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John L. Smith: Nye County GOP Lunacy 'Par For The Course'

Nye County Republican Party/Facebook

Last week’s deadly riot at the nation’s Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump was felt around the world. But John L. Smith says the extremist views of that group--who wanted to overturn the presidential election--are nothing new to Nevada.

After all, Nevada's home to Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, who led his own standoff against federal agents in 2014.

Bundy wrote this about the riot in Washington, D.C.:

Today, President Trump had hundreds of thousands of people and he pointed the way – pointed towards Congress and nodded his head go get the job done. We the people did clear the chambers of congress and 100,000 should have spent the night in the halls and 100,000 should have protected them.

Bundy and his supporters prevailed against the feds that day without any bloodshed, and they prevailed again in court when the judge tossed out the case against them for prosecutorial misconduct.

“He has crowed about that and he’s become a national figure in what is considered the far-right land movement and also the kind of movement that is morphing into really Trumpism, I guess, if you will,” Smith said.

Smith said that while Bundy often portrays himself as a plain-spoken rancher who just wants to be left alone, there is another side to him. 

“The other part of him is essentially a radical right-wing conservative who does not believe that the modern federal government should exist as it does,” he said.

Bundy and other libertarians believe the federal government after President Franklin D. Roosevelt is too big and has stepped on people's rights.

In 2016, two of Bundy's sons were involved in the take over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. A jury acquitted the Bundys and some of the others involved in that incident.

Smith believes the standoff at the Bundy ranch and the Malheur Refuge acted like "test runs" for future political action with a kind of "implicit threat of violence associated with it."

The longtime Nevada journalist said it is all part of a trend in the country with the rise of far-right Proud Boys and the Three Percenters. 

“The bottom line is last Wednesday it boiled over,” he said.

Besides the Bundys, the chairman of the Nye County Republican Party, Chris Zimmerman, penned a letter saying that President Trump would, in fact, remain president; and that an Italian satellite somehow changed votes from Trump to Joe Biden in November's election.

“These are things that are picked up from QAnon, the conspiracy theorist, that are starting to proliferate on the web," Smith said, "Some of the sources come directly from the QAnon crowd and others kind of more creeping in through different social media outlets.”

Zimmerman also compared the final days of the Trump administration to a "1776" moment.

“It would be alarming, but for the fact, that the state Republican Party has been hand puppet for the Trump party and this is common throughout the country, in Republican circles, to have this kind of talk enter the kind of mainstream,” Smith said.

There are "very few facts" and an awful lot of speculation and conspiracy theories in Zimmerman's letter. 

“He is essentially par for the course for the party, the GOP in the state, as it exists today," Smith said, "So, I’m not so sure he won’t get a medal for his bravery in espousing stuff that just isn’t true or accurate.”

Smith pointed out that supporters of President Trump continue to believe there is widespread voter fraud because he keeps telling them there is widespread voter fraud, despite the fact that there is no evidence of it, and despite the fact, that the 60 or so lawsuits that have been filed by the president and his supporters have all been tossed out.

“That’s done nothing to dampen the ardor of the president’s followers,” Smith said.

Smith said Nevada has had a long history of conflicts with the feds. Vast swaths of land in the state are public land, managed by federal agencies. That has led to a long list of conflicts, even before Cliven Bundy was involved. 

He believes the conflicts between federal agencies and westerners are connected in a way to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Smith noted that Brigham Young, the second president of the LDS church, brought the church members West to escape persecution by state governments in the East and Midwest.

The effort was to find a place where they could worship their own way. 

“That plays into the political history of the West," he said, "The sense of federal challenge. The sense of whether the federal government has too much control, and also, a conservative focus on the Constitution as a kind of sacrosanct instrument.”

Many members of the LDS Church see the Constitution as a document inspired by God that should be treated that way, he said.

Smith said the confluences in the West are complex and a lot deeper than the four years of the Trump presidency.

John L. Smith, contributor, State of Nevada

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.