It has now been more than two weeks since a ragtag group of armed men took over buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Our nation’s representatives in the west have long been terrorized by a right-wing movement which wants to convert public land to their own profit wholesale. This has been well-funded by extractive business enterprises and their ideological drones. The foot-soldiers may be crackpots, but what they represent is the worst of American history. For it isn’t enough that ranchers, miners, and foresters are subsidized to profit obscenely on the nation’s patrimony with grazing, mineral, and logging rights. They want it all, unconstrained, just like it was before the federal government moved in to stop the wholesale exploitation of natural resources and animal life, the devouring of the common heritage of us all.
A nasty mix of racist, fascist, paranoid delusional, and religious extremisms, the “patriot”/”militia”/”sagebrush rebellion” types are heavily armed, thanks to this nation’s being held hostage by a metastasized gun industry and its lobby. Eschatologically, they’re hungry for martyrdom (the blundering of federal agencies in response to earlier eruptions of such apocalyptic sociopathy has not helped). The closer you look, the more disturbing this crew is: the thieving patriarch of the Bundy family believes blacks would be better off re-enslaved. (Which should remind us that armed African Americans and/or Native Americans in such a context would not be treated with the same kid gloves.)
Yes, people have been making fun of the Bundy Bunch yahoos and their lack of snacks, but they’re smart enough to hack Malheur’s computers to go after the personal records of federal employees.
While the grotesque circus of horrors vying for the Republican Presidential nod have distanced themselves from the Bundy Gang, the anti-government rhetoric, conspiratorial paranoia, and the nativist-racist atmosphere this takes place in are very much Republican constructions. Trump and Cruz, the leaders in the polls, are unabashedly nativist and fascist in their appeal, but the second fiddles are as disturbing. Now, that appeal is limited, and the harping on polls of likely Republican voters is deceiving; probably no more than 20% of the population, tops, yearns for the jackboot in their face. (Of course, these fools and dupes think it’ll be planted in someone else’s face, but it doesn’t tend to work that way for long.) But remember that this minority is in the context of a majority of America who do not vote. In addition, GOP efforts at voter suppression and gerrymandering have perpetuated their minority-appeal power for decades now. One-in-five Americans has been enough more than once, as the so-called “Gingrich Revolution” and “Tea Party” can attest.
Against this fetid tide stands the idea of a national wildlife refugee. A far from perfect mechanism to protect varied habitats and the the richness of the diversity of life, NWRs nonetheless make a point of reminding us that humans are not the only animals on this planet. The notion that this is all of ours means that these pirates have struck deep into the idea of America itself. They call themselves patriots, but are quite the opposite.