On June 18, 2021, Ammon Bundy, the son of the controversial Cliven Bundy, announced his intention to run for Governor of Idaho under the Republican banner. Only 7 years ago, Ammon was a central figure in what has become known as the ‘Bundy standoff’, a seemingly wild west-level dispute that arose between the cowboy Bundy family, and the Bureau of Land Management.
The origins of the dispute date back to 1993, when Cliven Bundy declined to renew his permit for cattle grazing in protest of new regulations. Bundy then, without a permit, continued to graze his cattle on public lands. Several failed legal battles later, the ATF, FBI, and various Nevadan agencies combined to confront the Bundy family and a cohort of various militias in Bunkerville, Nevada. But this was not the only time events like this would occur involving the Bundy’s. An armed conflict occurred in 2015 in Priest River, Idaho, and in 2016, Ammon Bundy (now the leader of the bloc) and several others occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in protest of the federal occupation of public lands.
After a series of denunciations of President Trump’s immigration policy, the concept of nationalism itself, and support for Black Lives Matter – the Bundy agenda for Governor seems, on the surface, an odd direction for Trumpism if remotely successful. Instead of an emphasis on Hamiltonian economic nationalism and governance, like that which has been attributed to Trump, it feels incredibly Jeffersonian.
In many ways, the Bundy platform is largely akin to that of the paleolibertarians, who consequently, draw from Jefferson’s early thought. Tho Bishop of the Mises Institute outlines this distinction most clearly in his “To Stop the Left, America Needs a Rothbardian Right” piece by comparing the statism of Tucker Carlson’s conservatism to the anti-state libertarianism of Rothbard;
“A key plank of Rothbard’s right-wing populist platform is “Abolish the Fed; Attack the Banksters,” highlighting a significant difference between himself and Mr. Carlson. While the latter often offers scathing criticism of the predatory nature of modern financial markets, it is the former who offers a direct attack on the primary force that has enriched Wall Street at the expense of Main Street: a politicized monetary regime established by the political and financial elite.”
Although Trump’s instincts are more aligned with Carlson, the base he appealed to was considerably different. One can remember the Tea Party-to-MAGA pipeline that occurred during the 2016 campaign as a prime example of this in action. So, should it be shocking to anyone if the Bundy for Governor initiative works better than the various national populists running in the same cycle? It should not, especially when there is a deep historical precedence for a “folk libertarian” base.
Bundy represents the purest form of this aforementioned “folk libertarianism”. T. Greer in his “The Problem with the New Right” essay, explains that while many in the Twitterverse assume the popular appeal of Trump came in his caudillo disposition, they in doing so fail to explain his unanimous support with the ancestors of the independence-minded American. Greer elaborates while analyzing the work of David H. Fischer’s Albion’s Seed;
“The New Right critique of the American tradition assumes that liberalism and libertarianism are rationalist abstractions foisted by ideologues onto an unsuspecting people. Fischer, with his eye towards Captain Preston, would argue the counter case: America’s libertarian tracts were foisted on no one. Rather, they are simply an attempt to articulate in the language of philosophy the common-sense attitudes and practices long embedded in the customs of the people themselves.”
This pioneer spirit is one that traveled with the Appalachian Ulster-Scots during the American Revolution, the Ohio Settlers soon thereafter, and finally the Homesteaders. The Bundy family, heterodox Mormons in their own right, represent to a certain extent the cultural continuity of homesteader pioneerism.
With the rise of anti-Californiacation occurring in Idaho as more and more move to the state, it would be unsurprising to me if a Bundy campaign focused on folk libertarianism and “of the soil” analogies is successful. Opinions on his past aside, in which they are justifiably suspect, the spirit carried with him through his conflict with the government was undeniably one of hardiness.
The rise of Bundy, and the opposition to him from the State, media, and coasts appears conclusive to Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis;
“American democracy was born of no theorist’s dream; it was not carried in the Susan Constant to Virginia, nor in the Mayflower to Plymouth. It came out of the American forest, and it gained new strength each time it touched a new frontier. Not the constitution but free land and an abundance of natural resources open to a fit people, made the democratic type of society in America for three centuries while it occupied its empire.”
Perhaps we live in a time now where our mores and institutions have developed to a point in which the rigid, stern approach of the pioneer is no longer acceptable. I am content in believing as much – however, with the appeal Trump had to folk libertarians and the pioneer West – a populist figure that leans into his roots, adapting them for modernity is the natural populist answer to a suit-and-tie elite. An American caudillo, one without historical precedence to the culture of any territory past the Ohio River and before it, is something figures like Bundy prove to be unlikely.