Following on my earlier blog on Oregon Silliness, events dragged on, petered out and popped with the sad death of Robert Finicum. He may or may not have been shot reaching for his 45 in a tense stand-off. This was sad, but he’s no martyr, and the tragedy should warn and redirect us all on the relevant issues.
The impetus for outsiders to occupy the Malheur Wildlife Refuge was largely organized by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy who had earlier (2014) mounted a tense round of gun-pointing over his refusal to pay grazing fees for decades. Son Ammon and fellow occupiers were stirred up over Dwight and Steven Hammond’s stiff jail sentences for arson, possibly set to cover poaching. The re-sentencing was part of the harsh imposition of conservative-pushed mandatory minimum guidelines, the same sort of get-tough legislation that has clogged our prison system (primarily with Blacks and Hispanics) making the U.S. the biggest jailer in the advanced world.
The armed occupiers weren’t contesting mandatory minimum sentences in general, just for their chosen guys and some vague complaint about “their” land. Like children with guns throwing a tantrum, these outsiders claimed they were restoring local control – theirs.
Ammon’s father Cliven had refused to pay grazing fees since 1993, racking up over a million in fees and fines. Though his armed standoff in 2014, where armed protesters outnumbered federal agents 4 to 1, resolved shy of gunfire, he wasn’t arrested till this year. That his stunt and this recent one by his son and friends both resolved without gun battles (except for the Finicum tragedy) shows the wise restraint of the feds. We don’t need Wacos to resolve macho posturing. Nor should such posturing and intimidation be rewarded.
What gets me about their “reasoning” about “taking the government back” is the assumption that they can insult and assault our government for their gripes. I tend to think government is us taking care of ourselves and our lands. It’s a contentious process but we’re in it together. How can Americans elect a party with the mindset that government is only bad for us, when that’s how they then make it? We need better, more inclusive, more responsive government with all of us involved in making it better as needed, not turn it over to a small group of arrogant takers determined to use our society and lands rudely for their purposes but not ours.
They raise a good issue though: what is the long-term ecological best use of our range land and what are fair fees for grazing it? What do cattle do to our soil, streams and air? Is it a clunky one-fee-for-all-grazers fair to them and us? Some estimate western grazers are paying 93% less than typical fair-market rates. This covers only about 15% of the costs of permitting such grazing, the rest paid for by us taxpayers. Perhaps the issue they raised should be resolved by higher grazing fees. It should be fair, not welfare.
So far, this has not been highlighted. News reports of the event portrayed the occupiers as noble patriots daring to lay down their lives for freedom to rescue their lands, as if that was warranted. Once someone has died it’s hard to say it was a tragic waste. They have to make him into a martyr to protect themselves from the disturbing realization they went too far.
Would more martyrs make it better? Should more groups get away with seizing government offices with a show of armed intent? Should blacks do that when they object to mandatory minimums and excessive jailing? Does America do well by everyone angrily bringing guns to their arguments? No. That would be a script for diffuse civil war, a descent into mayhem. Such dangerous tactics shouldn’t be flamed into conflagrations, but neither should they be allowed without consequences.
Grazers should pay fair fees and treat the land responsibly. Arsonists should fess up and pay up, but not be put to cruel and unusual punishment. Occupiers should have to pay for the mess they made. (Sympathetic admirers could help them pay it.) The imposition of mandatory minimums should be exposed and changed. We should all tend to the fair and ecological use of our lands, waters and air. The tensions and problems raised by this event call on Americans to consider and creatively fix with each other, not confuse and crudely force with guns.