Almost a week after rifle-brandishing Ammon Bundy and his fellow militant cowboys occupied the property of the US government at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, I hang my head and wonder what value education has for rural America today.
It hasn’t been widely reported where Mr Bundy attended elementary school, but wherever that was needs to do a better job of teaching history and government. Evidence from his own writing shows he doesn’t speak English any better than he understands how the US government works:
Simply put, the federal government has adversely stolen the lands and resources from the people, destroyed thousands of jobs, and the economy of an entire county. Now anyone who has enough guts to stand against them, they annihilate through their own court systems…
The ranching and logging industries were only a start, since then these modern day conqueror’s (federal agencies) have moved onto the housing, banking, auto, manufacturing, financial and the list goes on and on and on. I do not need to say much more, it is time to change the tide before the people become too weak to stand. We are presently at a dividing point in history and must choose how the future of our children and our children’s children will lay out. (from Facebook, December 30)
In a move that would appear to fit the classic definition of an “armed insurrection,” Mr Bundy took control of buildings on the bird sanctuary, which is a wildlife refuge under the domain of the federal government. A few ranchers, not including Mr Bundy, who isn’t even from Oregon, take their cattle to the refuge to graze, and for this, they pay the federal government a land use fee that is well below the going market rate for grazing.
But Mr Bundy is of the opinion that the federal government “owns” too much land and this particular wildlife sanctuary should be returned to the “rightful owners,” which could be anyone from the Paiute Indians to a group of white-owned corporations. No deed was ever issued for the land in question, and the state of Oregon refused the federal government’s offer about a hundred years ago to take “ownership” of the land.
Two local ranchers have been accused of arson in connection with two fires they started, in 2001 and 2006, which blossomed out of control. They were found guilty of crimes related to terrorism and are now headed to federal prison, even though the motive behind the fires is still in question, at least in their minds and in Mr Bundy’s. He’s opposed to their five-year sentence.
Mr Bundy, despite opposing basically everything the federal government does, is the recipient of a small business loan guaranteed by the federal government for about half a million dollars for a company he runs in the Phoenix area.
Mr Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy, owes the federal government about $1 million in grazing fees in another matter, and he has refused to pay those charges. Although the Mormon Church has officially distanced itself from Mr Bundy, he claims to have support of several members of the FLDS commuunity.
Several schools in the vicinity of Malheur have been closed all week out of an abundance of caution, including the schools in Harney County School District No 3—Burns High School, Hines Middle School, and Henry L Slater Elementary. Superintendent Dr Marilyn L McBride told ABC News, “Ensuring staff and student safety is our greatest concern.”
Classes for a little more than 800 K-12 students are set to resume in the district on Monday, January 11, according to the district’s website, as the standoff may be coming to an end, several news agencies are reporting.
Federal authorities, fearing needless killing, have so far made no attempt to take control of the building by force. They are, however, considering other actions and would certainly like Mr Bundy to give up his control of our land and our property.
But in other ways, even though Mr Bundy’s action is clearly illegal in that he and his posse have pointed guns at federal officers, it shines a light on a growing mistrust among the public that the government is listening to their grievances. The #BlackLivesMatter group has the same complaint, at its core. Environmentalists have the same complaint, such as when President Obama decided to grant oil drilling rights to federally controlled land in the Arctic. “Even pigs are useful when they’re hunting for truffles,” goes the saying.
Is this ongoing dispute over the best use of public lands a canary in the mine to deeper problems in our democracy? That’s only a tough question because democracy is such an abstract concept. Its meaning may become clear in the upcoming presidential election, although the debate so far, devoid of any real substance, is shining a light more on people’s dissatisfaction and anger than on any future course for a democratic government.