What if you threw a revolution and nobody came? And nobody seemed to really care? That would be kind of embarrassing.
Such is the situation for a group of so-called “Patriots” currently occupying a government wildlife centre — the Malheur Wildlife Refuge — in Oregon.
Let me explain. The militants are outraged about a mandatory minimum sentence received for arson by a local rancher and his son. The ranchers in question started a fire on federal land (the U.S. equivalent to Crown land). The ranchers say it was for weed control. The government said it was to cover up illegal hunting. The government won in court. But the judge failed to apply mandatory minimum sentences for the offence and the government appealed. The ranchers served the short terms first received but the government won their appeal and the ranchers were told to report to prison this week to serve the additional time. Which in fact they did.
But to a man named Ammon Bundy, who has a long history of accusing the U.S. government of tyranny and more, this was outrageous. Bundy’s father does not recognize the claim of the federal government to the land that his cattle roam in Nevada. He owes more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and fines to the federal Bureau of Land Management. He has had more than one run in with federal authorities.
So Ammon Bundy has taken it upon himself, and a group of dozens of heavily armed followers, to protest by taking over an unoccupied wildlife centre in Burns, Oregon.
He declared on Facebook the following “We have basically taken over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. And this will become a base place for patriots from all over the country to come and be housed here and to live here. And we’re planning on staying here for several years.” He called on like-minded militants to “bring your arms.”
He also said “The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area … will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control.”
First Nations people may insert an eye-roll here about the notion that the ranchers are having federal land “stolen” from them.
In any event, Bundy and his merry band of patriot militiamen are holed up in this refuge centre. They have guns which they say they will use if fired upon.
They seem to want a confrontation but up to now, they are not getting one. The reaction from authorities has been decidedly tepid.
This of course, has raised the eyebrows of some, who say that were the skin colour of these “patriots” anything but white, they would have been removed by the full force of the law. That’s a valid point. Can you imagine the reaction if this had been a group of dozens of heavily armed Syrians, say?
But, issues of race aside, I think the reaction is the right one. Because not only are these guys not getting the confrontation they want, what they are getting is a full out mocking on social media. It began on Twitter with the group of rebels being dubbed YallQaeda. They are waging a YeeHawd, Twitter said. Other names popped up. Vanilla Isis. Yokel Harem.
And then the militiamen put out a call on Facebook for snacks. Send them through the postal service, they said. Okay, first, a group rebelling against the federal government want snacks delivered by a federal government agency. Second, what kind of a well planned occupation fails to recognize the need for chips and cookies?
Twitter erupted over the snack request. It was hilarious. Pictures of Washington crossing the Delaware with a bag of Doritos in his hand. Offers to send falafels. And so much more.
But the group has supporters too. One supporter posted on Bundy’s Facebook page that he yearned to join him in his noble fight against the federal government but he couldn’t — because his government disability cheque hadn’t arrived yet. Damn government.
It is to be hoped that this situation will reach a peaceful resolution and that these idiots don’t harm anyone, including themselves. Word is the authorities will be cutting power to the building, which will likely bring about some kind of end to this.
It is also hoped that when Bundy and his band reflect on this incident, they might realize that they have provided many, many examples to be cited whenever anyone asks what irony means.
Carolyn Grant is the Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin