I was nearly killed earlier this year while counter-protesting the paramilitary seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. After accusing me of being an FBI agent, the armed occupiers there worked themselves into a mob. Hog-faced militia thugs barked, “he’s a fed.” Some pawed their pistols. I was told snipers were trained on us. It was dangerously close to violence.
"The cradling of the Bundy’s media circus at Malheur, and the government’s over-confident bungling of the ensuing prosecution—sets a dangerous and far-reaching precedent for the kind of paramilitary intimidation and right-wing violence that underpins their movement."
For weeks last January a small rag-tag group of public lands supporters protested the Malheur occupiers. There was a handful of us, and dozens of them—all 30 miles from the nearest law enforcement. We crashed press conferences, staged counter protests, and marched into their occupied barracks with signs. We were threatened, harassed, blasted with bull horns and trailed by thugs with assault rifles.
We saw first-hand what was live-streamed to the world: An illegal paramilitary seizure of one of the crown jewels of our national wildlife refuge system, and the months-long social, cultural, economic, and environmental terrorization of an entire community. So, like many others, I was jarred by last Thursday’s acquittal of seven defendants: How could such an obvious, video-taped crime could go unpunished? Here’s how: Federal fumbling.
The Bundy clan and their followers peddle a dangerous brand of radicalism. Their core ideas—that the federal government lacks authority to own public land, and that county sheriffs are the highest form of law enforcement—are rooted in hard-right racist ideologies created to sidestep federal civil rights laws by elevating local authority. They’re perfectly suited to ranchers, like Cliven Bundy, who refused to pay deeply subsidized federal grazing fees.