Bundy, Burns and Malheur: FAQ

February 28, 2016


  1. Why did you create this FAQ?
  2. What does Bundy have to do with the Hammond ranchers?
  3. What did the Hammonds do anyway?
  4. What did Bundy, et al do to deserve this media attention?
  5. How can I help?
  6. So what does Bundy even want, anyway?
  7. Where is all this headed?
  8. How does this situation resolve?
  9. Are you a pacifist?
  10. So the Feds and law enforcement intervened and arrested Bundy. It’s all over, right? Nothing more for us to do?

Why did you create this FAQ?

Because a bunch of people kept asking me what the hell is going on over there in Malheur (a fitting name, since it translates roughly to “Bad time”).  This FAQ represents my current understanding of the Bundy-led opportunistic invasion of Malheur.  It may evolve.  I welcome any factual corrections.  The information presented in this FAQ is readily available to anyone who spends an hour (or, if you’re more internet savvy than me, minutes) learning from sources such as Slate, Salon, OPB, and others and connecting a couple of the dots together with an ample dose of compassion.

— back to top —

What does Bundy have to do with the Hammond ranchers?

Very little.  He simply exploited legitimate outrage and frustration for the Hammond’s resentencing in order to accomplish completely different objectives.  The Hammonds have said explicitly that Bundy and his ilk do not represent or speak for them.  What Bundy is doing is akin to a white person entering a black group, or a man entering a queer space and “explaining” to them, “Here’s what your real problem is, and here’s how we are going to solve it.”  It’s not supportive at all, likely very exploitative, and even at its best, it is just plain disrespectful.

— back to top —

What did the Hammonds do anyway?

They committed a couple of cases of arson.  First, they set a fire to cover up the illegal harvest of deer on BLM land (out of season?).  They bullied a few friends and family into silence and nearly killed a few people.  Then they set another unauthorized fire in an attempt to protect their ranching operation from a nearby forest fire, which burned out of control and almost trapped several nearby firefighters between the two blazes.

— back to top —

What did Bundy, et al do to deserve this media attention?

The media has portrayed this as a sensational “takeover of a government facility.”  The facility is really a remote building which mostly remains unoccupied.  The president of OHSU sets the record straight, saying that he once “occupied” it as a poor student in-between funding and housing opportunities.  He walked in (unarmed), made up a bed, enjoyed the peace and wildlife, and then cleaned up after himself and left when he felt it time to move on.  That’s what it takes to “occupy” the “facility.”  In this sense, the media is complicit with Bundy in how it portrays the “occupation.”  In reality, Bundy leads a group of armed self-aggrandizing thugs who have terrorized and harassed and bullied their fellow country folk.  Some share what they see as Bundy’s sense of righteous outrage.  Others seem pretty upset and traumatized over he and his minions’ behaviors.

Animals bare teeth when they feel threatened.  The armed thugs’ justifications for their unnecessarily-aggressive actions remind me of Eliot Rodgers’ own sense of “aggrieved entitlement,” where they feel a loss of social privilege and are lashing out in an attempt to gain that social privilege back.  They wait for the federal government to make martyrs out of them.  On the other hand, naive liberals calling for immediate (and sometimes overt) violent intervention only play into this narrative of martyrdom.  Such calls also further empower and enable an already-overpowerful authoritarian entity responsible for trying the misguided Hammonds as “terrorists.”   Liberal bloodlust mediated through the centralized authoritarian government, ironically, is exactly the type of response Bundy wants.  It plays into his narrative and emboldens him to continue escalations.  He wants attack.  He wants a shootout.  He wants to look like the embattled victim.

— back to top —

How can I help?

The best support we can provide is the exact opposite of what Bundy has done:  ask the townfolk and land of Burns what sort of support they need, and listen, and follow through.  This is what the Rural Organizing Project is helping to do.   In terms of direct action, an unarmed counter-occupation in protest of Bundy’s cowardly stupidity and bullying might make sense ONLY if it’s something the townfolk of Burns would support and safeguards are in place.

Avoid actions that further marginalize or objectify the people and lands of Burns and Harney County, because this replicates both the exploitative grandstanding of Bundy, et al and the heavy-handedness of the federal government.

