February 2016
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'Patriot' games in Oregon

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

I came of age in a household in which “militia” was not a scary word. In my world at the time, it just meant people suspicious of government and committed to the Second Amendment.

But it’s more than that. In today’s “militia” movement can be seen a wholesale rejection of both reality and its consequences; scenes of grownups playing games with guns, making boastful statements about proud last stands, whipping up like-minded others into a frothing mass, “taking” a wildlife refuge that belongs to all Americans, issuing demands, playing the aggrieved party and, finally, when one member dies in the snow after running a roadblock, finally, indication that maybe “fighting the feds” through legal means isn’t such a bad option after all.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s “seizure” of the Malheur wildlife refuge in Oregon first led people to scratch their heads, then to mock the group as “Vanilla ISIS” waging “Yeehawd” and pester them with shipments of sex toys. Repeatedly (and to the point of triteness), people noted that had these armed “protestors” not been white, the feds would have taken them out; then came frustration that the group was allowed to come and go as it pleased.

Now the leaders and six others have been arrested and one more, Robert “La- Voy” Finicum, is dead. If the situation could ever be described as funny, it isn’t anymore.

Federal agents shot Finicum in late January. A video shows a vehicle whipping by a roadblock, nearly striking an individual, then a man, said to be Finicum, getting out and running. Finicum stops, has his arms wide, but then appears to reach into his coat while facing an agent, and another agent shoots him from behind. Obviously, audio, plus footage of what happened before Finicum’s vehicle comes hurtling toward the roadblock, will be helpful in determining whether the shooting was justified.

I will say only that when you make a threatening move toward an officer, the officer is permitted to use deadly force, as are others, in order to protect him or her from imminent bodily harm.

The entire Malheur mess could have been avoided had the Bundy Bunch chosen to operate within legal parameters to begin with. And, no, badgering officials in Harney County, Ore., for two months prior to an epic, armed tantrum, does not count. According to Bundy’s federal arrest warrant, he claimed to have petitioned state and county reps to “stand up for the (jailed ranchers Steven and Dwight) Hammonds against the socalled ‘unconstitutional actions’” and that he felt “we have exhausted all prudent measures and have been ignored.”

Mr. Bundy: Not having your ridiculous demands met is not the same thing as oppression. Revolting over federal sentencing laws and the reality of federal lands is not comparable to the American Revolution, and Finicum is hardly Crispus Attucks.

No, this was not our forefathers’ revolution. The Bundys aren’t brave. Finicum is no martyr. The morning-after talk that would lay his death at the feet of “federal overreach” and supposed high-handedness of public lands agencies is as outrageous as it is ridiculous.

That’s not to say that some of what drove the Bundy protest isn’t (to a point) understandable.

Ammon Bundy, the son of scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy, seized upon an October Appeals Court order that said two other ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, must be returned to federal custody because the sentences imposed for their 2012 arson convictions were below the mandatory minimum.

The Hammonds were accused of setting fire to federal lands to cover up illegal hunting activities, but they said the fire, which in 2001 burned 139 acres of public lands, blew up accidentally after they began burning weeds on their own property. Both were found guilty of arson in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and Steven was also found guilty of setting a fire in 2006.

The Hammonds argued at sentencing that the five-year mandatory-minimum sentencing provisions were unconstitutional, and the trial court agreed, sentencing them to far less time. The U.S. Attorney’s Office appealed, and was ultimately successful. The Hammonds were last October ordered into custody to meet the minimum requirements.

This seems unfair. But the problem, as Conor Freidersdorf noted in The Atlantic, arises from the federal minimumsentencing laws that leave judges little choice. Freidersdorf suggested the Left and Right could work together to address the mandatory-minimum laws. He’s right: Ammon Bundy might have done that.

But it would have required work and compromise. Showing up with guns and hooting about how you’ll use force if necessary (necessity being determined by your mood at the time?) gets you on the nightly news, and as a bonus, gives liberals like me a giant pain when the flames of your stupidity start burning us.

The Bundy Bunch instead took up arms, and did so despite the Hammonds declining to be the poster children du jour.

The Bundys strike me as being among the Americans who actually don’t want a reasonable solution to their issues. They want to have their way. All the time. They don’t fear persecution. They crave it. They crave it so much that they see it everywhere. Attempts to reason with them, to acquaint them with facts, are futile: they simply see such efforts as further “proof ” of whatever conspiracy to which they’ve devoted themselves.

There are pockets of such people throughout the West, and while none I’ve encountered have been violent, I’ve pretty much had enough of the mindset that denies reality and then acts put-upon when the inevitable result occurs.

This is not the Wild West. It certainly isn’t Revolutionary War-era America, where the fight was for broad-scale (though not universal) liberties, rather than a senseless urination match at the behest of a pitiful special-interest group.

The domestic terrorism at the Malheur Wildlife refuge was wholly unjustified. It was not a noble stand, just a stupid one. It cannot even be accurately compared to Black Lives Matter — whatever one thinks of those protests, most of the protesters did not show up armed, or issue calls for arms, and the vast majority did not loot or commit other crimes. Additionally — critically, even — these protests were met immediately with a law-enforcement response.

Bottom line for the Bundys and likeminded people: Cut-and-paste your own reality does not work well. On an individual, extreme level, it’s called schizophrenia and is seen as a serious medical condition. On a societal, extreme level, it is the recipe for anarchy and lawlessness, not “freedom.” It is not an effective way to address perceived grievances.

What happened to LaVoy Finicum as the result of his choices and his singularly ill-informed beliefs should prove that.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.


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