The Bundys and Immigration

Recently, Ammon Bundy has made some remarks about immigration policy. These remarks have been made on public radio as well as on Ammon Bundy’s Facebook page. Criticizing the Trump policy as one that is “fear-based”, Bundy said “These are people, the majority of them need help…There is a possibility of danger with some of them, they need to be vetted. And then they need to be brought in here and added to this great, wonderful country.” The reactions have been somewhat amusing. Some right-wing folks consider Bundy’s remarks a serious betrayal. Other people saw this as Bundy trending towards a liberal stance.

Fools, all of you! I shall explain this puzzle.

Ammon Bundy is, like most people, complex but with a few dominant cultural markers which overlap. These are (as I see them):
-Small government/Anti-government
-Rural (specifically, a product of rural Nevada/Southern Utah)
-Inspired by the sovereign citizen movement

The interaction between Mormonism and the regional politics of the Mountain West has been explored in some news articles, but it’s hard to explain in outsider terms how deeply the language and tenor of religion has infused into a worldview that is staunchly individualistic, tied to clan/family life and is extremely suspicious of the federal government (and in many cases state government as well). Modern revelation features heavily into daily life; the temple (specifically, the local temple) is a focal point; prayer infuses all activities and communications; and scripture is read as immediately applicable to daily life. The Book of Mormon especially contains a number of passages regarding government and individual rights which lend themselves to a worldview where centralized power is to be distrusted and individuals are empowered to stand up to defend their families and their liberty. America is a designated land of freedom and promise.[1] Corrupt, rich leaders driving people to wickedness are actually a fulfillment of Book of Mormon predictions of a cycle of pride, which will lead to the destruction of the government and the wicked, leaving only the small band of believers. It’s not hard, if you take the Book of Mormon seriously, to see the antics of the federal government as a serious warning sign.

At the same time, the position of the Church with respect to immigration in particular is far more open than the current GOP stance. The Church officially respects governments and borders but is focused on the welfare of families. While there are plenty of members that have varying opinions around that axis, by and large this is the adopted position. Bundy’s comments are in line with that position; namely, help people that need help. As a self-declared staunch member of the church, it should not be surprising that he articulated this position. Nevertheless, it was surprising, because the assumption is that Ammon Bundy is a conservative and therefore in alignment with the current conservative government.

But the assumption is false. Bundy is not a conservative, at least not in the sense of being a Republican. Turns out that when you’re anti-government, the distinction of it being a Democrat or Republican government is not that important. The apparatus of the FBI, the encroachment of “public lands” on the rights of local users, the (unconstitutional?) burden of taxation, the unethical practices of civil forfeiture, the heavy-handed use of police forces at the border and other government installations (like the Malheur Refuge)… the list goes on and on, but these are symptoms of a federal government out of control, not of any particular party. Bundy never was a MAGA adherent. The notion is ridiculous. Bundy might align on some policies, but the family has made it clear that their concern is about the institution generally. Trump in some respects confirms their mistrust (and ties to underlying religious belief about evil leaders).

Some suggest that Bundy’s stance on immigration is related to a desire to hire undocumented workers for the ranch. If that’s true, it’s not reflected in his comments here, which focus on personal welfare and helping families. The hiring of migrant workers is certainly part of farm life in the rural Mountain West, and the idea probably has some appeal of hiring whomever you want and sticking a middle finger to the government in the process. So that might be an underlying current here, but certainly not an explicit part of his remarks.

Ultimately, I get the sense that Ammon Bundy (and the Bundys generally) view themselves as faithful men trying to do the right thing, in the style of Captain Moroni (probably the single biggest scriptural example). Defending individual Christian freedoms, fighting against tyranny, keeping their families and livelihoods safe in the face of encroaching government corruption — this is their bread and butter. It would be an error to say that this position leads to a xenophobia against migrants which would cause them to be suckered by either the government’s lies about the caravan or a liberal position of letting everyone in without scrutiny. Bundy’s Mormonism leads him to a measure of pragmatic compassion, especially with respect to government surveillance and control over geography.

Just goes to show that people can surprise you, especially when you don’t understand them in the first place.

[1] Not to mention the Bundys’ approach to indigenous peoples, which also have a significant role in Book of Mormon narratives and prophecy.


  1. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    People who understand that the current wave of Central American migrants are fleeing what ought to look to any Mormon like the reincarnated Gadianton robbers are generally going to be more sympathetic to their cause than those who don’t see MS-13 and XV3 in those terms.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    That was a very helpful explanation; thanks, Steve.

