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Season 2 Of 'Bundyville' Looks At The Ecosystem Of Anti-Government Extremism


The Bundy family is at the heart of an ideological battle in the western U.S. In 2014, the family patriarch, Cliven Bundy had an armed standoff with federal agents at his Nevada ranch over cattle grazing rights. Then, in 2016, his sons led an occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. In both cases, the message was that the federal government has no right to own Western lands.

Leah Sottile covered those stories as a public radio reporter and decided to dig into them more deeply with the podcast Bundyville. The first season explored the roots of the family's mistrust of the federal government.


LEAH SOTTILE, BYLINE: Their motivations are complicated - part religion, part trauma, part revenge. But I can't help but feel like another ingredient is plain old greed.

SHAPIRO: Now Bundyville is back for a second season. This time, Sottile looks more broadly at the ecosystem of anti-government extremism, including a suicide bombing in Nevada in 2016.


TIFFANY CLUFF: He said he was going to blow the house up. He said his car was full of explosives and he was going to blow my house up.

SHAPIRO: This season also looks at the man who may have inspired that bombing. Law enforcement shot and killed LaVoy Finicum during the 2016 Oregon occupation. And Finicum became a powerful symbol for the anti-government movement. Sottile told me that death gave her a central question for this season.

SOTTILE: I think I wanted to know what the power of a martyr is and what that might push someone to do.

SHAPIRO: And what did you conclude?

SOTTILE: I think that it's the most powerful thing that the anti-government movement can have. And I think that that's something important for the federal government to understand - that one death can be twisted in a way that can benefit some really dangerous people.

SHAPIRO: We're going to play some tape of the moment his life ended. So we should warn listeners that what they're about to hear may be upsetting. Tell us what we're hearing here. Describe the scene.


LAVOY FINICUM: You back down, or you kill me now.

SOTTILE: So in late January of 2016, the leaders of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation were pulled over by members of the FBI and the Oregon State Police, trying to arrest and end that occupation once and for all.


FINICUM: Can't get around him. I'm going to go get help.

SOTTILE: But one man, LaVoy Finicum decided to speed away from that traffic stop.


FINICUM: Hang on.

SHAWNA COX: OK - 'cause they're shooting.

FINICUM: Hang on.

SOTTILE: When he approached a roadblock, he tried to drive around it. That didn't work.


FINICUM: Go ahead and shoot me.

SOTTILE: He jumped out of the car...




SOTTILE: ...And reached for a gun in his jacket several times before he was shot and killed.


SHAPIRO: And as you describe in Season 2, he has become the martyr for this movement. What does that mean? How did that happen?

SOTTILE: When LaVoy was killed, a lot of people saw it as the government coming after people it didn't agree with.

SHAPIRO: His supporters called it an assassination.

SOTTILE: They did. And it's interesting to see how many different interpretations there are of something that seems very clear - that a man reaching for his gun, trying to blow through a roadblock, driving away from police officers could be seen as an assassination, as a planned hit. That is how the Patriot Movement views it.

SHAPIRO: Let's hear a few voices of his supporters in their YouTube videos describing the way they view this incident.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: This wasn't happenchance. This was orchestrated, created and planned to happen this way.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: The murder of LaVoy Finicum by the FBI was premeditated.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Everything that you've heard thus far...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: ...Is not the truth.

SHAPIRO: What does LaVoy Finicum represent to the followers of this movement?

SOTTILE: They talk about him with extreme reverence. They speak about him like a saint. I think if you look at the anti-government movement from a wide view, you see that there are many moments throughout history when the government has actually shot and killed people. The anti-government movement will point to things like the Ruby Ridge standoff in the early '90s, the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and they will point to the death of LaVoy Finicum as the latest chapter in history when the government shoots and kills people it disagrees with.

SHAPIRO: The bombing that took place in Nevada in 2016 that provides a sort of central point for that Season 2 of this podcast did not get a lot of national attention. And you speculate that if the bomber had not been white, it would have gotten more. Do you think that is true of this issue and this movement more broadly - that the movement and the violent aspects of it are somehow given more of a pass or overlooked because the perpetrators are white?

SOTTILE: Absolutely. I think that in a post 9/11 world, people - Americans have an idea of what a terrorist is. And maybe in their heads, they have an idea of what a terrorist looks like. I think you can compare the Malheur occupation to something like what happened at Standing Rock. You can compare to what happened in Ferguson. And you can see these examples where the government came in with really heavy-handed tactics. But with the Malheur occupation in 2016, you know, those folks were allowed to stay there for 41 days. So I think that you can point to several moments in history where the law hasn't maybe been applied equally.

SHAPIRO: When you look at this movement, how far do you have to travel to get from the fringes of American society to more mainstream figures in media or politics?

SOTTILE: Not far. I think that in the course of my reporting this season, we look at a state representative out of Washington who has been at the Bundys' side in 2014 and 2016, continues to sort of push these patriot talking points. So I think...

SHAPIRO: That representative, by the way, is named Matt Shea.

SOTTILE: That's Matt Shea out of Spokane Valley, Wash., yes. You know, that's an area that's very largely, you know, suburban, white demographic that lives there. It's not a rural story at all when it comes to Matt Shea. So I think - you know, that's one thing I think the mainstream media misses with the Bundy story - is that it's a revolt of cowboys, when in reality it's very few cowboys. It's actually a lot of very suburban, even urban people that believe in their talking points.

SHAPIRO: That's Leah Sottile. She is the reporter and host of the podcast Bundyville from Oregon Public Broadcasting and Longreads. Season 2 begins today.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.