Here’s how all the pieces fit together. The first is the establishment piece.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the arm of the government at the center of this isn’t an innocent party. While in this instance the BLM isn’t wrong for the reasons the militant occupants say it is, but it does hold its share of nefarious practices. For a small bit of history, the BLM was created by the government to hold federal control of state lands to prevent them from being overrun by certain industries. For instance, they were born from a need to legislate cattle grazing because if left unchecked, the ranchers would allow the entire area to be destroyed by their cattle. For another example, they were created to ensure that industrial entities didn’t use all the resources that should be for the entire public. So what do they do with all that land? In some cases, they turned the land into national forests and other protected public spaces. In other cases, they turned the area into cultural or historical sites, protected by federal law as well. Beyond that, what they have done has been a lot more questionable. For one, they have allowed many of the industries into these lands that they had wanted to keep at bay, but with supposed regulations. For instance, the Arizona branch of the Bureau of Land Management recently approved a land swap that will see ancient Apache ceremonial land go to the hands of a foreign mining company to exploit the largest copper deposit in the country. I am against this action 100%, and these types of things have been happening from the BLM for a while now. The practice that is at the heart if this controversy is that they are willing to lease the public land back to the ranchers they took it from, for a fee and tight regulation. Simply put, the federal government took land that was usually unclaimed or “unusable”, or in some instances, land owned by ranchers, and instead forced the ranchers to pay a fee to use the new public land for grazing. Some of these ranchers claim that their right to graze on public land is a state issue and that the BLM, or the federal government, doesn’t have the right to intervene.
That brings us to how this situation started, which in reality didn’t start in Oregon, but in Nevada. Cliven Bundy and the BLM in Nevada seemed to have a decent working relationship in the past. In 1954 Bundy started to lease part of the public land near his ranch to allow his cattle to graze. That continued until 1993 when Bundy decide to protest new BLM regulations by not renewing his grazing lease. He claimed that since he had been in the area for forty years that he had an ancestral claim on the land, and that he didn’t need a grazing permit. The BLM in turn let it expire, but Bundy continued to use the public land for grazing, ignoring all previous grazing regulations, and instead claimed his ancestral claim gave him sovereign rights. Of course, that’s ignoring the indigenous population that had the land stolen from them, but Bundy has never seemed concerned with that.
So how does that equate up to the events in Oregon and the militia occupation? The connection is made because of the actions of some ranchers in Oregon and their dealings with the BLM. The Hammond pair, a father and son duo are at the heart of this instance. It began with a fencing dispute in the 90’s when the father, Dwight Hammond went so far as to threaten BLM officials with violence. That situation ended but not the dealings between the two entities. Then Dwight, and his son Steve Hammond, were later convicted of arson on federal land because they had been allegedly conducting a back burn to clear brush. Later in court, it was found out that they were actually trying to cover up an illegal slaughter of deer on the public land. Hammond’s nephew testified that he was handed matches and told to “light the whole county up.” Due to bad planning, he barely escaped the created blaze with his life. The Hammonds were each sentenced to less than a year of jail each and they served their time. After they got out, the federal government stepped in with the claim that the charge held a federal mandatory minimum sentence of five years and that the Hammonds owed four more years. The Hammonds appealed, lost and were due to return to prison today.
I want to put in a small note here, a personal opinion. I don’t agree with the concept of mandatory minimum sentences for crimes. Every crime is different and requires a different punishment. When an authority or governmental entity imposes a mandatory minimum, often the sentence doesn’t fit the crime. I’m also a believer that states impose mandatory minimums to keep non violent people in the prison system, and this is almost related. Either way, I don’t support mandatory minimums against the Hammonds in this manner. They served a sentence and that should suffice, even if I may feel that it wasn’t initially enough.
A protest was started in Burns, Oregon, a small town in Harney county, where all this took place. While a protest for something like this is normal, it gained a leap in status when none other than Cliven Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan and Jon Ritzheimer, a known sovereign citizen’s advocate, joined the events. They organized the armed protest for the Hammonds, but when the protest ended and most people went home, the Bundy’s, Ritzheimer and several other out of state armed militia members had other ideas. They traveled to the unoccupied headquarters of wildlife reserve and declared it as taken by force in the name of militias and sovereign citizens everywhere. Then they released a statement declaring that “over 150 militia members” occupy the area although other estimates put the number at around 20 or 30 people.
The militia members couldn’t quite get their motives straight in the beginning either. Some said that their goal was to “roll back on the BLM’s over reach into state matters”. Others said that they were willing to die to get back their constitutional rights, though he didn’t elaborate on what those rights were. Another member told a reporter that they were there at the directive of God, which was eerily reminiscent of what Cliven Bundy said during his standoff, that God had directed him toward the protest and standoff that he orchestrated.
When interviewed by RT’s Igor Piskanov, the militia member guarding the gate on Monday night could only hold up a flyer of the Constitution as an answer to the question of the group’s motivation. While comical in the instance, at least that member was closest to the goal currently being touted by the leadership of the militia. As far as I can tell, that would be Ammon Bundy, Cliven Bundy’s son, who was gracious enough to join Megyn Kelly for an interview on Fox News. He said the same thing, that they goal of the group was to bring back the constitutional rights of the ranchers. As I stated in the outset, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
For starters, the people that these militia members claim to support want nothing to do with them. The people in Burns, Oregon have claimed publicly that they wish the militia members would leave, and go home. Their lives have been disrupted from school closures and the national attention. Other prominent militia groups, like the Oath keepers, have publicly refuted the actions of the Bundy brothers and John Ritzheimer. Even Steve and Dwight Hammond have both come out publicly and stated that they want nothing to do with the occupation that was started in their name. Simply put, the only people that this armed occupation was ever meant to benefit, were the very people that were conducting the occupation, and the like minded individuals across the country that share the same delusions or fantasies.
Speaking of fantasies, some of those individuals told the media that they had no intention of surviving the ordeal, and that they thought they were going to die as patriots fighting for their rights. Even John Ritzheimer, one of the leaders of the protest and armed occupation, filmed a 14-minute video (found below) explaining to his family why he wasn’t present during the holidays, and why a fight to the death might be necessary to protect the rights of the Hammonds and other ranchers like them. Even Ryan Bundy himself held delusions of martyrdom when he went on record saying that a fight to the death might be needed, although those comments were later refuted by his brother during his interview with Fox News and Megyn Kelly. Perhaps most troubling of all, some of these men believe they are on a mission from God, and they are willing to die for it. For any other religious, or ethnic group, these beliefs are considered to be the precursor to terrorism, but for some reason, we try really hard not to give this militia that label due to the fact that they have yet to actually harm anybody, and probably because of the color of their skin.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, John Ritzheimer, and an unknown number of right wing militia extremists, under the guise of fighting for constitutional rights, are instead doing nothing more than orchestrating a complicated publicity stunt to garner right-wing support and the money that it brings. Just look at all the financial awards, and public support Cliven Bundy received for the decision to take an armed stand against a government entity simply because he didn’t want to pay a $1.35 per head of cattle grazing on public land. It’s always about the money, and this is no different. This situation is nothing more than a demonstration of white privilege and entitlement born from spoiled ranchers who weren’t allowed to let their cattle destroy an entire swath of public land to generate a profit. My only hope, is that during these men’s quest for publicity and a financial windfall, that nobody is hurt or killed as a result.