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“This Is More Than A Protest”: Behind The Scenes In Oregon, Ammon Bundy Preaches Revolution

Ammon Bundy came here to preach.

But Bundy is not spreading the word of God, though he’s a devout Mormon. Instead, Bundy is telling local residents that the federal government is illegitimate, that the county government is the highest authority in the land, and that they should arrest their local sheriff and subject him to a citizen grand jury if he sides with the treacherous feds.

This is the gospel of the sovereign citizen movement—and Bundy is winning converts.

I’m from rural Utah. You can’t grow up in rural parts of America and not know militia types. I’ve met five people from southern Utah up here already; Bundy’s brother, Ryan, lives in my hometown. When Ammon and his supporters took over Malheur a week ago, I started calling around to find out what was going on and was asked to tell the “real story.”

It started when Dwight and Steven Hammond were ordered back to prison after apparently not serving enough time for an arson conviction for burning some federal land. The Hammonds have been fighting the Bureau of Land Management for decades after BLM gained control of a strip of land between their range and pasture, refusing to let them drive over it. Thanks in part to this fight, Rep. Greg Walden got legislation passed to rein in the BLM. The bureau ignored it, according to Walden, and then charged the Hammonds and other ranchers exorbitant fees to access their own land.

If Congress can’t even control federal agencies, what’s a rancher supposed to?

Ammon Bundy had an answer.

He has been here for months, educating ranchers about the tenets of the sovereign citizen movement. See, the feds don’t listen to the law, but you don’t have to listen to the feds, he told them. The U.S. government is not legitimate; the highest authority here is the county and the sheriff, who can tell BLM and FBI to get lost.

“The sheriff has a sworn duty to protect his citizens,” Ammon Bundy says as another man finishes his sentence, “against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.”

These ideas are taken chapter and verse from the sovereign citizen bible, a bizarre tributary of right-wing ideology that believes the federal government has been illegally occupying American land since at least the end of the Civil War.

These ideas have inspired militias over the past four decades, paramilitary-style groups that often allow would-be demagogues to present themselves as representatives of the original “divinely inspired” form of government. These forces fueled deadly standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco, culminating in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. That terror attack hurt the militia movement, but it has grown dramatically during the Obama years.

Ammon’s men says Harney County Sheriff David Ward is nothing less than a collaborator with the real enemy: the U.S. government.

“Sheriff, your oath was not made to the federal government nor any of their corporate entities such as the BLM or Forest Service etc,” the men wrote in an open letter. “Where were you when a foreign entity not having any constitutional power, authority and jurisdiction within your county abused your citizens?… Have you taken sides with the Feds?”

If the sheriff does not say “no to the Feds and rid  your county of their presence and tyranny that they have spread across your County,” then locals should form a citizen grand jury and indict him.

Some ranchers are listening, because they’ve tried everything else and feel screwed by the government. When people come to give the feds a taste of their own medicine by taking over some of Uncle Sam’s land, the ranchers hope this will be the thing that finally forces the government to obey its own laws.

Security is tight at the compound. Men with anti-government patches, holding assault rifles, patrol the buildings in full tactical gear. There’s a truck parked crosswise across the road at the entrance. Two guards in ski masks survey the area from a tower.

Some of the guards are provided by a militia group called the Three Percenters. They take their name from the idea that only 3 percent of American colonists fought in the Revolutionary War and it would only take the same slice of America to liberate it from its federal oppressors today. The militiamen patrol the perimeters and even drive through the closest major town, Burns, 30 miles away.

Brandon Curtiss, president of the Idaho Three Percenters, said they’re here to “make sure this doesn’t turn into a Waco situation, but we’re also here to make sure that extremist elements, people who really do want to start trouble, don’t come in.”

Many people carry guns: a Ruger P89, a Makarov .9mm, a .45 revolver. The handguns never leave their holsters except for cleaning except when people gathered around to admire some beautiful engraving on one sidearm.

Bundy has expelled people for carrying long arms openly, as it was an unnecessary escalation. He is playing a long game, mindful of PR. There is also no alcohol in the buildings. You might see an occasional flask up the hill, outside (I was offered a slug of moonshine to ward off the cold). Nobody wants Ammon to see them drinking.

