On January 6th, 2021, when right wing supporters of Donald Trump staged an insurrection at the US Capitol building, they were participating in a long tradition of conservative rebellion with its roots in the West. Dr. James Skillen, associate professor of environmental studies at Calvin University, traces those roots in his new book, This Land is My Land: Rebellion in the West (Oxford University Press, 2020).
By the late 20th century, the Bureau of Land Management owned and managed huge swaths of some western states. Skillen argues that change in the regulatory environment, with a new emphasis on ecosystem and wildlife management beginning in the 1970s, combined with a groundswell of conservative support to foment armed rebellion against perceived government overreach among ranchers, small-time miners, and other western resource users.
When Ammon Bundy and his family staged a takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon in 2014, it was just the latest episode in a series of rebellions across the West, some involving the Bundys themselves, in which federal officials exchanged gunfire with armed Western rebels. In many ways, argues Skillen, Trump’s election in 2016, built on votes in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania, was the culmination of a story that begins in the American West.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.