— back to top —

So what does Bundy even want, anyway?

From what I can gather from quotes of Bundy in the media, he wants three things:

1. The privatization of public lands and resources.  He has said he wants the federal government to “return” lands to the county.  The county has said it doesn’t necessarily want that responsibility or burden.  The result would be a massive sell-off of public spaces into the hands of a privileged few.  Some people have heard rumors that Bundy’s protest is against uranium corporations trying to pressure the Hammonds to sell their land.  I have seen no credible source for this (only hear-say and rumors).  Ironically, what Bundy wants would deliver these lands that ranchers depend upon into the hands of powerful corporate interests.  This makes Bundy seem either completely naive or deliberately deceptive.  Here, we can start looking at connections and parallels between Bundy, et al and the Koch brothers.

2. Bundy appears to believe that his difficulties stem from people failing to follow the spirit of the US Constitution.  A different (and I think, more rigorous and historically-accurate) assessment of the corporatist origins of the current US Constitution indicates the opposite:  Many of the problems, e.g, with corporate bullying and a heavy-handed federal government, have developed out of and gain their power directly from the US Constitution.  This is because the US Constitution is primarily a commerce document, meant to facilitate commercial activity for the enrichment of a powerful few, patterned after the English Common Law that the people had recently fought and died to rid themselves of!  The framers of the US Constitution did not want liberty — they wanted to replace England with their own rule.  Madison reluctantly wrote the Bill of Rights to quell a post-war human rights movement (which included Thomas Jefferson) seeking to create a Constitution based on inherent and inalienable rights first and foremost (following, rather than diverging from, the Declaration of Independence), giving commerce secondary consideration.  What we currently have is the opposite:  primary importance given to commerce, and secondary consideration given to rights.  In essence, the Bill of Rights — the greatest aspect of the US Constitution — is a token of appeasement, itself depending on the fundamental commerce law for enforcement.  A brilliant tactic on the part of the Founding Fathers, but not one steeped in love for fellow country folk.

Regardless, Bundy wants to “turn back the clock” and get back to the “roots” of the US Constitution as a document that empowers wealthy white male landowners.  Ironically, if he ever succeeded in doing this, he would probably lose most of the legal rights he currently enjoys, as the original post-war US Constitution only protected the wealthiest of landed white men, as its framers intended.  In this sense, Bundy is either a completely naive or deliberately-deceptive corporate stooge.  Until the people of the US create a rights-based supreme law to replace the commerce-based law, significant legal problems will remain.  Reactionary behaviors that romanticize the past, as well as passivity itself, only make the problem worse.

3. He wants to convert the US population into the Church of Latter Day Saints.   The occupation implemented a tribunal to “convict” people of moral trespass against the LDS church or its moral standards.  The group of thugs and other followers then use this process to justify their stalking, harassment and terrorizing of the people Bundy, etc have targeted for persecution, including federal employees.  In this sense, he’s a lot like the Muslim fundamentalists who terrorize their fellow country folk in order to impose religious law on them.  His light skin, Koch brother associations and rhetoric seem to protect him from the label of “terrorist” so far, even though he is much more deserving of the label than the Hammonds (or Black Lives Matter! protesters) ever were.

Underneath all this, Bundy is not a revolutionary.  He’s a participant.  He wants an authoritarian patriarchy (perhaps based on religious law), but he wants to be higher up on the pyramid scheme.  He misdirects his outrage toward “infidels” and country folk and federal employees, and conspicuously seems to have no criticism for the powerful sociopathic elite who run this society (into the ground).  Or if he does, he somehow thinks their center of power lies in the BLM and parks.  Likewise, the powerful elite seem to have no problem with Bundy’s actions, because it only serves their interests in accumulating even more wealth and power into the hands of an elite few.

— back to top —

Where is all this headed?

Beyond his explicit demands outlined above, Bundy seems media-savvy.  He’s out to get and keep attention, which means in part resorting to absurd spectacles and a roller coaster.  His efforts have attracted unstable people with weapons.  He and others of the core group are carefully and steadily escalating tensions.  It’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s terrorizing a town and wreaking havoc on culturally sensitive land, ruining archaeological research and threatening wildlife.  In this sense, the demands above are only part of that larger plan to provoke a violent confrontation, create martyrs, and gain further recruits and momentum.  Bundy wants some of his men to die at the hands of the government (or vigilantes).   If he succeeds in martyring some of his men, his unethical behaviors up to this point will matter less.

