Rich Lowry / January 6, 2016

The Wildlife Refuge Putsch

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hasn’t heretofore been known as a locus of government tyranny or much of anything else. Saying that the refuge, established in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt, is in the middle of nowhere makes it sound too centrally located. It is in Southeastern Oregon, about 30 miles from the nearest town of Burns, population 2,722. Now the Bundy family — notorious for its standoff with the feds at the family’s Nevada ranch last year — and sundry anti-government protesters have occupied the refuge and pronounced it the staging ground for an offensive against an oppressive federal government.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hasn’t heretofore been known as a locus of government tyranny or much of anything else.

Saying that the refuge, established in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt, is in the middle of nowhere makes it sound too centrally located. It is in Southeastern Oregon, about 30 miles from the nearest town of Burns, population 2,722.

Now the Bundy family — notorious for its standoff with the feds at the family’s Nevada ranch last year — and sundry anti-government protesters have occupied the refuge and pronounced it the staging ground for an offensive against an oppressive federal government.

Before the Bundys showed up, the most notable events at Malheur were sightings of buffleheads, long-billed curlews, bobolinks and black-necked stilts. Ammon Bundy vows to stay in the wildlife preserve “for years” (let’s hope for his sake he has Netflix and a really good data plan). If the protesters hold out until April, they will disrupt the annual Harney County Migratory Bird Festival — and strike a mighty blow against the region’s birders.

What brought the Bundys to Oregon is the case of the Hammonds, ranchers who were subjected to what appears to be a vindictive and unnecessary federal prosecution. The case deserves attention and protest, but the Bundys and their allies have brought discredit to the cause with their unlawful occupation of Malheur.

Dwight and Steven Hammond of Harney County were convicted a couple of years ago for lighting two fires on their ranch (for entirely innocent reasons, they maintained) that spread onto federal property, causing negligible damage. The second fire burned all of an acre of public land. For this, they were, amazingly enough, prosecuted under an anti-terrorism statue and sent to jail. They served brief sentences that were less than what’s required under the mandatory minimum because the trial judge thought five years for each of them would be wildly disproportionate.

Nonetheless, the government appealed the sentences, and now the Hammonds — the father, Dwight, is 73, and his son, Steven, 46 — will serve roughly another four years in prison each. The Oregon Farm Bureau, not hitherto known for its terroristic sympathies, has taken up their case. The prosecution of the Hammonds comes against the backdrop of federal highhandedness and hostility to private economic activity allegedly in the area around the Malheur refuge specifically and certainly in the West generally.

A protest in favor of the family over the weekend drew hundreds, who peaceably assembled, made their point and dispersed. The Bundys then split off to take over the (unstaffed) headquarters at the wildlife refuge. The Hammonds say the occupiers don’t speak for them, and efforts to recruit the locals to join the takeover have been notably unsuccessful.

Occupations of buildings are fairly typical in campus protests, although that doesn’t make what is happening at the Malheur refuge any less distasteful. Justifying the occupation, Ammon Bundy says that “it is the people’s facility, owned by the people.” True enough, but so are the Smithsonian, the Department of Health and Human Services, and NORAD, which doesn’t mean it is right for aggrieved groups to take over any of them.

More sinister is the talk from Ryan Bundy, another of the family’s brothers, of potentially resisting by force if law enforcement tries to remove them. One hopes that this is self-dramatizing bluster, which is an occupational hazard of the kind of people who establish revolutionary enclaves. Last year, the Bundy ranch protesters were riven by rumors of imminent government drone attacks — having evidently mistaken southeastern Nevada for the badlands of Yemen.

The federal government’s overweening policies in the West, and the related injustice apparently done to the Hammonds, are serious matters. The proper remedy in a free society of laws is, as always, to be found in peaceful agitation and persuasion, and ultimately the ballot box. Play-acting a revolution will only bring derision — and should anyone take it too seriously, much worse.

© 2016 by King Features Syndicate

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

★ PUBLIUS ★

“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2022 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.