Following a fourth suicide subsequent to bullying and harassment by Bureau of Land Management law enforcement agents, I, Christopher Kortlander, the Founding Director of the Custer Battlefield Museum in Garryowen, MT, am speaking out. I, myself, the victim of two unwarranted Bureau of Land Management raids, say the intimidation and threats by teams of heavily-armed BLM law enforcement agents must end.
The Bureau of Land Management has a long track record of aggressive harassment, unwarranted raids, and heartbreaking suicides to answer for. Their questionable assertions of criminal behavior and unchecked aggression must be exposed and those involved must be investigated.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, said, “We need to be more Andy Griffith and less Rambo.” In a January 24th press release, he announced his plan to do just that. Chaffetz reintroduced the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, or H.R. 622, which will strip the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service of their law enforcement authority, with the aim of bringing these agencies into line. “It’s time to get rid of the BLM and US Forest Service police,” Chaffetz says, “If there is a problem, your local sheriff is the first and best line of defense. By restoring local control in law enforcement, we enable federal agencies and county sheriffs to each focus on their respective core missions.”
In 2014, I was asked by an elected official to submit written testimony to the House of Representatives subcommittee that investigates this type of harassment and intimidation by federal law enforcement, but nothing has come of it. It’s time to get the public involved to end this kind of harassment of private, law-abiding citizens.” (See Congressional Hearing- Threats, Intimidation and Bullying by Federal Land Managing Agencies – The attached 56-page document, submitted at this congressional hearing on July 24, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building, is very important because it reveals WHY the Custer Battlefield Museum Raids, the Four Corners Raids, and the Gibson Guitar Raids occurred.)
On June 9, 2009, 17 teams of fully-armed Bureau of Land Management agents raided the southeastern Utah homes of two dozen casual Indian artifact hobbyist-collectors. When the over-the-top militaristic raids concluded, 24 people were charged with felonies and misdemeanors under the 1979 Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) which prohibits removing archaeological resources, including Native American artifacts from tribal or federal lands.
The day after the excessive raids, following hours of aggressive interrogation by Bureau of Land Management agents spearheaded by Dan Love, Dr. James D. Redd – one of those charged under the ARPA law – committed suicide. A week later, Steven Shrader, another man charged in connection with the Four Corners raids, killed himself. Eight months later, Ted Gardiner, the man the Bureau of Land Management agents had paid $244,000 to supply them with (unverified) information about Indian artifact hobbyist-collectors, also killed himself.
On December 1, 2016, after months of harassment and bullying by federal law enforcement, half a dozen Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service agents, accompanied by a federal Social Security investigator, raided the Cody, Wyoming home of Robert Weaver, a rock hound who collected fossils. Weaver underwent eight long hours of brutal interrogation and bullying by BLM agents and the Social Security investigator; following his release (no charges were ever filed) federal agents continued to interrogate, harass, and intimidate Weaver for an entire month. On December 31, 2016, Robert Weaver took his own life, tragically becoming the fourth suicide in connection with an over-the-top Bureau of Land Management raid.
While talking to Rep. Chaffetz’s press secretary today I was surprised to learn that they had not heard of the most recent suicide brought on by the BLM. Also, today Rep. Chaffetz had a private meeting with President Trump regarding the reform priorities of the GOP agenda. When Bob Weaver took his own life it became the 4th suicide related to a BLM raid. One would think that this should be a catalyst to make Rep Chaffetz efforts to pass his H.R. 622 bill to demilitarize the BLM law enforcement division successful.
(Christopher Kortlander is the Founding Director of the Custer Battlefield Museum)