Inside the encampment, more than two dozen men, women, and children occupy stone and wood buildings surrounded by snow-covered trees and picnic tables. There’s a bunkhouse, offices, a kitchen. The beds are meant for firefighters and visiting biologists, but they serve armed occupiers just as well.

The occupiers are resupplied by locals friendly to the cause. Cupboards burst with jerky, trail mix, crackers. If you’re going to conduct an armed takeover of federal buildings, you need lightweight things filled with calories, especially in the winter. When one driver announced he was carrying doughnuts, laughing men raided his back seat while a child begged his mom for permission to join in. One rancher brought a whole cord of wood and another brought winter jackets. Resupply happens hourly, depending on what the ranchers have to spare.

Someone found the keys to the wildlife refuge’s trucks, although only trusted people get the keys. “This belongs to We the People,” you hear over and over. Militia members and supportive locals have already renamed the national wildlife refuge as the “Harney County Resource Center.”

Similarly, the occupiers say the buildings are open to anyone but they aren’t friendly to outsiders except locals. Perfectly polite, always, but not friendly. In fact, they don’t talk to press outside of canned responses for the most part. The meetings are closed; paranoia is running high. Who is coming, and when, and what will we do? What is the plan?

But walking around, you hear snippets of conversation. Some people appreciate the snark of “Y’all Qaeda” and laugh at “Vanilla ISIS,” too. They’re not without humor, but they spend most of the time talking tactics and politics.

“We have to wake up the residents,” one says.

“We can only pray that they will see how much strength they have,” another says.

“Article II, though…” a different man begins to implore.

“You know this is all not the real problem,” says one of the newcomers around the campfire at night. “It’s those Muslims coming in here, the government is letting the terrorists in and calling them refugees.”

John Ritzheimer, an Iraq war veteran fond of wearing “fuck Islam” T-shirts and protesting mosques, shuts that chatter down.

“You know, I agree with you. That’s what I do for a living, when I’m not here, try to tell people about this [radical Islam] threat. But that’s not why we’re here, and we’re not going to get into it now.”

The discussion turns to the United Nations, Agenda 21, the New World Order, and the Illuminati. One man covers all the cameras on his devices so the government can’t turn them on remotely, he says, which Edward Snowden revealed was not a paranoid fantasy.

People are frustrated that the press coverage is focusing on the guns and the crazy talk. The story is supposed to be about Harney County, the plight of the ranchers. Ammon’s actions were meant to bring attention to the injustice and overreach by the government. While everyone sort of knew that city folk might misinterpret things, locals are astonished that they only hear about guns on the news.

These people are cut off from the rest of the country, really; the days melt into each other just like the seasons. Civil unrest in cities, and the idea that perhaps the fourth estate isn’t as responsible as it once was, are new and frightening things. The ranch family I stay with has discussions long into the night about how they are learning more about the country than they ever wanted to learn. When I showed them footage of police brutally cracking down in Ferguson they were shocked to their core, even knowing how malevolent power can be.

I never expected to hear the same emotions and philosophies from a 15-year-old gang member in Missouri and a 67-year-old rancher in rural Oregon, but close your eyes and you’ll hear it.

“Why don’t they just follow the law?” asks the rancher, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of BLM retribution. “We’re not being violent, we’re just trying to get justice.”

The media is starting to go home, and the ranchers surrounding the refuge are now left with the fallout: People come to see what the fuss is about and nobody can deny that these people are all very nice.

At first, the rancher was cautiously supportive of the Bundys, even bringing supplies to the men. Now that attention has been brought to the plight of Harney County, the rancher would like to see the Bundys go home.

People living here want respect, not a revolution.

 

By: Linda Tirado, The Daily Beast, January 10, 2016

January 12, 2016 Posted by | Anti-Government, Domestic Terrorism, Sovereign Citizens Movement | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Self-Avowed Expert On ‘The Negro'”: Rand Paul Meets With Rogue Rancher Cliven Bundy

Rand Paul met privately with Cliven Bundy on Monday, the Nevada rancher and anti-government activist told POLITICO.

The encounter came after Bundy attended an event for the Kentucky senator’s presidential campaign at the Eureka Casino in Mesquite, Nevada. When the larger group dispersed, Bundy said, he was escorted by Paul’s aides to a back room where he and the Republican 2016 contender spoke for approximately 45 minutes. (“There were no scheduled meetings at Senator Paul’s stop in Mesquite. He spoke to many people who came to this public event, none for 45 minutes and none planned,” Paul spokesman Sergio Gor said.)

