Who Will Think of the Poor, Oppressed Ranchers?
We’re nearly a week into the comedy of errors over at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and it seems that the self-styled militia’s little revolution has failed to pick up steam. Instead, Ammon Bundy’s rabble of potbellied mongos has been plastered with scorn and derision, mostly from that marvel of inventions known as the internet, which at times can assemble itself into a veritable Leviathan of snark.
Twitter, as awful as it can be, proved best at generating insults. It gurgled forth the first bits in a cascade of open mockery: Y’all Qaeda. VanillaISIS. Yee-hawdists. The Cowliphate. Yokel Haram. The Bundy Bunch was then roundly laughed at for sounding a clarion call for ‘snacks.’ The skewering continued all week, culminating in yesterday’s pièce de résistance in which proto-hipster Colin Meloy (vocalist for Portland’s insufferable Decembrists) penned a series of Oregon militia erotic fan fiction tweets:
“Jason pressed Jed against a rack of “Birds of Oregon” books; his breath was sweet with jerky. Somewhere, an egret cried” #bundyeroticfanfic
— colin meloy (@colinmeloy) January 6, 2016
The tsunami of lampoons almost proved too good to be true, for what better way to gut the legitimacy of an odious man or movement than through vicious satire? There were those who took exception to this approach, however, including Conor Friedersdorf over at The Atlantic, who chastised liberals for not taking this opportunity to make common ground with the right over the issue of mandatory minimum sentencing. After all, isn’t that what this is about? Dwight and Steven Hammond were sent back to the clink to serve out five years for a couple of burns that got out of hand. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. The judge initially tried to sidestep the federal sentencing guidelines (which seem to be some kind of anti-terrorism measures), only to be later overruled by an over-zealous D.A. with a hard-on for these guys. Shouldn’t we all be standing up to such inflexible, Orwellian government policy?
Yes, of course we should, but like I mention in my first piece , Bundy, et al, are just using this issue as an excuse to press forth a very different list of grievances. Much to the chagrin of both the Hammonds and others in the local community, they hijacked this situation in a pathetic attempt at a land grab. That’s all it is. Look no further than their chief demand, that the federal government relinquish all control of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge so “the people can control their resources.” This refuge was established in 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt and is enjoyed by birders and hikers from around the world. Who these resource-controlling “people” are, and what Bundy wants to do with the land is anyone’s guess, though based his previous rhetoric, we can only assume that he intends to open the refuge up to private development (read: ranching) and shut the rest of us out.
And herein lies the problem with these guys: They’re not patriots. They’re not fighting for the “common man.” They’re thieves. They’re greedy assholes. They represent big, vested commercial interests that want to chew up the land for their own personal profit. That’s it. They cast the BLM and other federal agencies in the role of some nefarious alien, when in fact all of those great federal holdings belong to us rather than some remote collection of federal offices. It’s OUR land. It’s mine. It’s yours. It’s held in public trust for all of us to use and enjoy, as long as we follow the rules. I camp and fish on BLM land every time I am home and treasure it massively. These guys, out of an overblown, obscene sense of entitlement, want to take that away from all of us. They want to steal from the commons, fence it off, put up NO TRESPASSING signs, rape it at will, and shut the rest of us out.
Since when did ranchers become such a marginalized, oppressed group? How good do they have to have it before they stop crying, moaning, and threatening the rest of us with their guns? As written about extensively, American ranchers enjoy nearly-unfettered grazing access to BLM lands at well-below market rates. Taxpayers subsidize their businesses, and a lot of them profit handsomely from it. The Hammonds own over 12,000 acres. Cliven Bundy–Ammon’s father who started this whole brouhaha–is a millionaire. Many ranching families are. Wrap your head around that. The man has millions in the bank from profiting hand over fist from the federally-subsidized cattle business, yet not only does he refuse to pay grazing fees, he doesn’t even recognize the authority of the feds to hold ANY land. In fact, old man Bundy went so far as to claim the BLM land he grazes on is HIS. Why? Because he says so, that’s why.
Ranchers and the federal government have long been at odds, but things heated up in the 80’s and 90’s during the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion. What we have now is a continuation of that, an upping of the stakes. The fact that these privileged families whine and complain as if they’re somehow scraping by under the boot of the big bad government just rattles my brain. They mistake regulations and bureaucracy for “tyranny,” when most of them have never even remotely tasted the meaning of the word. They live in a world of unlimited entitlement, and all of this talk about “returning the land to the people” ignores the savage fact that they live on land stolen from indigenous people through relocation, warfare, and outright genocide. It’s funny how not one of them ever suggests giving back any acreage to anyone brown. Just ask the Paiute–who were occupying the land when whites began “settling” the area–what they think about this sad insurrection. Oh wait. Someone already did.
Some have described the Bundys and their ilk as “government welfare queens,” which really isn’t off the mark. Even Ammon Bundy is not immune to the allure of easy federal money, having procured a $530,000 government load to fund his truck maintenance company (Take that, goverment!). I however, prefer to refer to them as drama queens. Any sort check on their assumptive freedom to profit from the land as they see fit is met with cries of “Tyranny!” and “Revolution!” These are the shrill screams of exaggerators, the essence of hyperbole. They wouldn’t know real oppression if it tied them down and peed in their faces. They wail about a falling sky when they’ve never had it so good.
This is white privilege in a nutshell, and they deserve every ounce of ridicule hurled their way.