— back to top —

How does this situation resolve?

With the efforts of non-government people like you and me.  If we do nothing, and Bundy continues unabated, then he furthers the corporatist agenda of the Koch brothers, etc.  Likewise, if we do nothing, it leaves space and creates more opportunity for Bundy to escalate and provoke the Feds to intervene.  The authoritarian federal government will use Bundy to justify subsequent heavy-handed intervention, even ex post facto (e.g., Ferguson, etc) and make martyrs out of them anyway.  If this happens, both Bundy whackjobs and the federal authoritarian system advance their interests and influence.

A more ideal answer, instead, lies with the direct, courageous actions of people like you and me, from a position of love, respect and solidarity for the primary stakeholders in this situation: the lands and people of Harney County.  Involvement must de-escalate and shift attention away from Bundy.  If the situation escalates, it must come from Bundy’s escalating thuggishness and the related actions of increasingly-unstable individuals, in order to further diminish public support for Bundy, etc.  Ideally, direct actions will also prevent, delay or marginalize and diminish Federal involvement, and prevent the development of an empowered casus belli for Federal intervention.

Ultimately, I believe the people of Cascadia have the capacity to resolve this situation without further empowering either party in an ill-conceived dialectic that leaves most people stranded in the middle.  As one report put it, “There are no heroes or villains in this story,” at least so far.  If there are heroes, let them be the people and the land, standing resolute with love and courage in solidarity with one another and the land.  And let Bundy and the Federal government make villains out of themselves and each-other, if they so choose, if the people can frame it in a way that isolates and minimizes the damage of the conflict between two power mongering parties.

— back to top —

Are you a pacifist?

No.  This answer might not sit well with people who want to see blood spilled either against Bundy and his ilk or the federal government.  Those who seek escalation believe in a fetishized and historically-inaccurate hyper-masculine myth of revolution as a major tumultuous event and shift in power, or the rise of oppositional power.  Such events occur, not as revolutionary action, but as a symptom of the status quo.  Revolution — to those immersed in them — happen in subtle, slow and even boring ways.  Revolutionary actions are not reactionary, do not seek to develop oppositional power.  They develop and support liberatory empowerment.  They have a balanced gender (i.e., more feminine, more room for support and solidarity and love and humility), not a mythologized hypermasculine character.  Bundy does not offer revolution — he promises a package of myths and lies that lead to more of the crap we all want to move further away from in the first place:  control, exploitation, authoritarianism, rigid and intractable social hierarchies, etc.  He will burn brightly as a beacon of the status quo, and then extinguish himself, while the rest of us immersed in revolution continue our slow, steady, subtle and often-thankless work to protect ourselves and each-other as we build a better society out of the self-destructive ashes of the old, current one.

— back to top —

So the Feds and law enforcement intervened and arrested Bundy and the other occupiers.  It’s all over, right?  Nothing more for us to do?

Arresting Bundy, etc just tests the group structure of the occupation.  Does it rely on a strong central figure?  Yes?  Then it will disintegrate.  If members of the group act in more independent, decentralized and autonomous ways, then Bundy’s arrest will do little to change the overall dynamic, and may strengthen and vindicate the occupiers and their rallying cry.

With the arrest of the remaining thugs, it’s all over for the media, and the general public who considered this nothing more than an infotainment spectacle.  Until more dramatic antics meant to grab their attention appear, either from allies of Bundy, others who want to exploit the limelight for their own purposes (much like Bundy did with the Hammonds), or Bundy himself, during the trial process.  It also depends on public and media response to the death and injuries involved in the arrest process.

For the people of Burns, the land of Malheur, and Harney County in general, it will probably take much longer to recover from this trauma.  Now more than ever, it’s important to offer support in the absence of a media spotlight. The real work begins when the cameras leave, and that work separates the grandstanders from those truly capable of standing in solidarity with the land and people.

Contact the ROP for more info.  I am not directly affiliated with them, but appreciate the work they do.

— back to top —