Wyo. radical taking his 'rights' to the extreme

Bozeman Chronicle/November 4, 2002
By Todd Wilkinson

If ever the anti-cow movement desired a potent figure to illustrate why Americans are ambivalent about livestock grazing on public lands, they appear to have found their poster child with white supremacist-rancher Rudy Stanko.

Not only is the cattle-free crowd abuzz over Mr. Stanko's decision to take his traveling road show of extremism to Wyoming; so, too, are human rights activists, law enforcement officials, and citizens awakening to Stanko's disturbing vision.

"What people need to know is that Rudy Stanko, to his credit, isn't an idiot," says Ken Toole, a Montana legislator and director of the Montana Human Rights Network which has tried to warn communities about Stanko's agenda for several years.

During the 1990s, Montanans became well aware of Stanko for his role as a founding reverend in the racist Church of the Creator, for his ties to the radical Freemen, and for his outspoken belief that it is patriotic to advocate hatred toward the federal government and civil servants who enforce the laws of the land.

Of concern, Toole says, is that Mr. Stanko now appears to be winning a toehold of sympathy with certain commissioners from Fremont County, Wyo. Commissioners there have given serious consideration to Stanko's desire to kill any grizzly or wolf that he perceives is a threat to cattle grazing inside the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

"There is a tendency among people that, when they find out a person is openly and overtly racist, to think the person is dumb, but Rudy is smart," Toole says. "He knows how to organize people by uniting them around controversies of the moment, whether that is making a case for taking the law into one's own hands and shooting grizzlies, beating up gay people, picketing abortion clinics, or defending gun rights in light of controversy created by the Maryland sniper case."

Toole adds: "Stanko begins by seizing on people's emotions and then starts providing a different analysis that culminates with him promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories along with white man victim stories that really work the bubbas of this world into an angry lather."

By his own estimate, Stanko says he's missing between 200 and 300 of his cattle on the Bridger-Teton. (Apparently, he needs to look harder in finding his missing bovines since one of them is a cow that got lost and showed up recently in Yellowstone National Park).

Invoking the image of a poker player, Stanko acknowledged that turning cattle loose in wild country, inhabited by grizzlies and wolves, is a gamble. However, he suggested that by exercising "natural common law rights" he is exempted from adhering to the Endangered Species Act and any other federal law that restricts his personal liberty.

Mr. Stanko is entitled to his opinions, and certainly Democracy is based upon the principle of one citizen, one vote. Unfortunately for Mr. Stanko, he lost his right to vote following a conviction for selling tainted meat to a school lunch program. Instead, he's gained a warm reception from the Fremont County Commission which is earning its own reputation in the West as a haven for radicals.

Despite warnings from both the county sheriff and attorney, commissioners there passed a resolution saying they would not allow grizzlies and wolves to cross inside the county boundary -- a laughable declaration since a large percentage of the county happens to be comprised of public land in which American people, who hold deed to the property, gave Congress a mandate to create laws that protect imperiled species.

In subtle and not-so-subtle terms, Stanko has indicated he may dispense his own form of justice if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not grant him unlimited authority to destroy wolves and grizzlies.

This, too, is a fascinating threat coming from a man who, because of his felony conviction, no longer possesses the right to own a firearm -- the sole exception being that he reportedly could legally fire a muzzleloader at the predators, which is something he's considering.

"I actually think it would be fun watching Rudy trying to shoot charging grizzlies with a muzzleloader from 10 yards," Toole says with a wry smile on his face. "It's something we ought to encourage."

Todd Wilkinson's column appears here every Monday.

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