I’ve been following this since it broke yesterday. Here are my thoughts in brief, as someone who’s been to the refuge multiple times and is pretty darn attached to it:
–The men at the heart of this, Dwight and Steve Hammond, have a long history of flouting the law. They’re ranchers in the Frenchglen, OR area, south of Malheur. They don’t like the idea of public lands being multi-use, to include setting some aside for crucial wildlife habitat. The first fire Steve Hammond set was to cover up evidence of poaching. The second, in 2006, was set after a burn ban in place, AND was set at the bottom of a butte where young firefighters were camping for the night, AND Hammond called to ask if he could set a burn AFTER the fire was started. As to the Bundys, you only need to Google “Cliven Bundy” to get an idea of the anti-government craziness that fuels his entire family.
–The Hammonds were sentenced to relatively short amounts of time in federal prison a few years ago, and served their sentences. A newer employee of BLM went after them later and used anti-terrorism laws to get them nailed with a longer mandatory minimum sentence of five years each. The Hammonds are *wllingly* going back to prison tomorrow, even though the elder is 73 years old. They did NOT call for this “action” on the part of the Bundys and others, and they do not support it.
–Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is not so crazy a choice to make a crazy stand as you might think. Something people who have never been to Malheur may not realize is that this is not just a gift shop and some offices. There are also a few bunk houses for rangers and other on site officials, a helicopter pad, bathrooms, and the hill behind the gift shop has an observation tower on it. There are also telescopes on the deck of the main building used to observe birds. So it’s not entirely devoid of resources; I can see where they might think it was a good strategy to take this over.
–My big concern, other than potential loss of human life, is impact on the refuge. The facilities they’re in overlook a small pond that’s just part of a greater wetlands system that is absolutely crucial to many migrating waterfowl, as well as many species of bird that come there to breed in spring. It’s in a desert, which is a sensitive ecosystem to begin with, and still in heavy drought. And it is pretty remote; it’s an hour drive from the nearest small-ish town, Burns, and at least five hours and change from the I-5 corridor.
–The locals, like residents of Burns, are not supportive of this occupation. Bundy and his buddies had a big peaceful protest in Burns yesterday afternoon with about 300 people, and then tried to recruit locals to go take over the refuge, No one went with them. They claim there are 150 people there, but eyewitnesses say there’s maybe a dozen. (I haven’t been able to find any news stories today that say more have arrived.)
Personally, I do think there’s reason to debate the additional time under terrorism laws; what the Hammonds did was stupid, and harmful, and likely more intentional than they claim, but it wasn’t *terrorism*. However, the men who are currently occupying the refuge are a bunch of wannabe comic book characters and would-be martyrs full of paranoia and hate; Ammon Bundy got a lot of well-deserved heat a couple of years ago for insinuating that black people were better off being slaves to white people than being “slaves” to welfare and other social services.
As far as I know, there is still no law enforcement on the ground at Malheur just yet, though everyone from local law to the FBI are well aware of what’s going on. Harney county schools are closed for the week. Supposedly no damage has been done to the facility–yet–and supposedly this is more of a sit-in than an armed takeover, but some of the people there are armed.
This is a very special place to me, and so I’m keeping a close eye on what’s happening. I just woke up around 11:30 so I’m still getting a sense of what’s happened since last night, but that’s a pretty good overview so far (albeit with my personal biases thrown in here and there.).
Right-wing terrorists broke into (and are still occupying) federal property here in Oregon earlier today:
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 50 miles southeast of Burns for years.
…In phone interviews from inside the occupied building Saturday night, Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan Bundy, said they are not looking to hurt anyone. But they would not rule out violence if police tried to remove them, they said.
…Among those joining Bundy in the occupation are Ryan Payne, U.S. Army veteran, and Blaine Cooper. Payne has claimed to have helped organize militia snipers to target federal agents in a standoff last year in Nevada. He told one news organization the federal agents would have been killed had they made the wrong move.
He has been a steady presence in Burns in recent weeks, questioning people who were critical of the militia’s presence. He typically had a holstered sidearm as he moved around the community.
A group of Nigerian traditional hunters and vigilantes gather on vehicles on their way to engage Boko Haram militants in Mubi from Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria 28 November 2014. The hunters have being assisting the Nigerian military in their fight against the Islamic insurgents, Boko Haram. According to residents at least 35 people, including five soldiers, were killed by an explosion near a military checkpoint in Mubi north-eastern Nigeria on 27 November 2014. (EPA/STR)
Schools forced to close for another week while grown men play militia in Oregon
Schoolchildren in the general area around the Malheur
National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon will be getting another week off from
school! It’s not because the War on Christmas has been won. No, it’s the result
of the extremist, white, gun-loving, constitutionally inebriated Bundy boys and
their friends playing with their guns.
“Ensuring staff and student safety is our greatest concern,”
Marilyn L. McBride, the superintendent of Harney County School District #3,
wrote in an e-mail. Schools were originally scheduled to reopen Monday
following the winter break.
That’s what really matters. When you claim that you are
doing something to make things better why there is a gun in your hand? And why
children will be deprived from their classes because of you? Probably because
armed people are dangerous, isn’t it? And I don’t want to listen to demands of
dangerous people. I prefer to follow the genial people.
P.S. Imagine if Bundy’s squad was black! They probably could
be all dead now.
Historically speaking, militias made to fight the government have been formed by murderous criminals and not eagle-riding patriots. That’s an illustration of “protesters” carrying a tarred and feathered tax collector during the Whiskey Rebellion, a hostile revolt ten years after the American Revolution. See … except for that one time, the majority of militias formed to fight unfair taxes ended in mob violence instead of annual barbecues. And just like the people in Oregon, this uprising was invoked by Western farmers believing that they didn’t need to answer to the federal government. Nearly a hundred years later, Kansas would become the battleground for a series of violent clashes between pro- and anti-slavery militias dragging each other’s members out of their homes and stabbing them to death in front of their families.