"If three years ago any person had told me that at this day, I should see such a formidable rebellion against the laws & constitutions of our own making as now appears I should have thought him a bedlamite—a fit subject for a mad house." —George Washington to Henry Knox, on the subject of Shays Rebellion, February 3, 1787
You have to give Captain Daniel Shays this: When he launched his armed sedition against lawful authority, he at least was invited in. Overnight on Saturday, in an obscure corner of the Oregon wilderness, and contrary to the law, and in defiance of democratic authority, both federal and local, another act of armed sedition was committed. It seems to me that this ought to be a bigger story than, say, the belated prosecution of Bill Cosby, or whatever most recently came out of the mouth of the vulgar talking yam. In a small place in Oregon, the essential compact of the United States of America has come apart.
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 for years. 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.
(This is also something you have to give to Captain Daniel Shays. He put a little more of his ass on the line. His act of armed sedition aimed a little higher than the occupation of the vacant headquarters of a bird sanctuary.)
"It does us no good to deny that there is a substantial constituency for armed sedition in this country, and to deny the necessity of delegitimizing that constituency in our politics, and the first step in that process is to face it and to call it what it is."
Before moving on to the larger issues, it's important to note that the local authorities, and the local citizenry, want no part of this noisy claque of armed meatheads. It is popular among these people who apparently have brains wired like short-wave radios broadcasting from upper Michigan to say that the real constitutional authority in this country resides in its local sheriffs. Well, the local sheriff in this case would like it very much if this particular invasive species would abandon his jurisdiction and go back to freeloading on federal lands in Nevada.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward told people to stay away from the building as authorities work to defuse the situation, The Oregonian reported."A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation," Ward said in a statement.
Hell, even the convicted arsonists on whose behalf this action allegedly was undertaken have distanced themselves from these clowns.
The Hammonds said they have not welcomed the Bundy's help. "Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family," the Hammonds' lawyer W. Alan Schroeder wrote to Sheriff David Ward.
This is an act of armed sedition against lawful authority. That is all that it is, and that is quite enough. This is not "an expression of anti-government sentiment." Flipping off the governor as he drives by is "an expression of anti-government sentiment." What Alex Jones does every day is "an expression of anti-government sentiment," and god bless them all for it. That's what the Founders had in mind. This is not an "occupation" following "a peaceful protest." That would be all those folks who got bludgeoned and pepper-sprayed out of Zuccotti Park a couple of years back. (And when exactly did ABC News decide it wasn't a news organization anymore?) These are men with guns who have declared themselves outside the law. These are men with guns who have taken something that belongs to all of us. These are traitors and thieves who got away with this dangerous nonsense once, and have been encouraged to get away with it again, and they draw their inspiration not solely from the wilder fringes of our politics, either. Ammon Bundy and his brothers should have been thrown in jail after they gathered themselves in rebellion the first time.
This is another step down the road that leads to the broken shell of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. There are respectable people in our respectable politics who have been shamefully silent on the subject, and there are respectable people in our respectable media who seem terrified of calling this what it is. You want an example of the deadening effect of "political correctness" in our politics? Watch what the people running for president have to say about this episode. Look at how it is being framed already—or ignored entirely—by the elite political media. There is a constituency for armed rebellion in this country that is larger than any of our respectable political and social institutions want to admit. It is fueled by reckless, ambitious people who engage in reckless, ambitious rhetoric.
It did not begin in Burns. It did not begin on the Bundy Ranch, either. In its most modern form, and in the form most relevant to recent events, it began, as so many noxious elements of our politics did, with the Reagan Administration. It began with a man named Ron Arnold, and a Secretary of the Interior named James Watt, and in something called the Wise Use movement with which the Republican party (and the conservative movement that became its fundamental life force) allied itself for its political advantage in the western part of the country.
Much of this popularity can be explained by the lingering economic recession of the early 1980s, which provided a receptive grassroots audience for the Wise Use claim that it is easier to force nature to adapt to current corporate policies than to encourage the growth of more environmentally sound ways of doing business. Wise Use pamphlets argue that extinction is a natural process; some species weren't meant to survive. The movement's signature public relations tactic is to frame complex environmental and economic issues in simple, scapegoating terms that benefit its corporate backers. In the movement's Pacific Northwest birthplace, Wise Users harp on a supposed battle for survival between spotted owls and the families of the men and women who make their livings harvesting and milling the old growth timber that is the owl's habitat. In preparation for President Clinton's forest summit in Portland, Oregon, Wise Use public relations experts ran seminars to teach loggers how to speak in sound bites. Messages such as "jobs versus owls" have been adapted to a variety of environmental issues and have helped spark an anti-green backlash that has defeated river protection efforts and threatens to open millions of acres of wilderness to resource extraction.
That was the respectable—if undeniably destructive—part of the movement. Its philosophy, however, was embraced by the growing militia movement in the same part of the country. Its philosophy ran in poisoned tributaries to all points of the political compass until it gathered itself into a great reservoir of toxic fantasy, and that is where the essential compact of the United States of America was encouraged to break down.
There is no actual tyranny in this country against which to take up arms. There is bureaucratic inertia. There is pigheaded bureaucracy. There even is political chicanery. But there is no actual tyranny in the Endangered Species Act, or in the Bureau of Land Management, or in the Environmental Protection Agency, or in the Affordable Care Act, or in IRS dumbassery, or even in whatever it is that the president plans to say about guns in the next week or so. Anyone who argues that actual tyranny exists is a dangerous charlatan who should be mocked from the public square. Anyone who argues that there is out of political ambition, or for their own personal profit, should be shunned by decent people until they regain whatever moral compass they once had.
It does us no good to ignore what is going on in this obscure little corner of the Pacific Northwest. It does us no good to refuse to hold to account the politics that led to this, and the politicians who sought to profit from it. It does us no good to deny that there is a substantial constituency for armed sedition in this country, and to deny the necessity of delegitimizing that constituency in our politics, and the first step in that process is to face it and to call it what it is.
And, in related news, of course, Tamir Rice is still dead.