  3. This really isn’t that difficult to understand, but I’m nonetheless glad you had the courage and wherewithal to tackle it.

  4. Practicing Mormons dont really fit a typical political mold.

    Side point. Are the Bundys really active members?

  5. interesting, thanks!

  6. Not to mention that the Bundy Family wants to continue grazing their cattle for free on Public Lands as they have done for years without paying their fair share. No they are not active Mormons. Many have been ex-communicated.

  7. Oooppps! Thought you would recognize me as Nevada Grami

  8. Steve this was very interesting. I’ve been thinking about this and I think you’ve hit it.

  9. It is easy to think of the Bundy’s are ignorant rubes who simply refuse to pay taxes for services rendered. But they were apparently smart enough to not incriminate themselves when the FBI tried to entrap them when authorities were “filming” a bogus documentary. It is curious how the Bundy family managed to accrue such large fines and fees with the government.

  10. …Or it could be that the FBI is not as smart as they would like the public to believe.

  11. Mikel G Borg says:

    The one value that Brother Bundy exhibits that most accurately reflects his world, or rather nation view, is one of being a criminal. Not paying very low and reasonable grazing fees for use of land that is owned by all people of the USA usa prime example. Also conspiring with other to obstruct federal agents and occupying public lands to the exclusion of the public and its representatives. Not in keeping with church policy.

  12. Very fair assessment of someone on the fringes of LDSism.

    Lindsey had some good comments regarding Bundy on the YOP Podcast episode on Council of 50.

  13. Ammon Bundy is a domestic terrorist who needs to be locked up for life. But of course, Trump with his sympathies for right-wing terrorists such as Bundy and Arpaio pardoned him.

  14. “Bundy is not a conservative.”

    Please. He is a right-winger conspiracy theorist who just so happens not to be a white supremacist. I am unimpressed. On so many other plains, he fits squarely within modern US conservatism. He is also still a terrorist and a threat to BLM employees.

  15. Wilson, you can make the argument that Bundy fits within the current “conservative” movement in the US, but the point is that that movement is a misnomer. The ascendant elements within the GOP and the extreme right wing are also not conservative within the actual meaning of that term. Bundy is certainly right-wing, he is certainly a conspiracy theorist, but he is no conservative, and he is much more an ideologue than a partisan. He’s motivated by ideology, not by party or movement loyalty.

  16. Sorry to not impress you, Wilson

  17. If Mormons actually thought about their theology and their politics for half a second, none would be Republicans right now,

  18. pconnornc says:

    I’m not sure they would be Democrats right now either ;-) I’m squarely with the “unaffiliated” lately – last election had me voting for 4 Libertarians, 4 Democrats and 8 Republicans. To Steve’s point re: Bundy, I most political labels would not fit many on this board.

  19. JKC, the meaning of conservative and conservatism have changed over time. Historically proponents of a strong central state, such as Hamilton in the US and monarchists in France circa 1789, were conservatives in that they sought to conserve the power of the traditional power-holding institutions. Thomas Jefferson was a liberal since he favored allocating power away from central institutions toward peripheral elements (I.e. Kentucky and Virginia resoultions and speaking kindly of Shay’s rebellion).

    Nowadays, or at least during the Obama years, the conservative movement sought to allocate power more away from the center to the periphery especially as a way to maneuver around Obamacare and other unwelcome Obama administration legislation. The idea was that conservativism was supposed to conserve “traditional values” that the Obama admin did not represent. In that sense, Bundy fit squarely within the conservative movement. He was challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s hold on considerable tracts of land in the West and believed that local elements had the right to ownership and control.

    Then Trump came along and conservativism in the US morphed around Trumpism and became increasingly infused with soft white supremicist rhetoric (fear of Latino immigrants, preservation of white culture, fake plight of the white male, anti-PC rhetoric). In that sense Bundy doesn’t fit into the conservative movement.

    It should be noted that conservatism is defined collectively, not by you individually think it should mean. It is the sum of what ideas that resonate with self-identified conservatives. I hear anti-Trump conservatives (who are actually now a small minority among modern US conservatives, given the fact that around 80% of self-identified conservatives approve of Trump) complain that such and such an idea doesn’t represent true conservatism. Sorry, but if most self-conservatives support said idea, then it does represent conservatism.

  20. Best line! People can surprise you, especially when you don’t understand them in the first place.

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