The Bundy family of Nevada joined with hard-core militiamen Saturday to take over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, vowing to occupy the remote federal outpost 30 miles southeast of Burns [Oregon] for years.The Hammonds have been convicted of arson:
The occupation came shortly after an estimated 300 marchers -- militia and local citizens both -- paraded through Burns to protest the prosecution of two Harney County ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who are to report to prison on Monday.
Among the occupiers is Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, and two of his brothers. Militia members at the refuge claimed they had as many as 100 supporters with them. The refuge, federal property managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was closed and unoccupied for the holiday weekend.
Both Dwight Hammond Jr., 72, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 44, were found guilty in 2012 of intentionally and maliciously setting fires in September 2001 near Steens Mountain, where they leased public land for livestock grazing. The fire consumed 139 acres of public land, taking it out of production for two growing seasons, the court said in its decision.The Justice Department tells us this about the 2001 incident:
In addition, Steven Hammond was found guilty of setting fires on Krumbo Butte in August 2006 on the boundary of the Hammonds’ land. Despite a burn ban, the court noted, he said he set them to counteract fires sparked by lightning nearby. The fire consumed one acre of public land, according to the decision.
Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property. Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out “Strike Anywhere” matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to “light up the whole country on fire.” One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson. The fire consumed 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations. After committing the arson, Steven Hammond called the BLM office in Burns, Oregon and claimed the fire was started on Hammond property to burn off invasive species and had inadvertently burned onto public lands. Dwight and Steven Hammond told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about the fire.If you look one way at the standoff, it can seem like a joke -- at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall writes of "a surreal scene mixing elements of Stormfront, Aryan Nations and Waiting for Gufman" and portrays the locus of the protest as Malheur's "sleepy visitors' center."
Also, we're told by a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting that only a handful of protesters are occupying the visitors' center -- a dozen or fewer, not a hundred or more.
On the other hand, there's a genuine fear of violence:
MILITIA UPDATE: The local school district in Burns announced it will keep schools closed all week because of the militia situation.— Les Zaitz (@LesZaitz) January 3, 2016
The angry militia members think they're doing this for "the people," but many local residents want no part of it:
The prospect of hundreds of out-of-towners who openly carry firearms concerns some residents in Burns.
Fliers with the message “Militia go home” hang on signposts downtown.
Locals even convened a meeting in order to tell the militias that they didn't want violence:
When the militia members and local residents were done talking Friday night, the tension in the chilly fairgrounds building seemed to ease....But, like heavily armed foreign ISIS members showing up and telling the locals that they've been practicing Islam all wrong, these guys insist they're the true defenders of eternal values. They've threatened the sheriff:
For days, there have been fears that the militia-led event would turn violent....
Some militia members had demanded local authorities provide sanctuary for the Hammonds so they don't have to go to prison.
But there was no talk of sanctuary Friday night. Instead, militia members found themselves peppered with questions. They were pressed about what good they were doing. Half a dozen came with handguns strapped to their hips.
This was no government-led meeting. Brandy Mosher, a local resident worried about her community, arranged the meeting, promoting it on social media. On a frigid holiday evening, about 60 people showed up. She just wanted people to talk to each other instead of resorting to rumors.
"We're all emotional right now, on both sides," Mosher said in opening remarks....
"I am scared to death," said Shonna McKay, wearing a black t-shirt with "Harney County Stand Down" imprinted on the back. "Everyone here should know what your agenda is."
Another resident said locals would be left to "patch the holes" and "bury the dead" should events take a turn for the worst.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said he received death threat emails from people in other states after he told militia organizers he would not create a safe haven for the Hammonds to stay in Harney County.And the apparent leader of this movement, Cliven Bundy's son Ammon, thinks the locals are just too weak-willed to do what's right:
“I haven’t slept a full night in close to two months now. I have a lot of anxiety,” he said. But Sheriff Ward wants to protect his county.
“What we’ve been threatened with here is civil unrest and the insinuations of armed rebellion,” said Sheriff Ward.
