It’s difficult to believe, but militants are still occupying the federal buildings on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. The most recent news involves the FBI maintaining roadblocks in the area around the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, with “the addition of a sign warning of potential consequences for anyone who attempts to unlawfully pass the roadblock.”
Although three militants turned themselves into custody on Wednesday, January 27th, according to a recent update, there are still four people refusing to vacate the refuge grounds. Other updates say that the remaining occupants were “unwilling to leave unless all were assured they would not be arrested.” Previously, John Sepulvado Tweeted that the remaining occupants have said they will not leave: “We’re not cowards like the rest,” they said, they’re “prepared to die.” This declaration seemed to be inviting violence into the situation, rather than avoiding it.
One thing is certain in analyzing the overall tone of the Oregon occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge federal buildings, and that is that they were sure they were in the right, and that they were defending ranchers’ ‘God-given rights’ and adhering to a strict code of ethics as landowners and U.S. citizens. Certainly, their attitude about why LaVoy Finicum was killed—the sole casualty of the entire standoff—is telling: his supporters claim he was murdered, with his hands in the air. However, Finicum was also quoted as saying he would sooner die than be arrested, which seems like a very telling clue as to why he was shot by authorities.
There are conflicting reactions among anti-government militia circles around the country. One gun-rights activist, Mike Vanderboegh, was quoted as saying, “It’s all I can do to keep people from going and shooting feds right now.” Clearly, anti-government feelings are running high among these circles. It’s likely that Bundy and company are opposed to federal efforts like the Freedom of Information act which, despite traditional U.S. values that put individual rights to freedom and privacy first, seem to work against privacy by offering so much private information up for investigation in the name of national security.
Another bridge between individual sovereignty and government representation is federal taxation, and many anti-government militants would love ranchers to be shielded from virtually all corporate taxation. In the early days of tax code, Professor Ronald Zullo of Northeastern University points out, U.S. citizens argued that found property is not taxable: in this case, that found property would be the land. This argument, however, was faulty, relying on a tax loophole rather than detailed tax code; ultimately, all private property was (and is) taxable.
Moreover, in the case of Ammon & Clive Bundy’s unpaid ranching dues, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. In the wake of Finicum’s seemingly planned death, the Pacific Patriots Network, Oath Keepers, and the Idaho III% issued a joint statement announcing an immediate “stand by” order to followers: “During this time, cooler heads must prevail,” the statement said. “We do not want to inflame the current situation and will engage in open dialogue until all of the facts have been gathered.” This is a hopeful sign suggesting the current occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge represent a fringe, extremist element of anti-government sentiment, rather than the overriding trend.
Why was the local and federal government’s response so hands off with these people? I have a few theories. The first is that they wanted to avoid a violent confrontation—and they figured that the occupiers would go away of their own accord. I’m not sure how this theory was justifiable, considering that Bundy and his fellow occupiers vowed to stay there “indefinitely,” seeing themselves as above the law, so to speak. It certainly is interesting that Ammon Bundy’s gang of occupants believe they are acting on behalf of the greater good and the federal agents who set up the roadblock and arrested the occupants also believe they are acting ethically—especially when there seems to be such a large gray area as to what constitutes the moral good when it comes to public land.
Second, they were white men with guns—as opposed to identifying as black or Muslim; the latter point is, no doubt, controversial and debatable, but there was a great deal of discussion comparing the way the militants in Oregon are being treated to a 1979 standoff in which the occupants, who were African-American, were forcibly dragged off the land. What was the primary difference in the two situations? In the Malheur case, the occupants are white; in the Harris Neck occupation, the occupants were black. Both groups claim to be acting on behalf of social justice and community rights, as opposed to broad government overreach. Lastly, there were two young girls, aged eight and nine, who eventually joined the occupation—though not until after their parents had already been involved and on the premises for three weeks.
The occupiers have cost the state $100,000 a week, according to Governor Kate Brown; considering they’ve occupied the federal building on the wildlife refuge for going on forty days, now, they’ve proven to be quite a hefty financial burden. One group, the Center for Western Priorities, estimates that the total cost to federal, state, and local governments totals over three million dollars. Luckily for the state of Oregon, the four remaining occupants, according to the most recent report from Oregon Public Broadcasting, claim to want to leave, provided they will be allowed to leave without being taken into custody. If there is additional violence, it will likely be the result of the militants bringing it upon themselves.