A New Trump-Tied PAC Has Entered The Right-Wing War Against Biden’s Conservation Goals

Sagebrush Rebellion PAC, led by former Trump officials, is making a documentary starring the most rabid opponents of the "30x30" initiative.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty/Hobbs News-Sun/Twitter

A new political action committee run by two former Trump administration officials is marking its territory in a disinformation-rich campaign against the Biden administration’s goal of conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030, known informally as “30x30.”

Sagebrush Rebellion PAC, named after the anti-government Sagebrush Rebellion movement that started in the 1970s and sought to remove lands from federal control, quietly surfaced late last year. It has deep connections to Trumpworld and has joined a growing coalition of right-wing organizations and elected officials sowing fear in rural communities with false, conspiratorial claims about how Biden’s government is planning to confiscate private property or use deceptive tactics to gain control of private land to meet the 30x30 target.

On its cowboy-heavy website, Sagebrush Rebellion boasts of being “made up of grassroots fighters who are not beholden to Washington’s inner circles” and says it is “committed to gutting incompetent and corrupt leaders from the political process.” Its priorities include dismantling federal land management agencies and transferring control of federal lands to the states, as well as a laundry list of fossil fuel-centric energy policies that looks like something pulled directly from an oil and gas trade group’s website.

The PAC’s donations page urges people to “help us start a rebellion.” It sells T-shirts, mugs and other merchandise that feature a cow skull and the phrase “Let’s Go Brandin’,” a cowboy twist on a popular conservative phrase meaning “Fuck Joe Biden.” Internet archives show that in 2015 the website URL that Sagebrush Rebellion PAC is now using featured a post titled “Simple Wisdom of Cliven Bundy,” the notorious Nevada rancher who led an armed standoff with federal agents in 2014 over unpaid grazing fees.

As HuffPost reported this story, the PAC and a film company it is working with on a documentary purged their social media accounts of specific posts in the exact order that HuffPost inquired about them.

As of March 31, the fledgling PAC had received only $200 in contributions, according to its most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. But it recently started forging relationships with some of the biggest players in the anti-30x30 push. The PAC sponsored last month’s “STOP 30x30 Summit” in Lincoln, Nebraska. On Twitter, the group has parroted the anti-30x30 movement’s sweeping, evidence-free claim that the 30x30 target is a federal “land grab” in disguise.

The group is based in Casper, Wyoming, and led by Rockefeller heiress and Donald Trump loyalist Catharine P. O’Neill, the daughter of major Republican donor George O’Neill Jr. She worked at both the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Trump administration and is a regular contributor to far-right news outlet Newsmax.

Christian Whiton, a former adviser to the Trump and George W. Bush administrations, is the PAC’s ​​director of communications.

O’Neill and Whiton have both peddled baseless claims about fraud in the 2020 election and questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency. On a leaked call with USAID staff two days after Biden was announced the winner, O’Neill declared that “the election is still happening” and “the Electoral College has not voted yet.” And on Jan. 6, 2021, after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to thwart certification of the 2020 election, O’Neill went on Twitter to proclaim her alliance to Trump and condemn those not standing behind him.

Along with sponsoring last month’s “Stop 30x30 Summit,” Sagebrush Rebellion PAC has teamed up with an Arizona-based production company, J Infinite Digital Media, to produce some sort of documentary starring the leading figures of the anti-30x30 movement.

In a now-deleted post on Instagram, J Infinite shared pictures of the production company and Sagebrush Rebellion PAC filming at last month’s event. “An amazing production day with @sagebrushrebellion on their latest doc project,” read the post, which included pictures of film production and an interview with Margaret Byfield, executive director of American Stewards of Liberty, a fringe right-wing property rights group in Texas that organized the summit and is leading the fight against 30x30. Jackson Carter of Sagebrush Rebellion was tagged in the post.

The post also featured Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), one of the summit’s keynote speakers, and Utah state Rep. Phil Lyman (R), who was convicted in 2015 of leading anti-federal land protesters on an illegal ATV ride on public lands that were off limits to off-road vehicles. Trump later pardoned Lyman’s federal misdemeanor conviction.

J Infinite removed the Instagram post within a couple hours of HuffPost contacting Sagebrush Rebellion PAC about it.

Accountable.US, a watchdog group, first alerted HuffPost to Sagebrush Rebellion PAC and its forthcoming documentary project.

