The first signals send out by a revolution can be a revealing sign of what the movement is about. If the American forces at Bunker Hill were actually told not to fire until they saw the whites of the redcoats’ eyes, it displayed both the rebels’ determination and their serious need to conserve ammunition.
So there was a clear message in one of the earliest on-line signals sent out by the forces occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge:
“If you have supplies or snacks or anything that might be useful to this stand please send them to the address below.”
Or as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, in the course of human events we need some boiled mutton.
Much of the response to the insurrection’s battle cry has been about the implication that a rebellion runs on its snacks, that freedom is built on beef jerky. Or there’s the charge that the freedom fighters packed poorly for their revolution, that when you commit your lives, fortunes and sacred honor to challenging a tyranny, you really ought to bring along enough trail mix.
But what’s really striking is the revolution’s delivery expectations: by the postal system of the tyrannical federal government. It’s as though the folks at the Alamo were counting on their provisions being delivered by Santa Anna.
The occupiers, after all, have been clear about their attitude toward the federal government. Their leader, Ammon Bundy, has proclaimed about the location under occupation, “This refuge from its very inception has been a tool of tyranny.”
(Except maybe if you’re a heron, but herons have no right to bear arms – and for that matter, no arms.)
It’s been the constant cry of the occupiers that they’re defending Harney County against federal oppression, although the residents of Harney County feel creepy about their presence and loudly wish they’d go defend someplace else against federal oppression.
There’s been an argument about whether the occupiers are terrorists, and if this were a different colored heavily armed group seizing a public building the media might have already made the call. But nobody has actually been hurt, making it hard to use the word – although they are a heavily armed group with extreme ideas, meaning they could turn into terrorists with the speed of a semi-automatic rifle.
On the other hand, Bundy has compared the occupiers to Rosa Parks – which makes sense only if Parks had sat on the segregated bus holding a small arsenal.
It would have been a whole different civil rights struggle.
It’s even harder to see the occupiers as they see themselves, as rugged freedom fighters destined to bring the federal government to its knees, refusing to end their stand until the U.S. government turns over all federally-owned land to locals. One part of the plan, to hold a meeting with locals Friday to explain how the occupiers planned to liberate them and depart – a plan that Bundy conceded would take “several months at the shortest to accomplish,” which on the refuge might be an entire bird migration season – hit a snag when the locals didn’t want to meet with them.
It’s especially hard considering the occupiers’ heavy dependence on the federal government. The Bundy family in Nevada became famous with its discovery that it’s easier to make money cattle ranching if you don’t pay $1 million in fees for using federal grazing land – an attack not only on the feds but on 17,000 ranchers who pay the fees, however unhappily. Ammon Bundy clearly finds it easier to stand for rugged independence at the wildlife refuge than to figure how to pay back the half-million-dollar small business loan he took from the D.C. tyrants.
The insurrection itself is deeply dependent on the feds, not just in its expectations of support by mail, but in its merry driving around in federal vehicles as if they were parents’ cars – and in relying on the feds’ keeping the power to the refuge flowing. The occupation is less the Alamo than a middle-aged male sleepover.
These are not people who want government off their backs. These are people who’ve been riding on the back of government, and want to be carried higher up.
“This is history here,” solemnly explained Ryan Payne, a Montana militia figure and one of the occupiers. “It shows the government that we made the government and if they don’t get smart very soon, we might dissolve that government.”
As long as the government helps by providing heat, and delivering snacks.
NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 1/17/16.