12 February 2016

I bet that the criminals who held Malheur Refuge and the town of Burns, Oregon, hostage for almost two months would have preferred almost any ending to the one they got. Now that it's no longer "news," the end of the story for most Americans will be the image of a young man (who clearly could not have obtained a firearm if he had been required to pass a mental test to get it) threatening to continue to "occupy" the refuge by himself until the FBI shot him, he shot himself, or the Government met his demands. What were the demands?  It had something to do with the Government ending all the "atrocities" that were being committed. In the mix during his last two hours of occupation were references to marijuana not being legal in Ohio; income tax being wrong; voting being corrupt; UFOs; the U. S. helping to destroy Syria; President Obama a traitor; "911;" and (I think I got this one right) the Government suppressing technology. Thankfully, he did eventually surrender without bloodshed, and now will face criminal charges like the rest of the "occupiers."

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All in all, this must have been one of the stupider exercises in civil disobedience that the American public has ever been subjected to. The ranting of an obviously disturbed young man was just the last of a series of miscues, dating back to the first days of the occupation.

   First, the "occupiers" said they had come to support the Hammonds, local ranchers convicted of arson, and to get their sentences reversed. The Hammonds pretty clearly didn't want their help, besides which the Hammond conviction and sentencing was a legal matter that nobody associated with the refuge - or in Harney County, for that matter - could do anything about changing. It didn't make the mostly out-of-state militia look any smarter that they never seemed to realize that, by occupying a national wildlife refuge, they had targeted an agency (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service) that had nothing to do with the Hammond crime (which had occurred on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management).

   When the Hammond defense motive failed (although the group kept the Hammond release in their "demands"), they fell back on the general "wise use" movement/"sagebrush rebellion" mantra of "we are just reclaiming OUR land from the Government, that never had any right to it." Okay, the courts have said otherwise in any number of cases over the years (and not just "liberal" judges), but that's kind of the stock in trade of these kinds of groups. But again, they picked the wrong site and the wrong agency as an example. Harney County folks are, in general, pretty satisfied with the refuge staff and management. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked closely with their neighbors to address real or potential problems.  It doesn't seem like any small rural town can "love" the Government, but the refuge has certainly proven to be a pretty benign enemy.

   The inability of the gang to focus on plain and serious objectives showed itself in other ways, as well. Although presumably concerned with livestock and land, it was only a few days into the occupation that Ammon Bundy, the on-site leader, began lacing his comments to the press with criticisms of "Obamacare" or other right-wing political issues. So pleased were they with the publicity, the group welcomed the opportunity for every illegal act to be preserved in sound and pictures. And although they described themselves as "peaceful," they made it very clear (again, preserved by the news media) that their snipers were better than the FBI snipers, and they wouldn't hesitate to defend their "peaceful" occupation. Their willingness to flaunt their misdeeds should help the prosecution.

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   For the news media, this story is over. The criminals from the refuge have all been arrested, and the next coverage  will be intermittent reports of the various court proceedings. But it is far from over in Harney County. There are still many "protestors" in Burns, supporters of the terrorists. The fear and frustration of having armed gangs in the county is affecting everybody, not just government employees. Even after the protestors leave, it will probably take as much time for the town to get back to "normal" as it will the refuge people. Because of the wide variety of crimes known and suspected to have occurred, the refuge will be closed to both staff and visitors for a long time, perhaps several months. Those living on the refuge will not be able to return until the investigations are over, their lives continuing to be disrupted. The fear that Harney County will continue to be a hostile environment for government employees may make some question whether they feel it is even safe to bring their families back to the refuge.

   The county will also suffer economically. Malheur Refuge, which is internationally famous, attracts visitors from around the world. These visitors spend a lot of money locally, highly important to an isolated community with few reliable sources of revenue. Some businesses in Burns profited during the stand-off, because all the news people, law enforcement, and others interested in the situation had to eat and stay locally. But they're gone or going now. The refuge will remain closed to visitors through all or most of the spring, usually the busiest season for refuge visitors. If the town continues to draw conspicuously-armed outsiders, potential refuge visitors may consider it safer to enjoy nature somewhere other than Harney County.

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  This was a lose-lose event for everybody: the town, the refuge, even the anti-Federal land ownership movement. We're just lucky that we never found out if the Gang that Couldn't Think Straight or Plan Straight was or wasn't the Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight.




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