The Nevada rancher said that he had expected only to have an opportunity to shake hands with Paul and make small-talk. He was surprised when campaign aides found a private room and allowed Bundy, his wife and son to speak with the candidate for the better part of an hour.

According to Bundy, the two mainly discussed federal land oversight and states’ rights, in addition to education policy — a theme Paul brought up in his speech.

“I don’t think he really understood how land rights really work in the western United States,” Bundy said. “I was happy to be able to sort of teach him.”

According to the Associated Press, Paul told the audience during the main event, “I think almost all land use issues and animal issues, endangered species issues, ought to be handled at the state level.”

“I think that the government shouldn’t interfere with state decisions, so if a state decides to have medical marijuana or something like that, it should be respected as a state decision,” Paul reportedly added.

Bundy said that in their private meeting, Paul brought up the work of the American Lands Council, which raises money from groups like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity to wrestle land from the federal government and return it to the states via negotiations, legislation and litigation.

“I disagree with that philosophy,” Bundy said of the ALC’s legalistic approach. “My stand is we are already a sovereign state. The federal government doesn’t need to turn this land back to us. It’s already state land.”

“I don’t want to sell this land to private ownership, because I believe I already have stewardship.” He added, “I educated Rand on that point,” and said that the candidate seemed sympathetic to his point of view.

“I don’t claim ownership,” Bundy said. “I claim rights.”

Bundy first made national headlines in the spring of 2014, when the federal government temporarily closed a large swathe of U.S. government-owned land in Clarke County, Nevada, to capture and impound Bundy’s cattle as a penalty for more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees. Bundy refused to federal authority on the land where his family had lived for more than 120 years, but federal courts repeatedly sided with the Bureau of Land Management.

Shortly after the BLM closed the land, hundreds of armed militia members — including members of far-right groups like the Oath Keepers and the White Mountain Militia — descended on the land outside of Mesquite, Nevada. After a weeklong fight and a twenty-minute standoff where federal agents and protesters pointed guns at one another, the BLM ultimately backed down and returned Bundy’s cattle.

Though the government agency has said that it will continue to work through the courts to exact money owed by Bundy, he told POLITICO that no federal vehicle has returned to the land for more than a year.

“The federal government is off my ranch and off this area of Clark County and they shouldn’t come back,” Bundy said.

After Bundy’s standoff, he briefly became a hero to far-right conservatives, bolstered by coverage on Fox News and praise by prominent Tea Party politicians like Paul and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

But his star quickly plummeted after he made inflammatory comments about African Americans being better off under slavery.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” Bundy told supporters shortly after the standoff, according to video footage captured by an onlooker. He recounted a time he drove past public-housing in Las Vegas “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom.”

After those comments went public, Paul walked back his support and issued a statement saying Bundy’s “remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”

Bundy then apologized for the comments, saying at a press conference, “I’m probably one of the most non-racist people in America.”

“I hope I didn’t offend anybody. If I did, I ask for your forgiveness,” he added. “But I meant what I said. It comes from the heart.”

As for Bundy, he said he has not yet made up his mind about who he will support in 2016. He said that he’s focused on which national politicians are most keen to return power to the states and local communities and said that, in their private meeting, Paul seemed keen to do so.

But Democrats, even before word of the private meeting surfaced, attacked Paul for what was first reported as a chance encounter. The Democratic National Committee sent an email to supporters arguing that Paul isn’t as sensitive to African-American issues as he says.

Michael Tyler, the group’s director of African-American Media, wrote, “Remember Rand Paul preaching of broadening the Republican Party’s tent to include communities they typically ignore? Remember Rand Paul claiming he was the perfect candidate to spearhead this outreach? Go ahead and throw that idea out the window.”

“Rand Paul spent his day in Nevada kissing the ring of Cliven Bundy,” Tyler added. “The Cliven Bundy who is a self-avowed expert on ‘the negro.’”

