Sheriff David Clarke lays out a concise, informative overview of why Burns, OR and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Occupation have become the epicenter of another flare-up in the ongoing conflict between private land owners and federal land management agencies. Hindsight being 20/20, the occupation all but over, and LaVoy Finicum dead; we can see that the purpose of the occupation is lost on the bulk of concerned Americans. Diluted to obscurity through an onslaught of mainstream agenda-driven narrative, Sheriff Clarke delivers a set of uncompromising, enlightening background facts that explains why a group of men might undertake such an endeavor so that the action can be evaluated through a lens of historical fact. Even under such circumstances, reasonable adults may still fall on either side of the issue.
Understandably, the bulk of American citizens have no frame of reference with which to apply the facts delineated by Sheriff Clarke. It’s impossible to understand the gravity of deeded water rights when the average American is tasked simply with paying a utility bill every month without any additional consideration. When the average American is concerned with decoratively fencing up to a couple of acres of residential land, it is inconceivable to expect that they would understand the magnitude of a Federal mandate to fence enormous swaths of private property. Many municipalities have leash laws and small farms keep animals fenced within the boundaries of privately owned land in stark contrast to the vastness of the West where open range laws have allowed herds to roam free and graze as is necessary. A large portion of people trying sift through the information readily available to them might not be able to ratiocinate the plight of the Hammonds and the Refuge Occupation as a set of connectable dots that originate from a set progressively egregious, abhorrent, unnecessary, and unconstitutional acts toward private land owners over the course of the last half century. Absent the ability to walk in the shoes of western ranchers and experience the real, pointed, and calculated actions meant to undermine the efficacy of their very livelihood, outsiders looking in, overwhelmingly, are failing to understand why such a measure of civil disobedience appears, at least to those at the Refuge, to be the only recourse left to them.
Sadly, people are failing to recognize the underlying truth; that being, if the Government can do it to western ranchers, they can do it to anyone. The avalanche of charges originally levied upon the Hammonds represents little more than a deep-pocketed bureaucracy utilizing taxpayer dollars to excessively litigate citizens into submission and forfeiture of their superseding, Creator-endowed right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Sheriff Clarke more or less lays out the nature of the Government’s overbearing actions with one caveat; 18 USC 844(f) precedes AEDPA’s mandate of minimum sentencing guidelines. The statue has always been concerned with arson, but was amended to provide certain statutory minimums for individuals who engage acts of domestic terrorism. In that sense, the Hammonds weren’t charged with acts of domestic terrorism; they were charged with arson under a statute that specifies certain minimums designed to dissuade acts of domestic terrorism. In my opinion, this accentuates the grievous nature of the Government’s approach to this litigation. There are other statutes that would have been perfectly applicable if it was the purpose of FWS and BLM to punish the Hammonds for allowing fire to spread beyond their deeded property boundaries without prior approval. Some counts were charged under 18 USC 1361, but the statutory penalty does not fit into the Government’s paradigm of endless land acquisition. It is therefore almost impossible to conclude anything other than a broader conspiracy to obtain the Hammond’s land though five years in prison, $400K in collective punitive judgments, right of first refusal on any land sale or transfer, and the denial of the Hammonds grazing permit.
From the frame of reference of the Refuge occupiers, the rule of law and due process are irreparably corrupted, the Hammond case being a final straw in a long series of legal maneuvers that should have ended with the Hammonds serving their original sentence and paying the fine. Even under that outcome, Federal actions are questionable at best, but more likely in the realm of abjectly inappropriate given what transpired. Compounding the issue are a series of ignored pleas from concerned citizens in the form of local meetings and a Redress of Grievances. It is this conclusion and realization that is the final watershed between understanding where Ammon Bundy and his group are coming from and failing to see why the Refuge Occupation became necessary.
The presence of weapons (even though most were properly holstered sidearms) is a polarizing issue. On the one hand, it plays into the mainstream narrative of a “heavily armed militia”, yet they were quintessentially necessary to prevent the Refuge from becoming Waco 2.0.
For various unknown reasons, the Refuge occupiers became complacent with regard to the detail of their own security, causing them to travel to John Day, OR without prudent measures of operational security; services readily available to them from on-the-ground (but outside the Refuge) elements of the Pacific Patriots Network. The ultimate endpoint of this unfolding of circumstances is a 16-person indictment, 10 in prison, two released, four holding out at the Refuge… and one dead. The FBI masterfully allowed the Oregon State Police to lead the execution of the operation that ended with the killing of LaVoy Finicum; fully deflating any fervor that might have exploded if a Federal agent had killed him. The purpose of the Refuge Occupation is now further diluted in the news surrounding the death of Finicum.
The video released by the FBI plays into the bias of the person watching the video. Some people see a man reaching for a weapon, others see a man reacting to being shot. Neither can be proven without body camera footage with audio. While people argue about whether LaVoy was murdered or committed “suicide by cop”, Dwight and Steven Hammond languish in prison.
I believe this is why Ammon Bundy is telling the remaining holdouts at the Refuge to surrender. The Occupation brought to national light a case study for government overreach, but the time has come to maintain focus as the battle transfers from Harney County to Federal Courtrooms. For better or worse, the men detained now find themselves subject to the rule of law and due process that they believe to be beyond repair. It is for us then to watch, discern fact from mainstream embellishment, and decide if it is necessary to continue acts of civil disobedience with succinct regard for the lessons learned at the Refuge.
Few of us are that breed of western rancher that lives free and off of the land, the target of a decades long movement for expansion of already vast Federal land holdings. But we are all Americans, we all have rights, and a transgression against one should be a transgression against all; the principles of individual liberty should transcend all geopolitical and socio-cultural boundaries. Rebellion, at this point, doesn’t require that every American take up arms and stand toe-to-toe with Federal agencies. It will, however, require that all of us consistently push back within the rule of law; to say to a bureaucracy of elitists in Washington D.C. filled with a glut of poisonous unadulterated power, that enough is enough. They will derive just power… not from the consent of the silent… not from the whims of their preference in policy-making… but from the consent of those willing sacrifice everything to ensure that the Founder’s vision of this Republic persists for the coming generations. Regardless of what we learn about the exact circumstances of LaVoy Finicum’s final moments… no one will take from him that he chose death in liberty over the confines of tyranny.
Sheriff Clarke has provided what any concerned citizen needs in order to make an informed decision. While we might not agree with how the Refuge Occupation transpired and was carried out, and we might not agree with the Hammond’s actions over the course of dealing with adversity; it should not cloud our resolve to digest the facts in front of us and either silently succumb to mistreatment of individuals who share the same citizenship we do or cause us, within the scope of our own level of comfort and conviction, consistently push back and demand that our Government act within the authority vested to it by our Constitution.
Our Constitution. Of us, by us, and wholly, irrevocably for us.