Between 2013-2017, there were at least 360 instances of threatening behavior or outright assaults directed against employees of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service. The instances were detailed in a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. The incidents cited ranged from, on the relatively benign end, to threatening statements made to agents over the phone, all the way to aggravated assault and attempted murder.
Of the four federal land management agencies, most of the threats were directed against BLM employees. More than 80 incidents including assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, and threatening remarks were reported during the years under study, though the authors point out that not all registered incidents were likely included in the report, for example, if they were instead reported to state or county officials.
Alarmingly, many federal employees, according to the report, experience threatening behavior so often they actually consider it “part of the job” so they don’t bother to report it. Some employees reported being threatened while off-duty, “such as being harassed or monitored while in their home which officials in some cases said they did not report because it was a common occurrence.”
The report cited well-known skirmishes between feds and the public, like the standoffs with the cattle grazing Bundy family, which made headlines when they twice engaged in armed standoffs with federal officials over disputes concerning illegal grazing on public lands, once in 2014 and again in 2016. But additionally, the FBI was involved in over 100 investigations into potential threats to federal land employees from domestic terrorism during the four-year period covered in the report. “The majority of these investigations involved BLM and individuals motivated by anti-government ideologies,” says the GAO.
Employees of the four agencies are often working in remote areas, making them vulnerable as the only public faces of government. As such, the report suggests the agencies do a better job of understanding threats while also training their field employees in threat assessment. The report also points out that of the four agencies, only the Forest Service has taken concrete steps to assess and mitigate threats to employees and facilities. All four agencies cite severe budgetary constraints as hampering any potential bolstering of security, whether that means training, increased staffing, or improving the security of often isolated public lands offices.
“BLM employees have had to deal with an ever-increasing number of threats from radicalized elements of the public,” Andrew Suppiger, a National Federation of Federal Employees local president in California told the Washington Post. “What guidance have we given to our employees who are likely to come into contact with the public outside of the office in addressing these threats? None as far as I am aware.”