 

By: Adam B. Lerner, Politico, June 30, 2015

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“High Plains Moochers”: They’re Actually Welfare Queens Of The Purple Sage

It is, in a way, too bad that Cliven Bundy — the rancher who became a right-wing hero after refusing to pay fees for grazing his animals on federal land, and bringing in armed men to support his defiance — has turned out to be a crude racist. Why? Because his ranting has given conservatives an easy out, a way to dissociate themselves from his actions without facing up to the terrible wrong turn their movement has taken.

For at the heart of the standoff was a perversion of the concept of freedom, which for too much of the right has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want, without regard to the consequences for others.

Start with the narrow issue of land use. For historical reasons, the federal government owns a lot of land in the West; some of that land is open to ranching, mining and so on. Like any landowner, the Bureau of Land Management charges fees for the use of its property. The only difference from private ownership is that by all accounts the government charges too little — that is, it doesn’t collect as much money as it could, and in many cases doesn’t even charge enough to cover the costs that these private activities impose. In effect, the government is using its ownership of land to subsidize ranchers and mining companies at taxpayers’ expense.

It’s true that some of the people profiting from implicit taxpayer subsidies manage, all the same, to convince themselves and others that they are rugged individualists. But they’re actually welfare queens of the purple sage.

And this in turn means that treating Mr. Bundy as some kind of libertarian hero is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. Suppose he had been grazing his cattle on land belonging to one of his neighbors, and had refused to pay for the privilege. That would clearly have been theft — and brandishing guns when someone tried to stop the theft would have turned it into armed robbery. The fact that in this case the public owns the land shouldn’t make any difference.

So what were people like Sean Hannity of Fox News, who went all in on Mr. Bundy’s behalf, thinking? Partly, no doubt, it was the general demonization of government — if someone looks as if he is defying Washington, he’s a hero, never mind the details. Partly, one suspects, it was also about race — not Mr. Bundy’s blatant racism, but the general notion that government takes money from hard-working Americans and gives it to Those People. White people who wear cowboy hats while profiting from government subsidies just don’t fit the stereotype.

Most of all, however — or at least that’s how it seems to me — the Bundy fiasco was a byproduct of the dumbing down that seems ever more central to the way America’s right operates.

American conservatism used to have room for fairly sophisticated views about the role of government. Its economic patron saint used to be Milton Friedman, who advocated aggressive money-printing, if necessary, to avoid depressions. It used to include environmentalists who took pollution seriously but advocated market-based solutions like cap-and-trade or emissions taxes rather than rigid rules.

But today’s conservative leaders were raised on Ayn Rand’s novels and Ronald Reagan’s speeches (as opposed to his actual governance, which was a lot more flexible than the legend). They insist that the rights of private property are absolute, and that government is always the problem, never the solution.

The trouble is that such beliefs are fundamentally indefensible in the modern world, which is rife with what economists call externalities — costs that private actions impose on others, but which people have no financial incentive to avoid. You might want, for example, to declare that what a farmer does on his own land is entirely his own business; but what if he uses pesticides that contaminate the water supply, or antibiotics that speed the evolution of drug-resistant microbes? You might want to declare that government intervention never helps; but who else can deal with such problems?

Well, one answer is denial — insistence that such problems aren’t real, that they’re invented by elitists who want to take away our freedom. And along with this anti-intellectualism goes a general dumbing-down, an exaltation of supposedly ordinary folks who don’t hold with this kind of stuff. Think of it as the right’s duck-dynastic moment.

You can see how Mr. Bundy, who came across as a straight-talking Marlboro Man, fit right into that mind-set. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a bit more straight-talking than expected.

I’d like to think that the whole Bundy affair will cause at least some of the people who backed him to engage in self-reflection, and ask how they ended up lending support, even briefly, to someone like that. But I don’t expect it to happen.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, April 27, 2014

April 28, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“And They Didn’t See It Coming?”: The Kochs’ AFP Starts Scrubbing Its Bundy Support

It was just two weeks ago that affiliates of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political operation financed by Charles and David Koch, decided to extend support to Cliven Bundy. Despite the Nevada rancher’s defiance of the law and court orders, and despite the fact that he denied the legitimacy of the United States government, AFP helped promote Bundy’s cause and mock the Bureau of Land Management for trying to enforce federal law.

Then Bundy started speculating about whether African Americans were “better off as slaves,” at which point the AFP apparently decided to join the stampede away from the radical Nevadan.

