Despite Ammon Bundy’s best efforts to explain the motives of the militiamen who over the weekend seized control of a remote federal building in Oregon, it’s still not entirely clear why several dozen US citizens decided to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
WaPo is probably correct to say that there “are gun rights issues, religious overtones, broad strains of anti-government sentiment and even the tactics of the Occupy Wall Street movement” at play, but like the Occupy movement, those holed up in the snowy government outpost have yet to articulate a coherent set of grievances to justify their cause.
As we outlined on Sunday, Ammon Bundy is the son of Cliven Bundy, a kind of folk hero at the heart of a 2014 standoff with the government that ended with what some say was a victory for individual and state’s rights.
Apparently, the younger Bundy is attempting to engineer another direct conflict with federal authorities by rallying around the “cause” of Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, who were sent back to jail on Monday for arson.
Bundy and the rest of the militiamen (who say they’re “in it for the long haul” and who have named themselves the “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom”) camped out at Malheur have indicated they’re prepared to fight should the government move to forcibly remove them from the wildlife refuge and at least one American is calling for “shoot to kill” orders for the National Guard.
In what may perhaps mark the beginning of open hostilities between authorities and the militia, Harney County Sheriff David Ward politely told the group that “it’s time to leave” on Monday.
“You said you were here to help the citizens of Harney County. It is time for you to leave our community, go home to your families, and end this peacefully,” Ward said, on behalf of himself and county Judge Steven Grasty.
As Reuters explains, “the Oregon occupation marks the latest skirmish in the so-called sagebrush rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres of land and natural resources in the West.”
Bundy insists the militiamen are “patriots,” but Wendy Bull, a teacher in Burns whose husband, a social worker, operates a local clinic run by the U.S. Veteran Affairs Department, says the men are “domestic terrorists.” As Reuters goes on to note, “the takeover in Oregon [has drawn] criticism on social media, with some users asking if the occupiers would have been treated differently if they had been black or Muslim.”
BBC got an inside look at life inside the compound. “When we arrived in darkness all was calm and quiet,” columnist James Cook begins. “We were greeted courteously by men carrying copies of the US constitution, who told us they were unarmed.” Here’s more:
They had draped the US flag over a sign at the entrance to the wildlife refuge and they offered us a cup of coffee.
The guards told us that the armed men inside were not taking visitors at present but would be happy to come out and meet the media face to face in the morning.
One of the men tried to give me a small US Fish and Wildlife Service sign from the building “as a souvenir”.
“It’s mine,” he said, “I paid for it,” making a reference to his taxes.
Some people in the community around the town of Burns say while they do not approve of the methods, they are in tune with the sentiment.
Back at the bird reserve, the mood changed slightly as the day dawned, the birds started singing and the winter sun struggled to pierce the hazy clouds.
The media were now at the gate in force and the men there were more reluctant to talk.
“We need to stick to the narrative,” one told us as he explained why we needed to wait for their leader Ammon Bundy.
Down a slight hill, we could now see the headquarters clearly, the red roofs of the sheds standing out against the snow.
Several dark-clad figures moved around in the complex.
When Mr Bundy emerged to speak to the media he refused to tell me how many people were inside the bird sanctuary or how many were armed but, after the news conference, camera crews were given a limited tour of the site.
We were told we would not be shown anything relating to “operational security” or anything that would “put lives at risk” and, indeed, we were kept away from any weapons on the site.
A number of US government vehicles sat in the car park, covered in snow.
We were not allowed into most of the buildings and saw no more than a dozen men and one woman inside.
We were taken into a building where one of the protestors said he had been sleeping. It appeared to be a gym for the federal employees who usually manage this land.
There were cans of chicken noodle soup, oranges, apples and other food.
Through a glass window we could see a man and a woman cooking food in a kitchen. The site appeared to be in good condition.
Yes, the “site appears to be in good condition” – for now.
Three administration officials who spoke to Reuters said federal authorities are “following U.S. policy guidelines instituted to prevent standoffs from turning violent in the wake of deadly clashes at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas in the early 1990s.”
It’s unclear how long that protocol will last, but rest assured, there’s only so long the government is going to allow this sideshow to persist. After all, if one bird sanctuary falls to “militants”, what’s to keep another from falling tomorrow? Before long, there may be no federally administered bird sanctuaries left.
All sarcasm aside, the question here is clearly this: how long will it be before the government abandons the new “policy guidelines” and reverts to the pre-Waco strategy that would see the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge turned into a bad day in Fallujah?