Ammon Bundy, the erstwhile hero of the loosely organized anti-government militia movement in Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada who engaged in a 41-day standoff with federal authorities in 2016, made something of a splash on Tuesday when he weighed in on the latest reports of border officials tear gassing asylum seekers at the Mexico-U.S. border in a 17-minute long video streamed live on his facebook page.
To the surprise of many news reporters and his own supporters, Bundy defended the refugees, criticized the actions of the Trump administration, and dismissed popular conservative conspiracy theories regarding the immigrants as “a bunch of garbage”:
“[Trump] has basically called them all criminals and said they’re not coming in here. It seems that there’s been this group stereotype. But what about those who have come here for reasons of need? … What about the fathers,the mothers, the children, who have come here and are willing to go through the process to apply for asylum so they can come into this country and benefit from not having to be oppressed continually by criminals?”
As they did with his Book of Mormon-inspired rhetoric in defense of his armed standoff with federal officials, commenters were quick to connect Bundy’s seemingly more moderate stance on immigration to his beliefs as a Latter-day Saint. As the moderator of JI’s own twitter account astutely noted, “Bundy subscribes to political beliefs on both sides of the spectrum deeply rooted in Mormon theology.”
There is some truth to that take. Mormon voters tend to hold more moderate views on immigration than their evangelical peers on the farright. But as anyone who lives in Utah knows, there is no shortage of anti-immigrant sentiment among Utahns or among church members. And it would likely have surprised no one if Bundy’s attitudes appeared to match those of his coreligionists who hold little sympathy for those fleeing violence in Central America.
How, then, to account for his stance beyond just his “Mormon beliefs?” A couple of important biographical notes are relevant here:
First,Bundy served a mission in Argentina, spending two years laboring among Latin Americans,speaking their language, being welcomed into their homes, and (to some degree)immersing himself in their culture. It is not just that Bundy is Mormon, then. It is that he has personal connections to Latin America and Latin Americans.
[CORRECTION: As a couple of commenters noted, Bundy served in Minnesota, not Argentina. I appreciate the correction.]
relationships with Latin Americans did not end after his mission. attitude toward Latin American immigrants is also informed by his family’s line of work. Ammon Bundy’s father is a cattle rancher. Indeed, it was his father’s refusal to pay the grazing fees required to let his cattle graze on government land that initially led to the family’s 2014 confrontation with law enforcement and catapulted the family into the national spotlight. And the cattle ranching industry overwhelmingly relies on (predominantly Latinx) immigrant labor to function. According to this 2011article, (citing the National Agricultural Workers survey), “nearly 60% of the nation’s agricultural workforce consists of illegal immigrants; menand women whom feedyard operators, ranchers, dairymen and farmers depend on tomake their agribusinesses work.”
I’ve seen some individuals point to this latter point as a refutation of the claim that Bundy’s views are based on his religious views.But the two are not, and indeed, cannot be separated so easily. One’s theological understanding of the world is never based in religious texts alone. It is always filtered through one’s life experiences, family relationships, career field, and so on. Fascinatingly, Bundy himself explicitly connects these two points – his religious beliefs and his family business’s labor needs – in his video [beginning around 10:28]:
“We have been asked by God to help, to be welcoming, to assist strangers; to not vex them. And I think that as we do that, the Lord’s going to bless us, and bless them. And one way I can think immediately is, this country is in a labor crisis. Our labor workforce is so minimal that every employer will tell you that they cannot find the employees needed to fill the positions in their businesses. … And yet now we have thousands of people willing to come in here, and it appears … that they’re willing to work. … My family would love to sponsor a couple of their families.”