Patriotism or Opportunity?
They rolled in to Burns, Oregon drunk on diesel exhaust, scripture, and patriotism, after weeks of calling the sheriff’s office on behalf of Dwight and Steven Hammond. Due to federal mandatory sentencing rules, the father and son were expected to report for incarceration shortly, and Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with a few other Patriots decided it was their duty to make sure the Hammonds stayed free. Now, the ranchers had denied the help of the out of state Bundys and their militia. If the Hammond’s lawyer was smart, he advised it. Dwight is in his 70’s – he didn’t need another twenty year fight. Setting fire to federal land is ill advised no matter the reason (it’s been rumored to be everything from malice to accident) and they decided to go and fulfill their sentences. Ammon and Ryan are the sons of a cowboy – raised on the ranch, but moved away to make their futures. They both have big families and apparently big dreams of changing the world and protecting their country and their father’s way of life.
In 1993, when Ammon had just turned 18, his father Cliven Bundy decided to stop paying his Bureau of Land Management grazing fees. The feds had called his allotment protected ground for an endangered tortoise. Who was right still is a political matter, but Cliven felt his livelihood was being threatened and dug in for a fight. He continued to turn his cows out, despite continued warnings. In 1995, things escalated with a bomb in a Forest Service office in Carson City, Nevada. Nobody knows who set the explosive, but federal employees started being more careful. Especially with bombs every year after that in government offices in the west for several years following. Ranchers were angry at the ramping up of federal control of grazing land and wildlife protection, and many felt their concerns of losing their livelihoods were not being listened to. The same old fight that had been going on since homesteader days, pretty much. By 1997, Ammon had gone on his LDS mission, but a family taking on the federal government does not stop for such trivialities. Cliven continued to turn his cattle out on his allotment, but after failing to pay his fees, the government got a judgement. By 2014, that initial small court ordered payment had gone unpaid and ballooned to $1.2 million dollars. Federal agents started what amounted to repossessing the only thing Cliven has other than land and bad ideas – a herd of cows. The Bundys weren’t having it, and with the help of their militia buddies, held a marginally successful standoff and got the BLM and federal law enforcement to back down and return the cattle.
Government overreach? Maybe. It is turtle habitat, after all. But it is also the new century. Old cowboys with family ranches are not as efficient as factory farming, and their livelihood is legitimately in danger with refusal to grow and change when required. Cliven’s insistence on continuing to graze because it was his right as a homesteader even after the rules have changed have led to what could be the downfall of anyone in his family getting to ranch again. Cliven also cemented himself in memory when he spouted off with this bit of sunshine:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the N***o. When I go to Las Vegas, north Las Vegas, and I would see these little Government houses, and in front of that Government house the door was usually open, and the older people and the kids and there was always at least half a dozen people on the porch. They didn’t have nothing to do, they didn’t have nothing for the kids to do, they didn’t have nothing for the young girls to do. They were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
So not only are the Bundy’s incapable of understanding the law, Cliven is also unabashedly racist. This is in line with his family’s religious beliefs – they are LDS, and in general, that religion comes with an opinion on race formed on whether or not the person remembers the doctrine from before 1978 when it was proclaimed that black people were no longer banned from the priesthood of the Church or not. These beliefs were used to justify the entire Malheur occupation, actually. Ammon said in a video that God told him to protect the Hammond’s. However, it seemed more like using religion as a scapegoat to justify their political leanings and get a day in court. These men proclaim strong faith, but human actions are rarely empirically proven to be divinely inspired.
Ammon Bundy and family friend Ryan Payne had planned the takeover weeks in advance. They scouted the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the city of Burns, Oregon, and had made their opinions clear to local law enforcement – protect the Hammonds from going to prison, because it was the duty of the local sheriff somehow. Except, that’s not how this works. Sheriff Dave Ward was reluctant to entertain their wishes and since the Hammond’s had already denounced the Bundy’s, he didn’t. The Hammond’s didn’t want help and they were the locals – these guys from out of state were just loudmouths.
The Bundy group showed up in Burns on New Year’s Day for a “protest,” and ended up arming up and heading to the Wildlife Refuge with a few dozen of their closest buddies. These guys got there, and walked right in. How? Well they “borrowed” the keys off someone. The person didn’t know they had been taken, of course. The infiltrators immediately started pleading on social media for help and supplies, and then to the real media once they finally were able to travel out there. The internet obliged, and sent them all manner of useless crap, the most memorable being hundreds of dildos and a fifty gallon drum of lube.
