04 January 2016
Insurrection in Oregon
A group of self-appointed militamen, including two sons of the infamous Cliven Bundy, have taken over a federal building on an Oregon wildlife preserve in an alleged attempt to prevent the imprisonment of two ranchers who'd been convicted of arson for setting fires on public land. These ranchers have a history of treating the public land like it's theirs, claiming use rights dating back before the land's designation as a wildlife preserve. So once again we have armed men defying the federal government's prerogative to regulate federal land. The interesting part this time is that the convicted ranchers, groups such as the Oathkeepers and even Cliven Bundy have distanced themselves from the younger Bundys' militia action, the ranchers having resolved to serve their time after having paid fines already. Under those circumstances, this uprising appears to be less about protecting anyone's supposedly violated rights than it is about asserting the younger Bundys' leadership of a more aggressive militia movement. Another possibility is that the Bundys and their comrades are attempting some sort of "propaganda of the deed," possibly desiring an armed showdown with the government in the hope of revealing what they see as the federal government's true nature, as it was shown in Waco, Ruby Ridge, etc. At a minimum, I'd guess it's no accident that they've tried to make their action the first significant political event of a presidential election year. Their most realistic goal may be to force their complaint onto the agenda of the Republican presidential candidates. So far Cruz, Rubio and Kasich have condemned the action, drawing the proper line between protest and crime, while Trump and the others have yet to be heard from. These occupiers most likely never expected any of the contenders to endorse them, but their endgame may still be to galvanize the Republican/conservative/libertarian base, through their martyrdom if necessary, in a way the party candidates won't be able to ignore. At the same time, the Clinton camp probably wishes this had never happened. The last thing the former Senator and Secretary of State needs is the sort of violent resolution to this that would remind people of the role of her husband's administration in the aforementioned atrocities of the 1990s. Of course, her electoral calculations shouldn't determine the course of a government in which she currently has no role, and which has no obligation to make her campaign easier. The minute these men entered that building armed, they gave up any claim to leave it as free men. While negotiators probably should strive to end the occupation without violence, they should also make clear that there is no alternative now to the occupiers' unconditional surrender, and that should they refuse to give up themselves and their arms, whatever happens afterward will be their fault, not the government's. The occupiers may be counting on electoral calculations to give them breathing space, but as many paranoids note, President Obama has nothing to lose at this point in his administration, and he should not feel more obliged to the Democratic party in resolving this little crisis than he is to the supreme law of the land.