Ammon Bundy ... said he met with 10 or so residents in Burns on Friday to try to recruit them, but they declined.These guys believe they're great Americans, but they're just a collection of narcissists and drama queens who want to see themselves as great Americans. Josh Marshall would be right to think of them as pathetically comic, but they're melodramatic narcissists who are armed and courting death. I'm not sure if they're truly willing to die or have just persuaded themselves that they are, but death is certainly on their minds.
"We went to the local communities and presented it many times and to many different people," he said. "They were not strong enough to make the stand. So many individuals across the United States and in Oregon are making this stand. We hope they will grab onto this and realize that it's been happening."
Watch the whimpery True Patriot in this video. On one level, he's just patting himself on the back for being willing to abandon his children to die for freedom (and chastising the men on whose behalf he says he's doing this because they won't die as free men in a hail of federal government bullets). That's narcissism. But in another sense, what he's made here is indistinguishable from a jihadist suicide bomber's final video:
These people are a menace. They think they're doing this for us, but they're really doing it for themselves, so they don't care if we tell them to bugger off. Because they're on an ego trip and don't care what the rest of us think, there's going to be more and more of this in the future.
And who benefits?
I'm reminded of a story I heard on NPR on Thursday, about a congressman from Utah, a member of the House Freedom Caucus named Ron Bishop, who's engaged in efforts to get federal lands transferred to the states.
[NPR'S KIRK] SIEGLER: ... Bishop has for sure stirred the pot in his brief stint as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. He let a popular 50-year-old federal conservation program expire, and he's a leader in a group of fellow conservatives who are considering legislation to formally transfer ownership of federal Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land to states.Now, here's the real story, or most of it:
BISHOP: The federal government doesn't do as good a job as the states and locals and the tribes do. And it's not because the federal government is malevolent or vicious or incompetent. It's just too damn much land for them to control.
SIEGLER: Roughly two-thirds of all of Utah is federally controlled. But to be clear, these lands are mostly open to all of us at any time. The dispute is over what we can or cannot do once we're on them. Bishop says a state like Utah is in a better position to make those decisions.
BISHOP: The lands that they do claim, they control, and they do control it with a very heavy hand. And no, it's not access-free, and that's one of the problems.
SIEGLER: In some ways, it'd be easy to spin this as an old-fashioned Western - a battle over control, a sagebrush rebellion against D.C. bureaucrats. But a lot of what's really going on here boils down to money. States like Utah want to see more oil and gas drilling and other types of development on all that federal land. The argument is that they'd get more money to pay for things like schools. Matt Anderson is a former staffer of Congressman Bishop's who now directs the Coalition for Self-Government in the West at the Sutherland Institute. It's a free-market think tank.Hmm, let's see. The Sutherland Institute is closely tied to the Koch brothers:
MATT ANDERSON: There should be much more that's being extracted and much more grazing that's going on. And the federal government can shut it down whenever it wants, which puts our ranchers, as well as our oil and natural gas industry, in a real tight spot.
It is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella organization for "free market" state think tanks that has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).In 2008, Ed Feulner, a Reagan administration veteran who at the time was the head of the Heritage Foundation, announced the formation of Sutherland's Center for Limited Government.
The Sutherland Institute was a co-sponsor of ALEC's 2012 annual meeting in Salt Lake City.... Sutherland also has ties to ALEC through its membership in SPN, which itself is an ALEC member....
The Sutherland Institute has hosted writers from the ALEC-connected Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which screens potential reporters on their “free market” views as part of the job application process.
So I think it's safe to assume that the effort to end federal control of these lands is not about manly constitutionalism -- it's about well-connected fat cats wanting the land under local control because local bureaucrats are more likely to be pushovers. NPR's Siegler says, "States like Utah want to see more oil and gas drilling and other types of development on all that federal land" because "they'd get more money to pay for things like schools." The second part of that is just a smokescreen. This isn't about schools. The local authorities just want to do whatever oil and gas moguls want them to do.
Ultimately, this is who wins when the militias reposition the Overton window. Fox watchers cheer on the militias, then vote for seemingly like-minded "constitutionalists" who proceed to hand over the land to the greediest exploiters. Freedom!