Bundy Didn’t Just Seize My Bird Refuge

Jan 26, 2016 | Parenting & Politics

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He Hijacked My Brain.

I don’t know what’s happening to me. I study Gandhi. I’ve always steered my kids from violence in word, deed, and entertainment, nixing bloody comics and first-person shooter games. I also deplore real-world slaughter, especially if unleashed by my government, like at Birmingham, Kent State, or Waco. I protest brutality where I see it, so think of myself as consistent on the let’s-respect-life front.

Then, 25 days ago, Ammon Bundy and pals—mostly guys he didn’t know—occupied the refuge. When the gang announced they’d “kill or be killed,” I braced for the paramilitary bluster unleashed on Ferguson or the lines of storm troopers I’ve faced at peaceful rallies.

Officials instead decided, wisely, to forgo a Bundy bloodbath, so now I keep expecting the 24/7 floodlights and screaming Metallica inflicted on a holed-up Saddam Hussein. Severed power lines. Street blockades, at least.

Instead, computers hum. Toilets flush. The road stays open for beer runs.


Worse, they entertain reporters who splash front pages with critiques of grazing fees and “big government,” amplifying militants’ beefs while downplaying their threats of violence. The LA Times even featured the “colorful cast of characters,” as if they’re folk heroes rather than extremists willing to kill.

I seethe over the double standard: If these militants were black, brown—or radical environmentalists—they’d have been dead before the first sundown. Meanwhile, cameras keep rolling. Right-wing extremists grow bolder.

And I can’t stop my dislodge-the-fanatics fantasies.

Maybe it’s an involuntary survival mechanism, but when someone threatens murder, I scheme. I think I’m quizzing my teen for a vocab quiz when I realize my mind is in Burns, pulling on cowgirl boots, infiltrating protesters’ ranks and roofie-ing their water.  My body packs lunches, but the rest of me is crouched behind a sage plant, shooting tranquilizer darts and blasting Neil Young, or, better, the (peak volume) voices of birds, those millions who rely on the refuge.

Sometimes I mentally deliver the militants their martyrdom full-on, deploying tear gas, helicopters, and tanks. Then I gasp at myself. I don’t want them dead. I want them out of my refuge, newsfeed—and brain—and behind bars.

I’m probably obsessed because after months of Donald Trump’s vitriol, I’m sick of white guy entitlement. Tonight’s news could champion activists fighting true oppression, the painful racism,  sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia often spouted by rabid conservatives. Instead, armed white men at a refuge get restraint and airtime on Good Morning America; peaceful black protesters at the Mall of America get restraining orders and billysticks.

Can authorities truly imagine no way to disarm bullies while neither incinerating them nor broadcasting their agenda? Because, it sure looks like government is actually just afraid to end this reasonably, perhaps angering the right.

Maybe conservatives have won, getting government so small you can “drown it in a bathtub.” To wit, last year the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned of the threat posed by right-wing “sovereign citizen” extremists. When conservatives squawked, DHS canned the report and disbanded the unit that created it, caving to intimidation. That year, a white supremacist murdered nine African-Americans at their church; an anti-abortion extremist killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

How might things be today in Malheur had Cliven Bundy, father of the Malheur occupiers, been arrested for threatening officials two years ago—or had conservatives not thwarted DHS efforts to curb right-wing extremism?


If We the People kowtow to bullies instead of insisting we share and protect a public bird refuge, how will we stop bigger bullies who threaten bigger prizes—our oceans, religious freedoms, democracy, and the climate underpinning our very survival?

Bundy is right: “Government’s role is to serve the people.” But the “big government” to downsize is the one that records our calls, kills civilians with drones, and labels us “terrorists” with increasing ease. The Hammonds, whose legal woes inspired this seizure, received a five-year sentence because their arson was charged as “terrorism.” Terrorism charges also imprisoned young Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty activists (SHAC7) for running a website. No violence, threats, or “Free Willy” escapades. Just a website. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force investigates protesters who decry the killing of blacks by white cops.

Forget grazing rights. Examine the government’s terrorism definition. That’s the constitutional affront, brought to you by the Bush Administration’s Patriot Act and every version of it since.

I welcome government protection—of birds from bullies, relics from looters, wildlife from poachers, water from toxins, school kids from shooters, and yes, while retaining our constitutional rights, all of us from true terrorism, defined as “the use of violence or threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for a political purpose.”

Let’s strengthen the government in Bundy’s crosshairs—the part that guards human rights and natural

systems that support life on Earth. Then it could set a boundary in Malheur.

And I could stop mentally playing commando.

Environmental Protection Agency

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  1. Lucia Hardy

    Beautifully written, articulate and powerful description of feelings I’ve had and heard others close to me express. Thank you.

  2. Karen DeBraal

    Excellent piece. Wish it had been published. This situation is certainly a microcosm of the bigger picture of right-wing bullying. And it is important. I believe so many of us are riveted by the situation because is carries so much weight — symbolical and for real. The earth is suffering and trying to survive from the stroke-like conditions of global warming and rampant terrorism. And then these pockets of crazy pop up, like nasty bladder infections. Too bad Cliven wasn’t nipped in the bud. Let’s hope the cure this time around fits the disease.
    I am no fan of mandatory minimums. I want them gone. I do not like seeing bunny-hugger website makers charged with terrorism. The Hammonds? I wonder — five years for arson is not a long time. Was it terrorism? They did set big fires — one to cover up poaching crimes and they coerced a young abused kid to help do it. The second put BLM firefighters in danger and was done without notice or permission. The first judge who gave them puny sentences didn’t help this situation. I am not sure the Hammonds were more than a clever rallying point of the Bundy “plan.” Their real story was swept under the rug for the most part. What a messed up system. Yes, indeed, strengthen the true part of our government that takes on real terrorism and let the earth live.

  3. Wes Burch

    US attorney said the Hammonds were NOT charged under a terrorism act. Anyone know the real deal here?

    • mary

      According to OPB and other sources, they were sentenced under the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act that Congress passed in 1996.