The Oregon Militiamen: Patriots or Terrorists?
“Political language,” said George Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” It is simply the propaganda machine those in power use to enforce orthodoxy, that is, the correct way of viewing history and current events. For those with power, as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine once explained, fear most to lose it. Thus they must rewrite reality in order to protect and justify their hold on power, especially when that hold is illegitimate, i.e. illegal, i.e. lawless.
Given this state of affairs, anyone paying attention to events south of the border, beyond the tireless drone of the presidential campaigns, may have heard of the terrorists in Oregon occupying a wildlife refuge, demanding the government set free some local arsonists and return land to inhabitants who long ago sold it to the refuge. These radical right-wing militiamen have concocted a conspiracy where the federal government has been stealing land from innocent ranchers and, in the name of anarchy, have begun vandalizing government property, terrorizing the local inhabitants, and wasted tax dollars due to the efforts needed to contain these pseudo-revolutionaries. Further research will reveal that the Bundy brothers, leader of these armed soulja-boys, have been involved in similar standoffs with the government before, and are trouble-makers who travel across the US attaching themselves to regional squabbles, against the wish of locals, in their vainglorious war against the federal government. Such is the orthodoxy streaming from the establishment loudspeakers.
While we must not be so naïve as to believe “the revolution will be tweeted,” what with the possibilities of internet censorship, insofar as the web remains a source of decentralized information, there is another narrative which paints quite a different picture.
The story begins in the 1870s when ranchers began settling in the Harney Basin and building a state of the art irrigation system to enrich their lands. The thriving basin soon began attracting wildlife, particularly birds as they migrated north. As governments do, President Roosevelt declared the unclaimed land federal property under the guise of an “Indian Reservation,” though no “Indians” inhabited the area, to preserve the “breeding ground for native birds.” Already the orthodox narrative had altered the reality.
Meanwhile, according to the American Constitution, “the supreme law of the land” (Art.6 s.2) , the federal government cannot own any territory outside of D.C. unless it is a military site which the state in question has allowed (Art.1 s.8). The Feds were violating their legal jurisdiction by claiming the land. Still, at the time, nothing could seem less sinister than establishing the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
In the 1970s, the consequences of ignoring checks and balances made themselves clear. The massively expanded Fed’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and constitutionally unnecessary Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began buying up local ranches and adding the property to the refuge. The expanding refuge soon surrounded the property of the Hammond family, who had been ranching since the early 60s. When the Hammonds and other ranchers refused to sell, however, the FWS and BLM concocted a scheme to force more ranchers out. In the 1980s, they diverted waters passing the meadow lands into the Malheur Lake causing the rising lake to flood the surrounding plains. Their property ruined, many more ranchers were forced to sell. With useless land, the only buyer was, of course, the BLM.
Susie Hammond began compiling facts about the Wildlife Refuge and its federal cohorts. She founded a 1975 study taken by the FWS, and subsequently hidden away, which revealed that, as is often the case, private property around the wildlife refuge attracted four times more wildlife than the actual refuge. (Unsurprisingly, when men “take dominion over the earth,” the earth and all its creatures flourish. When governments let land sit… not so much.) An established bureaucracy didn’t take too kindly to being exposed and so the Hammond family became the target of systemic abuse and harassment by the FWS and BLM from them on.
In one of many incidents, in August of 1994 the Feds began illegally building a fence around the Hammond’s water source. When Dwight Hammond (father) attempted to stop this, he was arrested for “disturbing and interfering with” federal officials and was locked up for two nights and then suddenly released without bail.
Then the Feds revoked the Hammond’s grazing permits without any court proceedings taking place. Oregon is a “fence out state” meaning it does not obligate an owner to keep their livestock within a fence to control their livestock’s movement. Without the grazing permits, the BLW demanded the Hammonds build a fence since their cattle was not permitted to graze on “public property,” Oregon State law be damned. Without the money to build and maintain fences along miles of property, the Hammonds were forced to sell their ranch and buy another property with enough grass to feed their cattle.
