From the get-go, let me be clear: The occupation a federal building by an armed militia as an act of protest is not a good thing. In fact, it’s quite bad. I condemn it.
One of the worst parts of this protest is some of the religious language utilized by the militia, their sympathizers and their relatives. It’s a fairly well known fact that the Bundy family is part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church, of which I am also (full disclosure) a member. Though the presence of religious language may not immediately be apparent to the average American, it’s plain and obvious to those familiar with Mormon culture.
It upsets me that members of my own faith, a faith with a heritage of religious persecution at the hands of American government officials, both state and federal, would suggest that God is calling them to take up arms and openly revolt by occupying a federal building. God is not telling them to do it. Even LDS Church leadership has condemned the actions of this militia.
And yet, on at least one level, I empathize with these militia men. Their method is wrong, and their religious motivations are very wrong. But I agree with their assertions about federal lands, assertions that have been a common refrain from western states against the federal government for 40 years.
It’s easy to forget, given the armed occupation, that this whole issue began because the Hammonds built a fire that ended up on federal land. Whether this happened because the Hammonds were trying to protect their land or cover up illegal poaching is less important to me than the fact that the land was owned by the federal government. If the feds hadn’t owned the land in the first place, odds are there would never have been an issue.
The fundamental reason America broke away from the British Empire was because our ancestors didn’t feel like local interests were being taken into fair consideration. Does the phrase “taxation without representation” sound familiar? They didn’t feel their local concerns and wishes were being heard in King George’s court, and they were right.
This militia that has taken up residence in Burns, Oregon, feels the same way. It goes way overboard in expressing its angst, but it feels the same way.
The fundamental reason these occupants stormed the federal building is because they don’t feel like the BLM, a federal agency in which officials are appointed rather than elected, takes local interests into account. In general, they feel the BLM and the federal government have exceeded constitutional limits. They feel like the BLM is more concerned with pleasing non-local, environmental interests that clash with those of local residents.
It’s not hard to understand why they’re unhappy, especially if you’re an environmentalist. Take the story of Tim DeChristopher.
DeChristopher is an environmental activist that was jailed for deliberately running up prices in a federal oil and gas auction under false pretenses and as an act of protest in 2008. He was sentenced to two years in prison, fined $10,000 and given three years supervised probation. But he could have been given 10 years. The only differences between him and the Oregon occupants is that he is on the other end of the political spectrum and that he didn’t involve guns in his protest. Twenty-six fans of DeChristopher, however, were arrested at his sentencing for getting out of hand in their protests.
Although it’s impossible to say for sure, my guess is DeChristopher probably felt like both his concerns and the concerns of animals in the desert weren’t being taken into account in the management of federal lands. Same story, different method, both illegal.
I am with these militia men with respect to their grievances over the management of federal lands. Local, state, or private ownership of public land is a good thing, or at least it’s better than ownership by the federal government. Local voices should win out in the management of public lands. Tourists may come once a year, but locals are there year-round.
But in the same sense that I can’t accept as legitimate the radical environmentalist movement and its tactics, I can’t accept as legitimate the actions of the militia in Oregon either, especially when they have inappropriately involved religion in their protest.