For an opening story it seems appropriate that the Bundy Militia and their occupation of the Malheur Refuge should lead the way. In the news since the beginning of the year the Bundy crew decided to take on the federal government. This action was much different than the previous action in Nevada. In that instance when the feds and cops pulled back it was called a victory. The gathering broke up rather quickly after that, with little to no consequences, but the desire to push the issue didn’t die out in the least. A more committed core group grew around the issue.
The issue revolves around federal control of land out west. While the story involves cattle, the issue is really deeper than that. It is about making money, sure. But at its roots is a story about Manifest Destiny.
My personal experience includes growing up on a ranch out west that included many acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controlled land. You get very attached to the land. There is often nothing for miles and you can ride and camp and hunt and raise cattle and forget the rest of the world exists. But most people who use BLM fully understand what they can and can’t do on the land. How closely they follow those regulations is relative to how much attention BLM agents pay to the ranchers. In some sensitive areas that can be quite a bit. In some areas national forests and BLM border each other. In other areas national and state refuges will border BLM land. Archaeology sites and federally protected native lands. The use and misuse of those areas should be a primary concern, but it is one that is often ignored.
On the topic of Native Land, it should be stated outright that ALL these lands belong to the indigenous people and Europeans are just colonizers; settlers; invaders; squatters. All land should be immediately returned to the control of the tribes who traditionally occupied it. Any action that doesn’t have the blessing and inclusion of the 20,000 year protectors of this land and you are already out of order.
Manifest Destiny is often passed off as a bygone idea, but it is a conviction that is very much in the hearts and minds of the US far right-wing. It is an idea pandered to and given lip service by politicians as they are vying for legitimacy. And in rural, agricultural communities and among rural workers in mining, timber, ranching, farming, oilfields and construction, the idea takes on an almost religious aspect of it’s own and is in fact entwined with their fundamental religious beliefs. The idea that the have a “god-given right” to the land is alive and thriving. Their understanding of what the US is about, what the constitution is about, revolves around a belief that god has granted them, both god-given and passed down through law, a special place in the world. One in which the land is to be placed into subjection of man.
They see federal laws that run contrary to that as a direct assault on God, Nation and Family. Immigrant workers are easily feared in this group because the type of work they do require a basic skill set to perform. Islam is easily sold to them as an evil religion bent on the destruction of everything they hold dear and politicians play upon that fear in their quest for legitimacy. Every outsider is out to get them. They lead insular existences that include few people and none that go against their grain. They often don’t relate to others that exist with fairly similar lives. They may share politics; skin color; socio-economic class; with many people and yet not relate to those people in any other way or even in those specific areas.
These people see themselves as outsiders, as “mavericks”, as patriots. They believe they have been blessed with a special understanding of gods will and anything or anyone that disagrees is part of the evil, ignorant world that is out to get them.
Friedrich Ratzel, a German geographer, visited the US in the late 1800s and was sympathetic to the results of Manifest Destiny. His writings later led to the ideology that came to be known as Lebensraum, which became the philosophy behind the Nazi push through Europe. It is no wonder that Christian Nationalists and white supremacists in the US are attracted to these movements.
The Malheur Standoff
The occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is the culmination of many things, many of them mentioned above, and the final result of that occupation is yet to be seen.
For a while let’s put aside the politics of WHO, and examine the WHAT of their action.
Prior to the occupation there was a popular protest going on in support of what was perceived as an injustice to a local member of the community by the government. This is a sentiment that many of us can relate to.
As the protest continued a small faction decided to escalate. Again this is a sentiment that many of us can relate to. Something we know is that from this point several tactics can be employed and certain actions are likely to occur. The main protest group will likely distance themselves from the groups that are escalating. That happened in this case as even the people they were originally protesting on behalf of distanced themselves from the Bundy group.
At this point the action is in full swing. When they occupied Mulheur they appeared unprepared. They immediately took to social media asking for supplies. While it does appear there was advance planning, including advance surveillance of the area, it doesn’t appear that they had fully formed a plan at that point. Perhaps they overestimated the amount of support they would receive from the community. In any event it didn’t turn out to be much of a problem since they were allowed to come and go at will.
This empowered them. They reached out on social media often. They were in contact with supporters and reporters. They made frequent calls for people to come join them. People came and went. The government inserted agents that mingled among the crowds. They knew everything about who was there. Who came and went. Everyone’s criminal backgrounds and any warrants. Who their family and friends were. They had warrants for all of them. You can bet search warrants are being prepared as we speak. Pressure is being applied to associates. Taxes are being audited.
In the end the main actors were taken down in a traffic stop. There is some controversy surrounding the death of one of the group, Robert Finicum, but we know how that goes, cops are always justified.
There is lots of information on this action, from both sides, but the main lesson learned is about security culture. Which means, among other things, that some things are better left unsaid.