Americans for Prosperity Nevada, the state affiliate of the Koch Brothers-backed group, appears to have hastily deleted social media posts expressing support for Cliven Bundy, the renegade rancher who exposed himself as a racist in recent press conferences.

A tweet sent by AFP Nevada on April 10 urging followers to read more about the #BundyBattle, which involves Bundy’s refusal to pay fines for allowing his cattle to graze on public land, has been deleted. A Facebook graphic that the group posted criticizing the Bureau of Land Management for enforcing grazing laws against Bundy has similarly disappeared.

The instinct to run away is understandable, and it’s hard to blame AFP officials for waking up yesterday and wondering what in the world they’d gotten themselves into.

But the scrubbing is of limited utility given that screen-grabs and caches exist. Media Matters, for example, still has the content online that AFP is trying to take offline.

And all of this only serves to reinforce the question: what was the right thinking?

If you missed last night’s A block, it’s worth your time.

“[L]et us all pray that it is out of ignorance that the National Review comparing him to Gandhi and the right-wing activists comparing him to Rosa Parks, and the Fox News channel booking him and his family over and over and over and over and over again as heroes, and the Republican senator calling his armed supporters pointing guns at federal law enforcement officers ‘patriots’ – let us pray that that was happening under a veil of ignorance. Let us pray that they had no idea that there is a long-standing fairly violent right-wing movement in this country that is born in the defense of slavery and that causes people to say weird stuff about sheriffs being the supreme authority and the federal government not existing.

“Let us pray that the right and these Republican senators made a hero out of this guy in bloody ignorance of where he was really coming from.

“But it is a choice as to whether or not you do your homework before you try to mainstream a guy like this. The turn today to ‘let me tell you another thing I know about the Negro,’ that was telegraphed way, way, way in advance here. Anybody who chose not to see it coming now has this mess all over themselves.”

And as of today, the AFP’s solution is to clean up this mess by pretending it never said what it very clearly said.

As for Bundy, he apparently keeps talking, and is now attempting to invoke the legacies of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks in his defense.

The far-right movement really knows how to pick ‘em.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 25, 2014

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cliven Bundy Is No Hero”: Republicans Are Mistaking The Angry Nevada Debtor For A States’ Rights Crusader

It’s no surprise that Republicans are jumping on Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s bandwagon. They’re desperate for any issue that will help them push propaganda designed to attract votes.

Some are painting the Bundy rebellion as a states’ rights issue. It’s not. The federal government isn’t threatening people’s freedoms nor Nevada’s sovereignty. Nevada isn’t fighting the Bureau of Land Management to reclaim the land. Bundy got himself in hot water because he refused to pay his $1 million grazing bill.

It’s not like Bundy didn’t know that the bureau was going to his confiscate his cattle. His dispute with them is 20 years old. He had plenty of opportunities to pursue legal action. The government never denied him due process.

A law abiding citizen would have respectfully paid his debt, but Bundy believes he’s special and that the rules don’t apply to him. He didn’t like the outcome, so he resorted to terrorist tactics, organizing a 1,000 person, gun posse to threaten federal agents and make his point.

Bundy won applause from Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Republican Sen. Dean Heller. Fox News host Sean Hannity hailed him as a capitalist hero, and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said he’d make a good politician. Florida Republican House candidate Joshua Black said President Obama should be arrested and hung for treason. Texas Senate candidate Chris Mapp said ranchers should be allowed to shoot on sight anyone illegally crossing the border on their land.

This talk is politically useful. It plays on conservatives’ distrust of government. The Pew Center for People and the Press found that 65 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of the government, but only 23 percent of Republicans think the same.

The party admires Bundy, but they have shown no such sentiment when it comes to ranchers fighting against the Keystone XL pipeline. Randy Thompson and hundreds of other Nebraskan have been resisting TransCanada’s efforts to lease their property. The GOP isn’t hailing them as champions of property rights. They’re silent because these ranchers are fighting against their big money, big business supporters.

Conservatives would be better off seeing this issue for what it is: an angry debtor who pulled out his gun because he didn’t like the fact that he had to pay up. They won’t be better off believing the GOP means what it says.

 

By: Jamie Chandler, U. S. News and World Report, April 16, 2014

April 18, 2014 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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