In April 2014, several Republican state lawmakers went to rural Nevada to support the armed standoff rancher Cliven Bundy had forced with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and during the standoff, they formed a group, the Coalition of Western States, or COWS. When Bundy's son, Ammon Bundy, led a group of armed anti-government protesters to take over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge outside Burns, Oregon, in January, the COWS members knew his rough plans in advance, and they actively tried to help the occupation once it had begun, John Sepulvado reports at Oregon Public Broadcasting.
In one instance, Washington State lawmaker Matt Shea — one of the COWS cofounders — led a group of elected officials from four states to try to negotiate with the Harney County sheriff and FBI on behalf of the occupiers, first presenting themselves as interested in de-escalating the conflict but then trying to elicit tactical information from local and federal law enforcement officials, OPB says. Near the end of the meeting, Nevada Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore raised the stakes. "The BLM has become a bureaucratic agency of — basically — terrorism," she said over the phone. "So at what point do we band together as elected officials, and say, 'Enough is enough of the BLM?'"
After that Jan. 9 meeting, "COWS representatives visited the refuge, which was closed to the public," Sepulvado reports. "The lawmakers acknowledge they fed the militants information gathered from that meeting, and militant leaders talked openly about what they learned from those disclosures." In another case, COWS member Anthony Bosworth, a failed candidate for sheriff of Washington's Yakima County, traveled to occupied Malheur at Shea's request as a "security specialist," stayed on, and helped one of the occupation leaders escape. You can read more about the GOP lawmakers' goals and involvement at OPB, and listen to the radio report below. Peter Weber