Saturday, February 13, 2016

Desert Solitaire – Oregon Standoff Aftermath

The Great Basin in all it's Glory...
Dateline: February  11 - Eastern Oregon Desert
The armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge lasted 40 days and 40 nights. What began on January 2, 2016 as a protest against the perceived “double jeopardy” imposed upon Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond, would soon escalate. The Hammonds had been previously and controversially convicted of arson on federal land and were sent to federal prison. After completing that sentence, they were resentenced to five years imprisonment due to a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that held the trial judge made a sentencing error, a decade after they had finished serving the original sentence.

The locally protested treatment of the Hammonds would soon be eclipsed by an anti-government militia group: Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, founded by Ammon Bundy, son of infamous Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy. Following an earlier peaceful march in the high desert town of Burns, Oregon… the Bundy Gang forcefully seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, out in the Eastern Oregon sagebrush, south of town. The armed occupation of the wildlife refuge headquarters, high-jacked the local rancher’s protest and transformed it into a self-aggrandizing, nationally exploited media event, driven by the Bundy gang.

The Bundy Gang
It is now clear that the group that seized the wildlife refuge was less concerned with the local ranching community, and more concerned with promoting Citizens for Constitutional Freedom in particular, and the so-called “Patriot Movement” in general. We’ve seen this type of media mongering before, ala Donald Trump, et al. …and it’s not like the Bundy gang pulled off some daring coup… they took over a wildlife refuge headquarters, that, if even open, was likely staffed by somebody’s grandmother, whose job it was to hand out maps.

The Bundy boys wanted the attention of the media and the Feds… and they (literally and figuratively) got it. On January 26, Oregon State troopers and FBI agents bushwhacked the Bundy gang, shooting dead gang spokesman Robert "LaVoy" Finicum (pictured left, above) and wounding Ryan Bundy. Ammon (pictured right) quickly surrendered. This wild-west shootout marked the beginning of the end for the Oregon Standoff.

On February 11, the final 4 occupiers surrendered to the Feds. Strangely… the last occupier to leave the wildlife refuge has been portrayed variously as a conspiracy theorist, a marijuana addict and most damningly… a “troubled young man.” Back East, the New York Times reported that before surrendering: David Fry, age 27 from Blanchester, Ohio… asked for pizza and marijuana, criticized a government that condoned abortion and drone strikes, and talked about U.F.O.s and dying rather than going to prison.   

Indian Paintbrush in spring bloom
It is not clear why “authorities” felt the need to apply classic marginalizing, character assassination techniques to the stragglers… unless they perceive the Patriot Movement as a continued threat. Lost in the media blitz, was the local ranching families who could care less about political posturing. They get along well enough with Forest Service and BLM employees. Not that the relationship has always been compatible. For this was not the first protest over control of western lands. 

Back in the 70s, the Sagebrush Rebellion sought to end federal land management. Here in the West, the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls vast lowland and desert holdings… while the US Department of Agriculture’s US Forest Service (USFS) controls much of the higher mountainous timberlands of the Pacific Northwest. All in all, aproxamatly 70% of the Western States is Public Land, ie: land managed for the American people by the Feds.

The original Sagebrush Rebellion, as well as radical environmentalism, was greatly inspired by that rascally trickster, author and anarchist… Edward Abbey. Abbey wrote such great environmental tomes as… “Desert Solitaire” (1968) and “The Monkey Wrench Gang” (1975). Although the Monkey Wrench Gang is widely considered to have sparked radical environment groups such as Earth First! is Abby’s Desert Solitaire that captured this author’s heart and imagination.

Mesmerized by the campfire…
In my youth, I spent much of my time in the High Desert Country of Eastern Oregon… trecking through the arid terrain, searching out hidden hot-springs… traipsing amongst the desert dunes, south of “Wagontire” …searching for arrowheads to pilfer at  Captain Jack's Stronghold... camping in the solitude of the “Great Basin” with not another soul for miles around and a million stars in the heavens above. The incense perfumed smell of sagebrush and the crackling juniper fire... waiting for the Peyote to kick in. Ghosts of the indigenous first peoples… now smiling… now wrathful. Such is the romantic adventure of youth.

Modoc Chief, Kintpuash... aka: "Captain Jack" circa 1870
Meanwhile… out in the High Desert of Eastern Oregon… life remains unchanged. Spring will bring the wondrous mating ritual of the Sandhill Crane... The Antelope will feed amongst the desert sagebrush... up in the mountains, Elk herds will move into higher feeding grounds... the Black Bear will forage for mushrooms... a lonely Coyote will call to the pack... the Ravens will cackle and conspire. With the coming of the spring, the sage will bloom, the snow will melt, the brook trout will flash in the streams...

Out here on the perimeter, the political intrigues that await us back in town… will not seem so important. Out here... Earth's rhythms will prevail... and the World will be renewed... reborn... once again.

October 27, 2016 Update:

Ammon & Ryan Bundy... along with 5 other members of the Bundy Gang were acquitted of various charges, including firearms and conspiracy charges. Apparently... after the decision was handed down, Ammon Bundy's attorney, Marcus Mumford, was taken down by US Marshals with a stun gun, after the lawyer argued with the judge that his client should be set free... so at least there was a little "poetic justice" dealt out to the Bundy gang in the Oregon courthouse that day...

Note: this post is dedicated to the great Tekgnostic Saint: Dennis "Agent 87" Igou.

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