anti-government ideology,” he said. “Not long ago, eliminating federal protection for our country’s most sensitive natural areas was a fringe idea held by a few anti-government fanatics. Today, it has powerful congressional advocates like the Federal Land Action Group.”

The Federal Land Action Group was formed last year by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah).

“This group will explore legal and historical background in order to determine the best congressional action needed to return these lands back to the rightful owners,” Bishop said at the time. “We have assembled a strong team of lawmakers, and I look forward to formulating a plan that reminds the federal government it should leave the job of land management to those who know best.”

Grijalva said the group would hand federal lands to states and localities that cannot afford to manage them.

“If this plan is adopted, many sensitive areas will quickly be sold to the highest bidder and the American people will lose access to lands they have traditionally owned as a community,” he said. “The vision of selling off our public land has no support in law.”

Grijalva said Congress is treating public lands differently today compared to the past.

“This power idea of sharing our land has been defended by generations of bipartisan leaders. Today, I am sorry to say, it is under attack from armed militant groups and their apologists in Washington,” he said. “Anti-government extremists intimidate and sometimes attack public servants. They destroy public property. They desecrate the cultural resources of Native American nations.”