“When it comes to American Stewards of Liberty, you can almost hear the black helicopters circling,” Jordan Schreiber, energy and environment director at Accountable.US, told HuffPost in an email. She noted that the group’s leaders have compared 30x30 to Nazi Germany and the Holodomor, a human-caused famine that occurred in Ukraine during Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s rule that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 3.9 million people.

“This is what we are up against in the fight to preserve American land and water for future generations to enjoy,” Schreiber said.

The documentary project appears to be far and away the biggest job this little-known film outfit has landed. A review of J Infinite’s website indicates its specialty is filming and photographing people shooting and posing with guns. Two of its main clients are tactical training facilities in Arizona, one of which J Infinite’s owner Jacob Fuchs also works for.

Fuchs seems to have some sort of affiliation with or affinity for the Boogaloo Bois, an often violent far-right, anti-government movement that has warned of and even plotted a future civil war. Members often sport Hawaiian shirts and military-style gear.

Last June, J Infinite released a nearly three-minute, slow-motion video titled “Da Bois,” featuring Fuchs and two other men in tactical gear shooting assault-style rifles and handguns and fist-bumping to The Chords’ song “Sh-Boom.” Vests worn by Fuchs and another man feature patches that read “BOOG CREW.” Another similar video posted on the company’s YouTube channel is titled “Boogaloo Crew Pilot.”

Two days after the anti-30x30 summit in Nebraska, Sagebrush Rebellion posted a picture on Twitter of what appears to be Fuchs in a Hawaiian shirt with the caption, “Behind the scenes…stay tuned!”

A screenshot of a now-deleted post on Sagebrush Rebellion PAC's Twitter page.
A screenshot of a now-deleted post on Sagebrush Rebellion PAC's Twitter page.
Twitter/Sagebrush Rebellion PAC

Neither J Infinite nor Sagebrush Rebellion PAC responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment about the documentary they are working on or the production company’s Boogaloo-themed videos.

A series of emails to Joshua Abernathy, whose address is listed on the PAC’s filings with the FEC, garnered only a brief reply: “I am no longer working on that project.”

After HuffPost reached out to J Infinite, the company deleted its Boogaloo-themed content from YouTube, took down its website and made its Instagram page private. And immediately after HuffPost asked if the man pictured in the Hawaiian shirt was Fuchs, Sagebrush Rebellion took down the post and blocked this reporter on Twitter.

It is unclear how Fuchs and his company went from filming Boogaloo-themed target practices to a documentary for a PAC run by former Trump administration officials, or to what extent American Stewards of Liberty is involved in the project.

Byfield did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Margaret Byfield, executive director of American Stewards of Liberty, speaks at an anti-30x30 information session in Lea County, New Mexico, in July 2021. Her Texas-based nonprofit is leading the charge against the Biden administration's conservation target.
Margaret Byfield, executive director of American Stewards of Liberty, speaks at an anti-30x30 information session in Lea County, New Mexico, in July 2021. Her Texas-based nonprofit is leading the charge against the Biden administration's conservation target.
Blake Ovard/Hobbs News-Sun

American Stewards is largely responsible for the false narrative about 30x30 being a government land grab. The organization was formed in 2009, but it has its roots in the anti-government Sagebrush Rebellion movement. One of its precursors, Stewards of the Range, was established in 1992 to defend Byfield’s father, Nevada rancher and sagebrush rebel Wayne Hage, who battled with the Forest Service for years over unpermitted grazing on public lands — a prequel of sorts to the Bundy standoff that gave rise to an extremist militia movement.

Byfield has worked to distance her organization from the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Bundy family. In a June 2021 email to a Nebraska reporter, which HuffPost obtained as part of a public records request, Byfield wrote that her group “was founded in the 1990s so we couldn’t have had an association with the sagebrush rebellion” and that her father “was not part of the sagebrush rebellion.” She also said American Stewards has never been associated with Bundy.

Yet Byfield allowed a PAC named after the Sagebrush Rebellion that shares the movement’s anti-federal land ideology to sponsor and film an anti-30x30 summit that she called “the most important conference” her group has ever organized.

And Trent Loos, a Nebraska rancher and radio show host who served on Trump’s agricultural advisory committee and now helps American Stewards with its anti-30x30 campaign, conducted a sympathetic interview with Bundy’s son, Ammon Bundy, during the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.

In closing remarks at last month’s summit in Nebraska, which HuffPost obtained a recording of, Byfield took a moment to thank and recognize the event’s sponsors.

“Catharine O’Neill, the Sagebrush Rebellion,” Byfield said to the audience. “Have you guys been doing any interviews with Catharine? She’s set up in the media room.”

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