BOISE, Idaho (AP) — When armed protesters took over a remote wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon four years ago to oppose federal control of public lands, federal agents negotiated with the right-wing occupiers for weeks while some state leaders begged for stronger action.
This month, federal officers sent to Portland to quell protests against racial injustice took swift and far harsher action: launching tear gas, firing less-than-lethal ammunition and arresting more than 40 people in two weeks. State leaders are imploring federal forces to leave the progressive city, saying they're escalating a volatile situation.
The reaction from state leaders, protesters and right-wing anti-government groups to the U.S. response to two disparate situations shows the inconsistencies in how both sides view federal intervention, often based on the politics of who's protesting and who's cracking down.
J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University's Program on Extremism, said many right-wing extremists who espouse anti-government and pro-gun views have embraced the authoritarian tactics used by President Trump that they denounced under his Democratic predecessor.
"It's like night and day," she said. "They hated government when Obama was in office. They love government now."
MacNab, who's been monitoring social media chatter by supporters of anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and the militia-style Three Percenters, said she's seen a steady stream of violent rhetoric directed toward Portland protesters.
MacNab said the Oath Keepers in 2015 promoted a conspiracy theory that a U.S. military training exercise was a pretext for the federal government to impose martial law.
"They are literally 180 degrees from where they were in 2015," she said.
But some of them do not fully support the federal tactics targeting two months of protests in Portland that began after George Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police. Large, mostly peaceful crowds had dwindled to smaller groups that have vandalized the federal courthouse and other public buildings downtown, which federal authorities say gives them authority to protect their officers and property.
Eric Parker, president of The Real 3%ers of Idaho, supported an armed standoff with federal authorities in 2014 near the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy, whose sons led the occupation at the wildlife refuge in Oregon two years later. Both standoffs pushed for states' rights and keeping the federal government out of people's lives.
Parker was charged with pointing a semiautomatic rifle at armed federal agents and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. He spent about 18 months in federal custody.
"I had to go through due process with my activism, if you're willing to call it that," he said this week. "And if you're going to do activism, you have to be willing to do that."
Parker, who's running for Idaho state Senate, has some concerns about the federal response to protests in Portland and elsewhere.
"It makes me uncomfortable, sure," he said. He worries that videos that show federal agents grabbing people off the street and whisking them away in unmarked cars could mean people are being arrested without probable cause.
Still, he doesn't necessarily oppose U.S. agencies taking action.
"If Portland isn't going to protect its police department or the federal building or what have you, I could see them having to," Parker said.
Parker, who was in eastern Oregon during the 2016 occupation but said he did not take part, criticized the difference in the Democratic governor's reactions to the federal response then and now.
Gov. Kate Brown has compared the presence of federal agents at the Portland protests to pouring gasoline on a fire.
"This a democracy, not a dictatorship. We cannot have secret police abducting people in unmarked vehicles. I can't believe I have to say that to the President of the United States," she tweeted.