But the real trouble began in 2006, when a lightning storm started a fire which posed a threat to the Hammonds land and home. Steven Hammond (son) started a backfire to keep the wildfire from damaging their property. The backfire was successful in saving much of the range and vegetation needed to feed the cattle through the winter. But in the crisis, the Hammonds had failed to inform the public authorities of their activities. The very next day, federal agents filed a police report and Dwight and Steve Hammond were arrested by the County Sheriff and a BLM agent. After reviewing the case, however, the Harney County District Attorney decided to drop the charges. The BLM needed to bring the case to the federal courts if they were going to have their way.
Five years later, 2011, the report was taken to the federal attorneys and the Hammonds were charged under the Federal Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996. The Hammond’s mugshots were featured on the news under the title of “arsonists.” A trial was held which was skewed against the Hammonds in favor of the Feds from the start. While the Hammond’s attorney was given one day to review the evidence, the federal attorney was given six. The jurors selected were not peers, but individuals intentionally selected for their ignorance of the customs and cultures of the ranchers, many of whom lived far from the courthouse, meaning the constant travelling would exhaust them. Such was the case when after six days of being pressured by the federal judge to give a verdict, while being intentionally kept unaware of the consequences of a guilty verdict, the jury finally pronounced the Hammonds guilty.
For some reason, the federal judge thought it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” to deliver the minimum sentence under the Anti-Terrorism Act of five years in prison, even though the Hammonds had supposedly just been found guilty of terrorism. Instead, the judge sentenced Dwight to three months and Steven to twelve months along with an additional fine for both of $400,000. Even after the Hammond men suffered through their terms, it seems the Feds were not finished with them.
In what cannot seem to be anything but vindictive and malicious behavior, the BLM again brought the Hammond’s case to the federal courts demanding that the ranchers be made to serve the full five year term. So in October of 2015, the Hammonds were re-sentenced.
This is where things get interesting. On January 2nd, a protest rally was held in support of the Hammond family, in Harney County. In attendance were the Bundy Brothers and other patriots, as they call themselves. Following the rally, the brothers and their group of armed militiamen trekked up to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters: “The facility [which] has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed on the Hammonds,” and other ranchers, as Ammon Bundy put it. With supposedly as many as 100 supporters, the militiamen took control of the refuge, closed for the holidays, and then released statements that they intend to hold the headquarters for the next number of years, unless the Hammonds are released and the ranchers given back their lands. They promised they will not hurt anyone, but did not rule out violence if the government tries to remove them.
Since then, the militiamen have been occupying the refuge. The federal government, establishment media, and their ilk have had a field day with the group, labeling them as terrorists and vandals (for tearing down fences). To date (Jan. 17), only one man has been arrested.
The question becomes, what do we make of the Bundy brothers and their followers? Are they terrorists, or are they patriots? Given as Canadians we haven’t really had to deal (as far as I know of at least) with this dilemma since Louis Riel defended the Red River settlement from our central government, we might have a difficult time sympathizing with the Bundy’s or accepting their terrific claims about their governments grand conspiracy to enslave the American people. On the other hand, the facts fit the bill.
Legally, the Bundy’s have done nothing wrong. The land they occupy does not, cannot in fact, belong to the federal government. Constitutionally, the Bundy’s are occupying public land owned by the State of Oregon. (If the State of Oregon wants them gone, that’s their business, but a totally different matter.) The only lawless group here has been the American Federal government. The Feds may have acted with the power of law, but they acted in violation of the law which gave them the right to do it – the Constitution. And whenever any government acts against the law, it acts arbitrarily. And arbitrary government is little less than tyranny.
This is a version of events that the powers-that-be cannot stomach. We may not agree with the Bundy’s tactics, but as one commentator observed, “The problem with real-life cases like this is that they are always messy. The victims of government never have squeaky clean lives and practices. If the defenders of rights and property wait to speak out only when non-messy cases present themselves, we'll wait forever.” Perhaps as Christians we might want to propose alternative approaches, like the non-violent resistance used by Gary McHale in defending the property rights of families in Caledonia. Whatever the case, the lesson here is to be aware of the propaganda asserted as the facts. For when we accept that anyone who stands up to arbitrary government must be a criminal a lunatic or a “trouble-maker,” then we shall be taking a large step along the road to serfdom.