The numbers dwindled down as the encampment wore on. These people tore up buildings, left trash everywhere, rifled through government property, and spent the entire time alternately gloating and freaking out about that fact on the internet. They dug latrine pits in Native Burial areas. They cut fence and used a CAT to cut roads to nowhere. They stole government trucks and drove to town for Chinese food. David Fry, a young man from Ohio, drove his ancient Lincoln Town Car across the country to Burns and ended up being the last man standing. His role was important – it was his YouTube channel that broadcast most of the occupation live. People stayed up for days, live tweeting the proceedings.
Those at the refuge were so fearful that the government was coming to kill them that it was impossible to look away from their hysterics and hyperbole. Then when the authorities did finally try to apprehend the main players – Ammon and Ryan Bundy, as well as ideological leader LaVoy Finicum, and it ended in bloodshed, the situation at the refuge deteriorated. LaVoy was dead, Ryan and Ammon were in custody, and many people finally bailed. All that were left out there were The Final Four – Sandy and Sean Anderson of Riggins, Idaho, Fry, and Jeff Banta of Yerington, Nevada. Note: nobody in that group has the last name Bundy. TFF were all people who learned about the protest online and came to participate out of some misplaced sense of patriotic duty. They ran around like paranoid idiots live on YouTube for days, and at the end got nothing for it.
No, literally. They were all let go. The Bundys, still facing charges in Nevada over the 2014 standoff, were transferred to that state. Everybody else was set free. Apparently, one juror was called out for being unable to be unbiased, even though they made it through jury selection just fine. This resulted in the jury being unable to come to a decision, and everybody being not guilty after the original juror was dismissed. It was an astounding verdict in what was basically the first live, armed occupation of government property streamed over the internet, and they got away with it.
Viva Las Vegas
Right now, the Bundys are in Nevada, refusing to go in to court rooms related to weapons charges from the 2014 standoff. Cliven is also in custody, after flying to Portland like a naive idiot while traveling to Burns and getting arrested at the airport. Hopefully the government prosecutors don’t again get outwitted by a band of lawyers and hangers on that allows occupation of government property by any whack job with a gun.
Trials are set to start throughout the spring and summer of 2017. “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” might be the cry for this trial, as demonstrated at the end of a logistics hearing held December 9th when defendants yelled it in open court, but it remains to be seen if giving away public property leases to turtles is an issue. Maybe Harry Reid facilitated takeover of that ground to sell to the Chinese, or any other number of wild conspiracies. We might even find out if God himself meddles in the American justice system.
In The End
The two Bundy standoffs have had marginal success. They have drawn some media attention to the plight of the disappearing western rancher. Farms are more and more corporate – most successful ones have huge acreages and are owned by investment conglomerates. Small farms aren’t even really farms anymore for the most part, as discussed by FiveThirtyEight more in depth here. Despite it looking less and less like the Hammond’s were the motivation really, it did point out how unfair it is for someone to be released from prison and then dragged back in after the fact. Double jeopardy is unconstitutional according to the Fifth Amendment.
Of course, none of it matters. The Hammonds are still in jail. For the Bundys, it’s all going to come down to federal weapons charges in Las Vegas. Will Cliven finally have to give up and move their damn cows? Will it be proven that turtle habitat is less important than these people’s rights to overgraze a piece of property for generations? That is probably going to depend on the state of the country as we move into the Trump administration. It is likely to be business friendly, including small business like ranching. Red states like Nevada carried Trump to victory, and while Trump has not supported the Bundy cause in any way, it’s possible that courts will become more lenient to defendants using the First and Second Amendments as justification for their actions. Is this defense twisting the constitution unrecognizably for personal gain? Seems like it. Will it work? Possibly. The Oregon case ended strangely, and the government won’t mess up again if they can help it. However, they also may be way too preoccupied with other things (Russia! Trump! Hillary’s emails!) to put much toward the prosecution of an old racist cowboy and his two grifter kids with their nut job internet buddies playing tacticool patriot out in the middle of nowhere.
It would be good for America to demonstrate that it’s not okay for people of any race to threaten others with weapons and just…take over federal property whenever they want. However, America rarely does what is good for itself. Would the Bundys still be alive if they were a couple of brown guys saying Allah told them to take over a bird refuge instead of a couple of Mormon guys in cowboy hats? Likely not. In this case, white domestic terror will probably be excused and rug swept yet again, in the grand American tradition of letting the white guy off with a slap on the wrist for doing things that would get a brown person shot. Guessing Cliven only stops grazing on that piece of ground because the rest gets sold to pay his fees and keep his family going. In the end, The Bundy family will likely be right. The government is going to come for everything they have. Unfortunately, it’s only because the cowboys forced the showdown.