Protesters demonstrating against the treatment of the Hammonds. They may be ignorant rubes, but at least here they are being peaceful.
It is with considerable chagrin that I must report that Bundy is making my earlier concerns over the self-radicalization of the Far Right in response to largely imaginary slights appear prophetic:
A group of armed militants have taken over the managerial offices of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Led by Ammon Bundy, the jackass son of notorious jackass Cliven Bundy, the militants seized the offices – unoccupied over the holidays – following a protest over the treatment of two local ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond.
Dwight and Steven Hammond were sentenced to five years in prison for arson charges stemming from incidents in 2001 and 2006. In the first, the Hammonds set fire to 139 acres of public land. According to eye-witness testimony, the Hammonds were using the burn destroy the remains of several deer they had poached. Later, in 2006, the Hammonds violated a controlled burn ban, setting several backfires that spread onto public property. The Hammonds were convicted by a jury of their peers, and, following a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court, sentenced to serve the mandatory minimum sentence of five years.
This marked the impetus for a peaceful protest that Ammon Bundy and company have decided to link to imaginary grievances perpetrated by the federal government against local ranchers, loggers, and miners. Bundy, who might be properly described (borrowing the oh-so accurate description Sam Harris applied to Ben Carson) as a “dangerously deluded imbecile”, sees the establishment of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge – and presumably, by logical extension, all such refuges – as an unconscionable usurpation of individual liberties. Bundy has issued demands that the lands of the wildlife refuge be turned over to local ranchers, loggers, and miners for private exploitation.
Militant ring-leader Ammon Bundy – lover of flannel work-coats and well-trimmed bears, hater of public land access and responsible stewardship, terrified of elementary civics textbooks.
Bundy’s thinking here is foggy at best, and – by any measure – incredibly myopic. He does not seem to understand the concept of public property, clearly stating that he believes the federal government has established the refuge for its own personal benefit. In fact, the refuge is a public resource. Literally anyone with the means and incentive can travel there and enjoy the natural beauty that government stewards work diligently to preserve. For Bundy, a better use would be to make this land the private property of a small number of ranchers, loggers, and miners who will exploit the land for short-term profit. In doing so, they will inevitably cause irrevocable harm to both the land and the species that inhabit it. No longer open to nature lovers – photographers, birder, water-foul hunters – the land would be stripped of its natural value so a handful of people can make some money. A resource that could, through sustainable management, be enjoyed for centuries by everyone, would be destroyed so a couple generations of a handful of families or private companies can turn a profit.
Clearly, Bundy and his supporters are men and women who consider it a personal affront and untenable assault on their personal freedoms to be told they can’t do whatever they want with property held in trust for the enjoyment of everyone. Petulant, entitled children, they treat civics like a zero-sum game. Either they get to do whatever the hell they want, or pout and wail over the crushing boot of government tyranny.
Truly, conservatives of the Bundy stripe have the most refined knack for plumbing the farthest depths of hypocrisy. They bemoan the existence of entitlement for the poor, decrying efforts to establish basic rights to food and shelter. And yet, is there a shriller, less justifiable cry for personal entitlement than an insistence on a right to unfettered use and exploitation of property held in trust for everyone? My nephews, all four and under, have a better understanding of the concept of sharing and issue fewer and less pathetic claims over their access to what they perceive as theirs.
Make no mistake: this behavior does not have a place in civil society, and neither to the people who perpetrate it. These people have not been the victims of an injustice grave enough to justify armed rebellion. They are swine without the intellectual and emotional fortitude to resolve their grievances through proper channels. This is not a patriotic protest, it is a childish temper tantrum. It is no exaggeration to a call it domestic terrorism*, with the use of arms and threat of violence used to intimidate opponents into acquiescence.
Bundy and company’s unbelievably retrograde beliefs belong to a time when people burned offerings to Baal and killed animals with rocks. With no place in modern society, they’ve abandoned all recourse to discourse and due process, resorting instead to primal bellowing and brutish chest-beating. They want to eat everyone else’s lunch and shit on the plate, and they call it a dream of freedom. If somebody dares suggest this might be a bad idea and whisper a word in favor of the public good they call him a despot and take up arms in favor of their right to spoil the world.
Thinking of this sort might be described as a speed-bump on the road to progress. However, a more appropriate metaphor might be that of a millstone about the neck of civil society. People who think and act like the armed militants occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters are a constant handicap, tugging society in the direction of some ill-conceived and irrevocably fanciful antediluvian paradise wherein everyone can do whatever they want with no discernible consequences for anyone else. Put more simply, they are men and women who are too stupid and immature to participate in a complex society rooted in the responsible and informed participatory governance of citizens.
Bundy and his ilk are selfish, entitled, puerile adults, devoid of even a rudimentary understanding of basic civics. The tragedy of the commons is clearly a concept well beyond their comprehension, illustrated by their inability to conceive of the ways in which getting what they want might have negative downstream consequences for others. Their simplistic understanding of the processes of self-governance is pitiable, but their behavior stemming from that simple-mindedness is revolting. If Bundy and company think they have suffered a real injustice, they should put their complaint into words and pursue redress through proper channels – including peaceful, unarmed protest. People who need guns to enact change are typically not considered freedom-fighters. They are usually labelled terrorists, and in the case of Bundy and the rest of the militants and right wing nuts who support him, the term almost certainly applies. Without caveat.
* Here is the FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism:
“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
- Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
- Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
- Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
Bundy and company are using firearms and the threat of violence to intimidate the federal government into accepting their demands. That is, they are attempting to “influence the policy of a government by intimidation”.
Update: Ammon Bundy was recently on Fox News, where he withered in under questions from Megyn Kelly. This is hardly surprising – the man has always fumbled and sputtered when attempting to fully articulate his motives and reasoning. However, I did find it interesting that he cited Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution as justification for his actions. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 reads:
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of Particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;–
Aside from being borderline incomprehensible, thanks in no small part to the influence of antiquated syntax and vernacular, coupled with the torturous language typical of all legal documents, this section of the U.S. Constitution makes no clear argument that would justify Bundy’s sense of injury. It does specify that the Federal government cannot own or exercise authority over state lands unless they have been purchased by an act of congress with permission of the state legislature. I suspect this is a situation in which a man heard from a ne’er-do-well cousin or in-law, who in turn heard it from a lawyer they go to church with, that this article spells out the Constitutionality (or lack thereof) of Federal land ownership.
However, according to Supreme Court rulings, justification for Federal land ownership has rested primarily on Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2, which reads:
The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
This passage reads a lot clearer than Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17. It grants clear power to the Federal Government to regulate and manage the use of land within the United States.