This week has seen a headache-inducing debacle unfurling in the tiny town of Burns, Oregon, in which a few members of the Bundy family have traveled there from their usual haunts in Nevada, accompanied by a few other colorful characters of Western flavor, and have successfully staged the conquest of a deserted headquarters of a federal bird refuge.
The occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters branched off from a sizable protest of the “re-sentencing” of Dwight and Steven Hammond, a father and son in a ranching family located south of Burns convicted by a federal court under an anti-terrorism statute.
And social media is aflame with bloodthirsty leftists demanding that the Bundys and their cohort be dealt with in a fashion reminiscent of Ruby Ridge and Waco, concocting cute hashtags like #YallQaeda and #VanillaISIS to display their glee that FINALLY, there are white guys who can kinda-sorta credibly be called terrorists to justify the Obama administration’s seven years of false accusations that the real threat to American security comes from the president’s “bitter clinger” political opponents and other intransigent people of pallor.
The budding standoff at the bird preserve is a perfect example of what not to do, but it’s what more and more frequently comes from the people populating the anti-establishment Right. This is something of a logical extension of the Trump movement; so many are so disgusted with the rapid decline of the country culturally, economically, and politically and so frustrated by a lack of effective means to arrest that decline as to embrace The Donald as he substitutes vague sentiments for actionable policy statements, and now the Bundys are building a following as heroes of a well-justified movement opposing the abuses of the federal Bureau of Land Management despite a demonstrable lack of intelligent means being employed to carry on that fight.
This isn’t a criticism of their motivations, by any means. These are legitimate gripes long overdue for redress. The problem is effectiveness — nothing will be fixed without victory, and this is a year in which victory is crucial in a way it hasn’t been since 1980, if not 1864.
Hopefully, the standoff in Oregon will be resolved without violence. The idea there might be the Waco redux leftist imbeciles like Montel Williams are spoiling for in this case isn’t an attractive one. But what we’ve seen so far does little justice to the underlying cause.
That cause, the plight of the Hammonds, is a noble one — and an urgent one. The antics of the Bundys were aimed at publicizing it, though at this point it’s debatable whether they’re now overshadowing the injustice visited upon their fellow citizens.
And lest this column be accused of a similar error, let us understand what a true case of governmental abuse the Hammond case represents.
In short, the particulars are these.
The BLM, and in particular its regional office in Oregon, has engaged in a long pattern of attempting to squeeze private landowners off their property and gobbling up real estate adjacent to federal holdings. In the case of the Malheur bird preserve, this has included abusing water management in order to flood private lands and make them useless, so the owners in desperation agree to sell. But the Hammond family have been a holdout among local ranchers, to such an extent that their property is surrounded by federal lands and they have dealt with the BLM blockading roads leading in and out of their ranch.
In that environment, it’s sadly less than surprising that the BLM and the federal government threw the book at the Hammonds over a pair of fire-related incidents in 2001 and 2006 and found a way to put them in prison. Hammond père and fils were actually convicted under a significantly inappropriate federal anti-terrorism statute carrying a five-year minimum sentence, and the trial judge was so offended by the idea of five years for what they actually did that he refused to impose it — giving Dwight a three-month sentence and Steven a year.
The judge, Michael Hogan, was so lenient likely out of a sense of shame that he allowed the prosecution to go forward in the first place. For the “terrorism” in question was a pair of incidents where the Hammonds started fires on their own land only to have those fires cross into the bird preserve and touch small amounts of federal grassland. In both cases the fires were put out by the Hammonds themselves; the 2006 fire was actually lit as a back-burn intended to protect Hammond property and their ranch-house from a wildfire started by lightning strikes, and it was successful in doing so.
Hogan also ran a fairly kangaroo-court style proceeding, giving the prosecutors six days to present their case and the defense just one. A jury confused and exhausted by the trial acquitted the defendants on most of the 19 charges. The judge brokered a plea agreement in the case, in which the Hammonds agreed not to appeal the case and also — this is key — to agree to a right of first refusal for the BLM to buy their property.
Dwight and Steven Hammond served the sentences Hogan imposed, and went home to the ranch in an effort to keep it alive.
And meanwhile, Oregon’s horrifically unqualified U.S. Attorney at the time, a leftist moonbat named Amanda Marshall — raised in a commune and reared on Grateful Dead concerts and socialism and plucked for the job out of a child advocacy sinecure in Oregon’s state bureaucracy in a pristine example of runaway affirmative action by the Obama administration — refused to accept the sentences or the plea agreement. The Department of Justice actually appealed the case and managed to get a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals imposing the mandatory five-year sentence. And in stupidity typical of the 9th Circus, the court reasoned that violating the spirit of the principle of double jeopardy (not to mention the plea agreement) was justified in this case, as Jacob Sullum notes, because other more absurd results based on mandatory minimum sentences were not overturned.
In the meantime Marshall had to resign as U.S. Attorney amid allegations that she was stalking an employee in her office that she might or might not have forced into a sexual relationship before he broke it off (reports about the resignation surely leave that impression).
The Hammonds reported Monday to serve out their newly increased sentences, when they shouldn’t have served a day. Their case should create maximum blowback against the shocking abuse and affront to the senses this tyrannical federal government commits on a constant basis, and the taxpayer-funded troglodytes responsible up and down the chain ought to be named, shamed, and hounded off the public teat.
But what the Bundy brigade is doing isn’t going to work. They’re just provocative enough to fire up the Left and create demands for their blood, but not enough to actually create the credible threat of making it impossible for Obama’s government to govern. As such, what effect they do produce is likely negative consequences to themselves — perhaps dire ones.
And martyrs to the cause of limited government are not what that cause needs. What it needs is the ability to, Saul Alinsky-style, make it impossible for the federal government to carry out the abuses it conjures through nonviolent but highly provocative organized action capturing the public’s imagination and properly casting the Federal conjurers as villains.
If that means giving the Bundys, or somebody just as committed but significantly more capable, a copy of Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals, great. But it’s far past the time that the cause was served a lot better by its own activists and the limited-government community was organized at least as well as the rabble on the Left has been by Alinsky’s disciples.