Armed men have taken over a federal building in Oregon and are demanding the release of two convicted arsonists. The New York Times glosses over the roots of the protest to focus on who is acting as the spokesman for the protestors. The Chicago Tribune is asking why the Feds haven’t stormed the wildlife refuge like Waco or Ruby Ridge.
The situation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon has the potential to spiral out of control, but, as of now, is an exercise in civil disobedience by ranchers. At the heart of the protest are the actions of federal agencies as they expand the amount of land controlled by the federal government.
The two arsonists – after making an agreement and pleading guilty to letting a controlled burn get out of hand and scorch public property worth less than $1000 – served their sentences and were then released. But, the length of their sentences was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Hammonds were ordered back to prison. The actions of the U.S. Attorney, and the stated reasons behind them, are complex but demonstrate a willingness to persecute these two men beyond reason.
A fire gets out of control and burns a hundred acres of scrub land. The Hammonds plead guilty and the court sentences them to a year in jail. The federal government has minimum sentences for terrorism charges and wants the ranchers charged as terrorists. So, the feds drag them back to court and then back to prison.
Look past the ridiculousness of the charges, look past the involvement of the members of Cliven Bundy’s family and look past the focus on the ‘armed militia’ that the mainstream media is stuck on and you will see the real problem. Why does the U.S. government control so much land and why are they expanding that control at the expense of ranchers, farmers and land owners across the United States?
Conservation is important, but it must be balanced against the best interests of people who use or own the land. Revoking grazing rights, flooding land by diverting water and using police and federal law enforcement agents to harass and arrest ranchers are actions that would seem more at home in the wild west of 150 years ago. Unfortunately, they are going on right now.
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