If a Muslim militia occupied a Starbuck's in downtown Chicago, the press would call them terrorists. In my little piece of the press - this blog - I am visiting that label on the extremists and their militia now occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Oregon. But these terrorists are not motivated by political ideology or religion. It's all about money. Read on.
Actually, this whole sorry incident is just an extension of the standoff a couple of years ago by the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy with the feds. The motivation was the unpaid fees owed by Bundy for grazing on public land. At the time I noted that what all that hoopla boiled down to was a deadbeat rancher trying to use public goods for his own private profit. To borrow a line from Ayn Rand, the Bundy Bunch were moochers, looters, and unthinking brutes.
Now the Bundy Bunch is back at it again in Oregon. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) tells the story beginning with the nominal motivation for this occupation.
It’s worth backing up and understanding how we got to this point. Two local ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, set fires to federal lands several years ago, were convicted, and served several months behind bars. Recently, however, a federal judge ordered the father-and-son ranchers back to prison because, under federal law, there’s a mandatory minimum for arson on federal land that they had not yet served.
The Hammonds are set to report to prison today.
Other reports quote the Hammonds as not wanting to have any part of the Bundy Bunch. So there must be some other motive for the occupation, right?
Among the extremists is Ammon Bundy, Cliven’s son, who posted a message to Facebook over the weekend saying he and his group pose “no threat to anybody,” though the truth is a little more complicated.
A reporter for the Oregonian talked to Ammon Bundy’s brother, Ryan, who also said they’re willing to kill and be killed if necessary. They’re joined by another militia member who posted a video online in which he appears to say goodbye to his family while explaining his rationale for his extremist tactics.
... we’re talking about armed anti-government radicals who have seized a building that’s not theirs to take. ... Ryan Bundy told the Associated Press the goal of the occupation had little to do with sentencing and everything to do with turning over federal land to local authorities so it could be used “for ranching, logging, mining and recreation.”
In short, the Bundy kids are carrying on where their pap left off - wanting to use public resources for their own financial benefit.
As for the politics, I haven’t heard President Obama’s critics blame this mess on the White House – I assume that’s only a matter of time – but I also haven’t heard any of the Republican presidential candidates, at least one of whom cozied up to Cliven Bundy in 2014, weigh in on the developments in Oregon. For now, they’re “staying mum,” though that may not be sustainable much longer.
Postscript: A variety of readers reached out over the weekend asking what the national conversation would look like right now if a group of armed Muslims – or a group of armed Black Lives Matter activists, for that matter – took control of a federal building, threatening possible violence. As the story in Oregon continues to unfold, it seems like a point worth considering.
Indeed it is. See my post from yesterday on the implicit prejudice shown by the press - an issue that is plainly black and white.
So, to figure out why the Bundy Bunch is there - there in Oregon and there in the media - just follow the money. As Benen observes:
At a certain level, when armed extremists seize a building, it’s tempting not to care what their “demands” are, but I mention this because of the underlying irony: the anti-government radicals are, as a practical matter, seeking a government handout from Washington in the form of free land.
These extremists are more than ignoble. They are armed insurrectionists and it does America no good to describe them in any other terms. AZBlueMeanie cites laws dealing with insurrection. Here is how Charles Pierce sees it (quoted in commondreams.org).
Rather being elevated as an act of "anti-government sentiment," columnist Charles Pierce argues that the media and law enforcement should be treating the Oregon standoff for what it is.
"This is an act of armed sedition against lawful authority. That is all that it is, and that is quite enough," Pierce writes. "These are men with guns who have declared themselves outside the law. These are men with guns who have taken something that belongs to all of us."
"These are traitors and thieves who got away with this dangerous nonsense once, and have been encouraged to get away with it again," he adds, concluding: "It does us no good to ignore what is going on in this obscure little corner of the Pacific Northwest. It does us no good to refuse to hold to account the politics that led to this, and the politicians who sought to profit from it."
He might be referring to Rep. Paul Gosar and Senate candidate Kelli Ward sucking up to Cliven Bundy. Or to members of the AZ state legislature who keep trying to pass legislation aimed at grabbing public lands - as AZBlueMeanie explains in today's Blog for Arizona.
As I have posted over the years, Arizona’s Neo-Confederate Tea-Publican state legislators have been among the biggest supporters of this federal land grab under the banner of “states’ rights” and the interposition and nullification of federal laws. There will almost certainly be several of these bills introduced again in the next legislative session.
Think Progress describes this event in detail and documents a motive for it. (h/t AZBlueMeanie)
Over the past several years, a network of politicians and militiamen have been trying to roll back federal authority over public lands with increasing intensity, as documented by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP). That group describes Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory (R) as the lynchpin of a growing movement in statehouses across the western United States. The idea that federal authority over public lands is illegitimate has caught the attention of a variety of extremist groups that are convinced the government will sooner or later turn arms against its own people.
The movement has two main channels: foot soldiers like Bundy and the Oath Keepers, who view themselves as the first line of armed resistance against government tyranny, and capitalists, who know that federal land rules are keeping valuable minerals in the ground. Bundy and his ilk have been involved in multiple other lower-profile provocations with federal agents over the past few years across western states. In that same time frame, the CWP has documented dozens of legislative efforts to loosen federal control of public lands, which would ultimately allow state lawmakers to start dishing out mining and drilling permits in wilderness areas that have been preserved by and for American taxpayers for hundreds of years.
Follow the money.