Trump’s Public Lands Chief Wrote For A Cult Extremist’s Magazine

William Perry Pendley authored anti-environmental screeds for Lyndon LaRouche. Now he controls 10% of the U.S. landmass.

William Perry Pendley, a top Trump administration official in charge of managing one-tenth of all land in the United States, is a past contributor to 21st Century Science & Technology, a fringe magazine of the late cult leader, convicted fraudster and paranoid conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche.

Documents also indicate that Pendley attended a conference in 1994 where two of LaRouche’s associates called on anti-environmental groups to help kill Senate support for an international biodiversity treaty.

William Perry Pendley poses in a photo posted to his private Twitter account.
William Perry Pendley poses in a photo posted to his private Twitter account.

Pendley wrote two pieces for 21st Century Science & Technology in the early 1990s when he was president of the right-wing nonprofit Mountain States Legal Foundation. The magazine was part of a network of LaRouche publications and chock full of pseudoscience, climate change denial and wild conspiracy theories. Its website, which is still live, features sections on “Global Warming Fraud” and calls for bringing back DDT, a banned toxic insecticide. LaRouche embraced a frenzy of conspiracy theories, contending that Queen Elizabeth is an international drug trafficker, that AIDS is spread by mosquitos, that former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was a Soviet agent, and that the rock band The Beatles was “a product shaped according to British Psychological Warfare Division specifications.”

The magazine was also a go-to platform for the so-called “Wise-Use movement,” a group of anti-government organizations pushing to boost mining, drilling and logging on federal lands while deriding environmentalists as domestic terrorists. Pendley, a conservative lawyer with extreme anti-government and anti-environmentalism views, was a key figure in that movement as it gained momentum in the 1980s.

“If you’re writing for 21st Century Science & Technology, you’re writing for people who really had some Nazi sympathies.”

- Freelance journalist Dennis King, on Pendley's articles in a LaRouche magazine

Pendley joined the Trump administration in mid-July as deputy director for policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management and by the end of the month was elevated to the role of acting director ― thereby sidestepping the Senate confirmation process for the top BLM job. He’s one of many high-ranking administration officials across the government with a history of battling the very agencies they now run.

Pendley’s ascent came as LaRouche’s organization reemerged in national politics with a stunt aimed to embarrass those arguing for a Green New Deal, a sweeping federal policy framework for combating the climate crisis. Earlier this month, a woman working with LaRouche PAC appeared at a town hall meeting that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) held in her home district, pleading with the freshman lawmaker to consider “eating babies” as a solution to curbing planet-heating emissions.

The stunt, immortalized in a viral video, was widely mocked. But the beliefs that Pendley, 74, espoused in his writings have largely gone mainstream in the Republican Party. At least eight states across the South and Midwest have enacted laws to increase criminal penalties for anti-fossil fuel protests, according to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, which tracks anti-protest legislation.

The progressive political action committee American Bridge first found ― and shared exclusively with HuffPost ― Pendley’s previously unreported writings. But a HuffPost investigation surfaced more details about his ties to LaRouche, highlighting the degree to which once-marginal extremists now control key portions of the federal government’s response to a rapidly worsening ecological collapse.

Lyndon LaRouche speaks to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington on May 5, 1988.
Lyndon LaRouche speaks to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington on May 5, 1988.
The Washington Post via Getty Images

Writing For LaRouche

In a 1992 letter to the editor printed in 21st Century Science & Technology, Pendley came to the defense of the Sahara Club, a radical anti-environmental group dedicated to “fighting eco-freaks and keeping public lands free.” Two years earlier, the BLM had charged several Sahara Club members with trespassing following a protest motorcycle ride through an area of the Mojave Desert that had been temporarily closed to protect the imperiled desert tortoise. The magazine painted the arrests as a BLM setup and claimed that the tortoise was threatened solely because the agency refused to deal with a growing population of predatory ravens. A BLM official responded with a scathing letter clarifying that raven predation was only one of the threats to the tortoise population and calling into question the magazine’s journalistic integrity.

“We found it astounding that such an article would be included in a publication supposedly dealing with science and technology,” the official wrote, adding that an internationally known scientist had flagged the article to the BLM with a note that read, “This appears to be the journal of scientific disinformation!”

The magazine also ran separate responses to the BLM official from the Sahara Club and Pendley. The Sahara Club claimed the federal agency closed the Mojave area as part of a “personal vendetta” it had against the club. Pendley accused the BLM of being a “pushover” for the Humane Society, which had filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s proposed raven control program. “Robbed of the only program that ― according to the government’s own documents ― would have done the desert tortoise any good,” Pendley wrote, “the government declared war upon the cattleman, the woolgrower, the miner, the off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiast and the City of Las Vegas.”

The following year, Pendley wrote an article in the magazine slamming a federal judge who ruled that a Montana rancher could not claim self-defense in the killing of a protected grizzly bear. Pendley called the decision “a frightening embrace, by an agency of the U.S. government, of the view of many animal rights fanatics and environmental zealots that human beings are only co-equal inhabitants of the planet, no better than any other creature.”

An article by William Perry Pendley in the Fall 1993 issue of 21st Century Science & Technology.
An article by William Perry Pendley in the Fall 1993 issue of 21st Century Science & Technology.
Screenshot/21st Century Science & Technology

The magazine and another LaRouche publication, the Executive Intelligence Review, also ran a number of stories in the late 1980s and early 1990s highlighting the work of Pendley’s legal nonprofit. The fall 1989 issue of 21st Century Science & Technology, for example, includes a brief item about a hotline that the Mountain States Legal Foundation set up for the public to report “acts of environmental terrorism.” Pendley, who served as the group’s president for nearly three decades, was quoted warning about “a small band of radical environmental terrorists” who had vandalized ski resorts and allegedly driven metal spikes into trees. He was referring to the radical environmental group Earth First!, although he didn’t mention it by name.

“We need more facts to establish participants, patterns, and to determine the existence of a conspiracy on the part of those who would kill fathers in the name of Mother Earth,” Pendley said in the magazine.

A news brief that appeared in the fall 1989 issue of 21st Century Science & Technology.
A news brief that appeared in the fall 1989 issue of 21st Century Science & Technology.
Screenshot/21st Century Science & Technology

Freelance journalist Dennis King, who studied LaRouche and his followers for decades and published a book in 1989 titled “Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism,” said it’s significant that Pendley contributed to that magazine. While many in the wise-use movement shared LaRouche’s views about environmental issues, very few publicly associated with the cult figure, he told HuffPost.

“If you’re writing for 21st Century Science & Technology, you’re writing for people who really had some Nazi sympathies,” King said. He noted that LaRouche and his followers had anti-Semitic beliefs and a long history of promoting and defending Nazi scientists. That included eulogizing Arthur Rudolph, the World War II German engineer who later helped develop the Saturn V rocket that put Americans on the moon.

Pendley’s pieces appeared in the magazine at the time that LaRouche was serving a federal prison sentence in Minnesota for fraud and conspiracy. The eight-time presidential candidate and convicted felon died in February at age 96.

A Sagebrush Rebel

Pendley’s antipathy for environmentalists goes back decades. He cut his teeth in government under James Watt, President Ronald Reagan’s Interior Department chief and widely considered among the most anti-environment Cabinet appointees in U.S. history. Pendley and Watt have close ties. They both hail from Wyoming and led the Colorado-based Mountain States Legal Foundation. Watt was the group’s first president and Pendley held the position from 1989 until last December. In 1981, Pendley followed Watt to the Interior Department and worked to open federal lands to drilling and mining. The Washington Post once described him as “Watt’s ideological twin.”

In the 1996 book “Green Backlash,” which documents the rise of the anti-environmental movement, British investigative journalist Andrew Rowell wrote that Pendley “had been a close personal friend of James Watt’s since 1975,” six years before Watt appointed him to the Interior Department post.

Under Pendley’s command, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, an industry-funded group once described as the “litigating arm of the Wise Use Movement,” hosted a series of wise-use conferences. At a 1993 event, Pendley compared environmentalists to communists, saying they are “like watermelons, red on the inside, green on the outside,” according to Rowell’s book. And one day before a 1994 wise-use event in Joseph, Oregon, that featured Pendley as a speaker, demonstrators in that town hung, tarred and feathered effigies of two environmental activists.

Pendley has compared the Earth First! group to the Nazis, saying “they are no better than Hitler’s Brownshirts,” according to Rowell. And in a 2013 interview with the Federalist Society, Pendley asserted that “the environmental community is no longer concerned about human beings.”

It’s rhetoric that closely mirrors that of Watt and LaRouche.

Watt likened environmentalists to the Nazis and described green activists as “a left-wing cult which seeks to bring down the kind of government I believe in.” In 1990, several years after he was forced to resign as Interior chief, he famously declared that “if the troubles from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used.”

LaRouche, through his media outlets, often railed against environmental “terrorists” and “eco-fascists,” going as far as to compare the movement to Satanism. Earth First! was one of his organization’s primary targets.

In his 1996 book, Rowell wrote: “Lyndon LaRouche was one of the first people to brand anyone involved in any progressive protest as a ‘terrorist’. Following his lead many sections of society are now labelling environmentalists as terrorists. William Perry Pendley calls greens terrorists. MSLF [Mountain States Legal Foundation] has held conferences on eco-terrorism, and has been instrumental in having Earth First! labelled as a terrorist organisation.”

Sinking A Biodiversity Pact

Early in Reagan’s first term, LaRouche and his followers gained direct access to several administration officials, and in March 1981 LaRouche landed an invitation to have breakfast with Interior Secretary Watt, as journalists King and Ronald Radosh reported for The New Republic in 1984.

While that sit-down proved largely unsuccessful in terms of winning over Reagan Cabinet members, the LaRouchians spent the next two decades working to forge alliances with anti-environmental organizations and industry groups, King told HuffPost.

It’s unclear if Pendley ever met LaRouche in person, either while working in the Reagan administration or at MSLF. But he did cross paths with two LaRouche associates at a “Wise Use Leadership Conference” in Sparks, Nevada, in July 1994, according to documents collected by an organization affiliated with the Environmental Working Group and archived by Greenpeace.

Elyssa Rosen, a representative of the environmental group Sierra Club, apparently infiltrated the conference. Her notes detail a bizarre, disorganized and delusional gathering. Attendees sold T-shirts that read “Clinton-Free Zone” and likened environmentalists to witches and druids. Speakers at the event included Pendley, who reportedly stressed the need to “expose the hidden costs of environmental policy,” as well as a “LaRouche groupie” and forest scientist named Michael Coffman, Rosen wrote in her notes.

Also at the conference was Rogelio “Roger” Maduro, a close LaRouche associate and an editor at the magazine according to a memo in the archived collection. At the time, Maduro was leading the LaRouche organization’s behind-the-scenes campaign to kill U.S. Senate support for the Convention on Biological Diversity, a nonbinding conservation treaty. Maduro urged the wise-use leaders gathered in Nevada to make defeating the biodiversity treaty a top priority and disclosed that he was working with the American Sheep Industry Association on a paper to garner opposition, as detailed in a lengthy 1997 report by the Environmental Working Group.

Coffman, a conspiracy theorist, also reportedly called conference attendees to defeat the treaty. Later that year, Coffman published a piece in 21st Century Science & Technology titled “The Pagan Roots of Environmentalism.”

The collaborative effort by LaRouche’s network and wise-use organizations ultimately proved successful. The treaty never came to the Senate floor for a vote, and the United States to this day has not signed on to the agreement. Maduro took credit in a September 1994 issue of Executive Intelligence Review, writing that the report he created for the sheep association was an “important factor” in defeating the pact. He applauded several of the groups that were present at the July 1994 conference for mobilizing in a way that left “U.S. Senate staffers flabbergasted, State Department officials screaming, and greenies weeping,” but did not mention Mountain States Legal Foundation. Coffman also claims to have “played a key role in stopping the ratification” of the treaty.

A piece by Rogelio Maduro in the Sept. 2, 1994, issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
A piece by Rogelio Maduro in the Sept. 2, 1994, issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
Screenshot/Executive Intelligence Review

Ron Arnold, who is widely considered the father of the wise-use movement, told with The Washington Post in 1995 that the movement was unaware it had joined forces with the LaRouche organization to fight the treaty. He claimed he didn’t know Maduro would speak at the Nevada conference and that LaRouche followers were not welcome at future events.

Pendley did not grant HuffPost an interview or respond to a list of emailed questions about his writings and the 1994 wise-use conference. Instead, he sent a statement after this story published in which he accused HuffPost of “cherrypicking.”

“As someone in the public arena for nearly four decades, I’ve given countless public statements and written scores of articles on a wide variety of topics,” he said. “Cherrypicking a few of them out of context is neither useful nor connected to my current position. I’m focused now on implementing the policy priorities of the Trump administration and Secretary Bernhardt within the authorities and mission given this agency by Congress. My personal views are irrelevant in this context.”

The Interior Department, which is the parent agency of the BLM and is headed by Secretary David Bernhardt, did not respond.

The Same Old Torch

Pendley has faced an onslaught of criticism since joining the Trump administration. Environmentalists and other critics fear his appointment signals a future sell-off of federal lands in the West, pointing to Pendley’s long history of advocating for just that. Pendley has dismissed such concerns and refused to comment about his past statements, including describing basic climate science as “junk science” and comparing immigrants to a “cancer.” All of it, he told a room full of reporters earlier this month in Colorado, is “irrelevant” to his current job leading a bureau that manages more than one-third of all federal land and 700 million subsurface mineral acres.

But the reality is that his opinions and experience taking on the federal government are what make him a perfect fit for the Trump administration, and no doubt a main reason he landed the high-ranking position.

Nearly three decades after contributing to the LaRouche publication, Pendley and what’s left of LaRouche’s organization continue to pound similar drums.

Along with its stunt at Ocasio-Cortez’s town hall, the LaRouche organization has taken aim at 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. In September, the Executive Intelligence Review published a conspiracy-laden “special report” titled “‘CO₂ Reduction’ Is a Mass Murder Policy: Designed by Wall Street and the City of London.” The report’s landing page features a close-up of Thunberg wearing a hooded jacket.

Up until his appointment to Trump’s BLM, Pendley was posting under the Twitter handle @Sagebrush_Rebel, a reference to the Sagebrush Rebellion movement of the 1970s and ’80s that sought to remove lands from federal control. His tweets often lashed out at environmental activists like Thunberg, whom he likened to a cult leader.

In a phone interview, Rowell marveled at the number of environmental foes featured in his 1996 book “Green Backlash” who went on to hold positions of power in the Trump administration, which has prioritized gutting environmental regulations, and to join the chorus that’s taken to attacking and demonizing the next generation of environmental advocates.

“There is nothing more fundamentally pathetic ― a bunch of old right-wingers going after Greta,” Rowell said.

This story has been updated with a statement from Pendley.

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