The blessing and the curse of working in the media is that the news never stops. Take last week, when I was on vacation and yet the world had the gall to keep turning.
So, while I had little interest in turning off the football games and writing my regularly scheduled column for Sunday’s paper, sometimes a story is so delicious that you feel compelled to craft a midweek diatribe. Therefore, we now weigh in on the tale of armed occupiers at a federal building in Harney County, Ore.
You have, undoubtedly, heard the story – although maybe under a different description. Some in the media have referred to the group as “armed activists” or “armed protesters” or “militia members.” Some have even used the term “patriots,” which surely is an insult to every real patriot from Deborah Sampson to Cathay Williams.
Personally, I would prefer the term “chowderheads” or maybe “armed chowderheads.” Because the people occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in protest of government tyranny are an embarrassment to their cause. They are not alone, of course; many Americans have come to view the federal government as an enemy of the people. And yet the dystopia perpetrated by the occupiers is silly on its face.
Let’s start with the cognitive dissonance.
The group in remote southeastern Oregon professes to be supporting a pair of ranchers, who have been sentenced under federal law for starting fires in both 2001 and 2006 that extended beyond their property. The first blaze reportedly burned about 130 acres of public land. The ranchers were charged under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which is just as Draconian as it sounds. Their mandatory five-year sentences were reduced by a subsequent court, but recently reinstated – pointing out the absurdity of mandatory sentencing.
That led to protests in support of the ranchers, which led to the occupation of the federal building. And that is where it gets interesting.
The reputed leader of the occupation is Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who in 2014 briefly became a cause celebre for those who see the government as the bogeyman. Cliven Bundy had spent 20 years allowing his cattle to graze on federal land without paying the mandated fee. When the federal government tried to intervene, an armed standoff ensued.
The importance of all this is that the Bundys are not occupiers or militia members or patriots, but rather they are hypocrites. Cliven Bundy eventually scuttled his support by saying “Negro” people would be better off as slaves rather than receiving government subsidies – ignoring the fact that he was slurping from the public trough.
Estimates are that grazing fees charged by the Bureau of Land Management offer ranchers a 93 percent discount on the market value. And Ammon Bundy in 2010 reportedly borrowed $530,000 through a federal small-business loan program.
So, the gist is: Government is bad, except when it helps me and my selfishly individualistic view of the world. Never mind, apparently, that federal ownership of lands in Western states dates back to the agreements that carved those states out of the prairies and plains, or that the Constitution these people claim to hold dear reads: “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.”
Which brings up the misguided self-righteousness of the so-called militia members. Because for those who view their actions as patriotic, there is no logical answer to this question: What if the occupiers were black? What if they were Muslim-Americans? What if they were Hispanic-Americans, armed citizens railing against what they see as the tyranny of the federal government?
Would the handful of people who support the occupiers in Oregon be so quick to jump to their defense? No, the guess here is that “chowderheads” would be the softest epithet in use.
Greg Jaynes writes for The Columbian (Vancouver, Washington).