Monday, January 4, 2016

The Money Militia

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established by Teddy Roosevelt by Executive Order in 1908.  That refuge has now been occupied by a group of disgruntled ranchers supplemented by various and sundry members of self-proclaimed militias.

The purpose of the occupation according to the occupiers is not very clear, and seems to be subject to revision.  This vagueness may have several causes.  It is possible the occupiers, or their spokesmen, are inarticulate.   It's possible that they're being deliberately vague.  It's possible that they themselves are not entirely certain why they are there.

My guess would be that all these possible causes are indeed causes of their vagaries.  But it seems fairly clear that at the bottom of this is something unremarkable and, perhaps, even ignoble in a sense.  That is to say, the desire for money.

The Bundys and others are concerned that their ability to make money is being restricted by the government.  Grazing rights, mineral rights are being limited.  An armed occupation of a wildlife refuge is pretty weird in and of itself, but an armed occupation motivated by the desire to make more money is less than heroic, to put it kindly.

As a consequence, an effort is being made to characterize this unusual bargaining tactic as something more than it is.  So, we hear curious statements to the effect that hunting, fishing and camping rights are at stake.  Again, it's unclear why; it seems hunting, fishing and camping is allowed in at least parts of the refuge, and such rights wouldn't seem worth an armed occupation.  Naturally, references to the First and Second Amendments are being made.  But it would be difficult for anyone to maintain that the occupation is motivated by concerns over the rights granted by these amendments. 

Evidently it's also being maintained that this is a protest of the jailing of convicted arsonists, who decided to set fire to land they were leasing from the federal government, presumably without the permission of the lessor.  However, their attorney has claimed they don't want this support.

Thus far, the authorities seem to be treating this event with the disinterest it deserves.  There are discussions going on, as may be expected.  Neither local nor federal law enforcement is on the scene in any strength.  People are being urged not to approach those portions of the refuge occupied, but otherwise the government is wisely treating the incursion as no big deal.

I suspect that the occupiers will gradually disperse given the lack of interest in their occupation.  It is to be hoped most of them have better things to do than engage in such posturing.  Unless the government does something foolish, or the occupiers do so, this will pass without incident.  But regardless I think this incident should be seen for what it is; a money-making venture on the part of a relative few who are trying to make it seem something more.  They have fooled some already, but it is to be hoped won't fool more of us.

I can understand that dealing with the federal bureaucracy can be frustrating and can cause very real anger.  As a lawyer representing private interests and local governments, I've had to deal with it now and then.  But to countenance the idea of an armed occupation over what is essentially a financial dispute with the government requires a certain twisted sense of self-importance and even narcissism which can be dangerous.

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