American Culture

Right-wing domestic terrorists have carte blanche

BurnsIt’s good to be a white domestic terrorist in the United States.

Armed self-proclaimed “militia members” have seized control of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Gun-toting individuals from a dozen or more states have been showing up in the small town since November, when two convicted arsonists had their too-lenient sentences revoked in favor of federally-mandated longer minimums.

The patriots terrorists, whose leaders include Ryan and Ammon Bundy, sons of scofflaw Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, and internet media producer Pete Santilli, claim to have 100-150 followers (although that number is heavily disputed and may be only 10% of what is claimed). Like so many others on the far-right fringe, this groups is claiming to be “upholding the US Constitution” and opposing government “tyranny.” Ryan Bundy explains their goal:

“The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area, then they will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control. What we’re doing is not rebellious. What we’re doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.”

And unless this situation is vastly different from other ongoing acts of defiance perpetrated by right-wing extremists, this standoff will be allowed to continue, unchallenged for years. After all, no one wants to be associated with the Ruby Ridge or Waco of the 21st century. The Burns terrorists know this, which is why “the group had brought children into the refuge,” according to Maureen Peltier, “a Washington Army National Guard staff sergeant and member of the so-called patriot movement.”

Make no mistake, if the perpetrators were Black or Muslim, this occupation would already be over. With extreme prejudice.

What happened in Burns, Oregon

The Hammonds family owns about 12,000 acres in Burns, Oregon, where they raise cattle. They also lease over 25,000 acres owned by the United States to supplement their acreage. Their disputes with the federal government date back more than 20 years.

The latest chapter in this convoluted tale started in October when Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Dwight Hammond and his son Steve to five years in prison by for arsons they committed on federal lands. Both had been  convicted in 2012 by a jury that chose to defy the federal minimums established for arson on federal property under the “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.” Dwight was sentenced to 3 months and Steve to 1 year. Steve received a longer sentence because he was convicted of 2 separate counts of arson, the first was carried out to cover up illegal poaching of deer on federal land. Both served their sentences which were appealed by prosecutors to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which found that:

The panel held that the district court illegally sentenced the defendants to terms of imprisonment less than the statutory minimum. The panel observed that although the district court attempted to justify lesser sentences on Eighth Amendment grounds, sentencing the defendants to five years of imprisonment would not have been unconstitutional.

In 2014, The Hammonds appealed to the US Supreme Court to have the decision of the Ninth Circuit overturned. SCOTUS denied the appeal.

Seven months after the Supreme Court refused to get involved, “Chief Judge Aiken imposed five year prison terms on each of the Hammonds, with credit for time they already served.” The Hammonds are scheduled to begin their sentences tomorrow, January 4, 2016.

In November, Ammon Bundy showed up, looking for ways to help the Hammonds avoid prison. The Hammonds, through their attorneys, deny that they want to violate the jail sentence.

Ammon described his frustration at his reception by locals:

“We went to the local communities and presented it many times and to many different people,” he said. “They were not strong enough to make the stand. So many individuals across the United States and in Oregon are making this stand. We hope they will grab onto this and realize that it’s been happening.”

On Saturday, January 2, the Bundy Brothers, along with about 300 others from the area and elsewhere in the US, marched from a local grocery store to the Hammond house to show their support. They sang the national anthem, threw pennies at the Burns courthouse (to symbolize “buying back their government“), and took bouquets of flowers to the Hammond house where

Hammond and his wife, Susan, greeted marchers, who planted flower bouquets in the snow. They sang some songs, Hammond said a few words, and the protesters marched back to their cars.

At that point some of the militia members went to county fairgrounds for a “post-parade function.” Others, including the Bundy Brothers, Santilli, and a number of others including military veterans, all armed, proceeded to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building, which they have occuppied.

In an interview with reporters, Ammon Bundy admitted to planning the takeover, “We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.” He has posted a call to arms on his Facebook page: “ALL PATRIOTS ITS TIME TO STAND UP NOT STAND DOWN!!! WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! COME PREPARED.”


The Bundy Connection

The “Bundy Ranch” mentioned in the post is the ranch in Nevada owned by Ammon’s father Cliven. The senior Bundy has been ripping off American taxpayers for 22 years by refusing to pay fees for using federal lands to graze his cattle. The family owns 160 acres in Clark County Nevada, but they have been using 145,604 acres (called the “Bunkerville Allotment”) owned by the United States and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, for free, to raise their cattle. From 1954 to 1993, the Bundy family paid for the right to use the land. But in 1993, they stopped.

For 22 years, the Bundy family has gotten away with its illegal activity. In 1998, they were ordered to stop grazing cattle on the Bunkerville Allotment. The illegal grazing continued. In fact it continues to this day. In 2012, the federal government announced it would remove the illegal cattle–then they backed off when there were rumors of violence. In 2014, the government announced it would close the Bunkerville Allotment and remove all illegal cattle.

The Bundy family issued “Range War Emergency Notice and Demand for Protection” to officials. Armed supporters flocked to the Bundy ranch to help Cliven, Ammon, and Ryan protect the family rights. Four hundred illegal cattle were rounded up in the disputed area–90% belonged to Bundy. The cattle were later returned. Clive Bundy was briefly the darling of the right-wing media and was a frequent guest on Fox News shows.

Bundy Ranch standoff continues out of the headlines. The family refuses to pay its fees and the government continues to allow the illegal grazing to continue.

But the Bundy family does not hold the record for a government standoff. That would be John Joe Gray.

Trinidad, Texas

John Joe Gray has been holed up in his fortified compound in Trinidad, Texas, near Waco, for 16 years.

In 1999, he assaulted two Texas state troopers during a traffic stop. His family bailed him out and they have supported him in the family compound ever since. The Gray family told law enforcement to “bring extra body bags” if they ever want to arrest John Gray.

Henderson County, Texas, Sheriff Ray Nutt stated in 2011 “John Joe Gray is not worth it. Ten of him is not worth going up there and getting one of my young deputies killed.”

And four more years have passed with no action from authorities at any level.

Common Threads

All three counties–Harney in Oregon, Clark in Nevada, and Henderson in Texas–are rural and very conservative. All three situations are related to the “sovereign citizen” movement. It is defined as:

The “sovereign citizen” movement is a loosely organized collection of groups and individuals who have adopted a right-wing anarchist ideology originating in the theories of a group called the Posse Comitatus in the 1970s. Its adherents believe that virtually all existing government in the United States is illegitimate and they seek to “restore” an idealized, minimalist government that never actually existed. To this end, sovereign citizens wage war against the government and other forms of authority using “paper terrorism” harassment and intimidation tactics, and occasionally resorting to violence.

In addition all three standoffs have involved defiance and threats of violence–explicit or implicit–by heavily armed supporters of the main actors. The presence of weapons has been effective.

In phone interviews from inside the occupied building Saturday night, Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan Bundy, said they are not looking to hurt anyone. But they would not rule out violence if police tried to remove them, they said.

As alluded to earlier, no one, at any level of government, wants to be responsible for the next Ruby Ridge or Waco confrontation.

In contrast, armed standoffs involving minority groups have been generally short-lived. The MOVE house in Philadelphia was bombed within days of its inhabitants’ standoff with police.

In the case of the Bundy and Hammond ranches, these families should not be viewed as “small family farmers” who have in a great deal in common the average middle-income American. They are blue collar–perhaps–in occupation, not in economic status. Cattle operations that occupy tens of thousands of acres are large economic enterprises.

Terrorism in Burns?

Are the occupiers in Burns, Oregon, terrorists? There is an excellent analysis on The Southwest Journal entitled “The BLM, Ranchers, and Domestic Terrorism Part II: Prosecution, Terrorism, and Equality under the law.” The author summarizes the characteristics of “domestic terrorism”:

  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

The author wrote the analysis in November, 2015, before the current standoff and concluded that the original arsons, prosecuted under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, met the definition of terrorism.

It is certainly evident that the current illegal, armed occupation of federal property in order to intimidate the government into changing its policies in Harney County meets the criteria of terrorism.

Of course it’s also important to remember “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

We’ll see in the coming days whether officials at any level of government in the US have the stomach for enforcing the law when the perpetrators are angry, armed, and white.

22 replies »

  1. Your article is slanted and bullshit. After the San Bernadino Muslim terrorists killed 14 people we were told not to talk about them. The government quickly assured Muslims they had their backs. Give me a break. What a twisted article. This explains why the PATRIOTS won’t talk to media.

    • Articles continue to be written about the San Bernardino terrorists. I’ve written one about another, larger group that has taken armed illegal action. There are plenty of militia supporters out there (you certainly seem to be one) who have the backs of those in Burns, Oregon.

  2. One article I read said that the Hammonds tried to separate themselves from the Bundys, issueing a statement that the Bundys do not represent them or speak for them.

    This is terrorism, no doubt. I find it curious that they want no government interference, but want to use free government land to make money for themselves. If the government didn’t own the land, they’d certainly have to buy it or pay for it’s usage.

    • There have been a number of articles to this point about the Hammonds not being involved in the takeover and planning to report to prison as required. It certainly seems that the militia split over this action and there seem to be plenty of people opposed to it.

      Your second observation is a good one. There are plenty of anti-government people who receive services from Social Security, Veterans benefits, disability, managed land services, and other infrastructure. The late addition to this post quoted a woman who is both a National Guard member AND a militia member. I wonder what happens if there’s a conflict of interest?

  3. How are they terrorists? I have not seen one civilian killed or injured by them, nor have they destroyed any property. I love how anyone who protests against your beloved Statist ideology is somehow now a terrorist. Nice try, but those of us with actual educations and experience know better.

    • Well, let’s look at the standard definition of “terrorist,” shall we?

      From Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, terrorism is “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” This definition is broad enough to include not only destruction and violence, but also threats of destruction and violence. And given the occupiers have threatened violence against anyone who tries to remove them, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that they’re “terrorists” according to the standard definition. The legal definition of a terrorist may be different.

      The alternative is “insurrectionist.” Merriam-Webster defines insurrection as “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.” And there is no question whatsoever that the occupiers meet this definition – revolting against the established government is the stated purpose of the occupation, after all.

      Terrorism in the U.S. is considered a legal issue and is taken care of via law enforcement and the courts. Insurrection, on the other hand, is a military issue and the U.S. government would be completely within its Constitutional authority (as per Article 1, Section 8) to flatten the building with tanks or to bomb the building and kill everyone inside without risking any innocent lives.

      Frankly, given those two choices, I would have thought you’d welcome them being defined as terrorists. Terrorists at least get due process, while insurrectionists get mowed down.

      • Good distinction, Brian. Again, I wonder about militia members who are also active or reserve military (or National Guard).

    • Tom, you seem to have overlooked the three characteristics of terrorism summarized from US law above:

      Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
      Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
      Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

      If you can refute any one of those, I’ll be more willing to entertain your argument. It doesn’t say that anyone has to actually BE killed for an act to be terrorism.

      • Cute way to edit the law and leave out the relevant first clause of that definition. Here is the ACTUAL law, 18 U.S. Code § 2331 – Definitions:

        (5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
        (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
        (B) appear to be intended—
        (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
        (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
        (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
        (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

        As can be seen, Without part A, it is NOT terrorism. They have not committed acts “dangerous to human life”.

        In addition, the normal definition of terrorism recognized worldwide is that it involves attacks against CIVILIANS. Limiting attacks to the military or police is NOT terrorism, but insurrection as noted above.

        • So, in your view, taking over a public facility, heavily armed, and refusing to comply with lawful orders to leave, and in the process threatening armed violence, that isn’t “a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State”?

          Not a top-flight law school grad, are you?

        • Evidently you have reading comprehension issues. Again you dishonestly edit the actual law. It says, ” involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State.” I like how you left out the pertinent part at the beginning of the sentence. But again so you can’t lie your way out of this one, “involve acts (not threats) dangerous to human life…”
          Not os top-flight law scholl grad, are you?

        • Hmmm. “Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law” vs. “involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State.” Wow, Tom, “that violate” vs. “that are a violation.” Sounds like arguing over the definition of “is.” And I did note that the words were another author’s summary. But if that raises your grammatical hackles, I guess you’ll just have to be annoyed. Something tells me you spend a great deal of time angry.

          You seem to have missed my point–which Sam pointed out very pointedly–having 15-150 heavily armed adults who have illegally seized a civilian US government (National Park Service/Bureau of Land Management) facility (violation of 5A), with the express intent of intimidating or coercing the US government so that “the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control” (violation of 5B), and committed such acts in eastern Oregon (violation of 5C) which is well within “territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

          Tom, maybe you are “boots on the ground” in Malheur and are a participant in the Arson Rebellion. And if you are, maybe you have first hand knowledge that when participants said they are willing to “kill or be killed” that they were just kidding. Maybe you know for sure that they are not really committing child endangerment by bringing children into an armed situation as human shields, as is described above by a self-described “patriot.”

          I’m not a betting person, but I’d almost put money on your not being anywhere near the scene of the action.

          Tamir Rice was shot within 2 seconds of the arrival of the police–before he even had a chance to drop the air pistol he had in his pocket. That was excused by prosecutors and the Grand Jury as justified because the officers felt their lives were in danger. Every law enforcement officer–primarily the FBI–who approaches Malheur will do so knowing full well that the heavily armed terrorists conducting the siege are willing to shoot it out if they feel it’s necessary. They’ve said so. That’s an act dangerous to human life.

        • This is getting tiresome. Once again, so that it is perfectly clear, in order to meet the US Code’s legal definition of terrorism,you MUST commit an ACT dangerous to human life. THEN you check the other qualifiers. The threat of an act, though a criminal violation in some situations, is NOT an act as has been upheld by the courts numerous times. So, as any legal scholar would tell you, they are not terrorists by the legal definition of the US Code. In addition, despite the US Code’s watered down definition, the accepted world wide definition requires acts against civilians. As to the Tamir Rice example, what the heck are you even talking about? Nice try at a strawman, but he was never accused of being a terrorist.

        • Tom
          First of all the federal government as well all every state in the union considers threatening someone with a deadly weapon as an “act dangerous to human life” as well as being against the law.
          Second: If a person wearing a suicide vest gets onto a military base and walks into a barracks filled with soldiers and then detonates the vest you can bet it will be considered an act of terrorism and anyone that can be found to have aided in the attack would be prosecuted as such.

  4. What was that about intimidating and coercing a civilian population? Is that not EXACTLY what the “government” does 24/7/365??

  5. Interesting epilogue to the Joe Gray case. Charges were dismissed in 2014 but no one told the local sheriff or the biter

    Also germane, a recent blog piece on Reuters about real conflicts between land users and the feds in Western states.

    And lastly I’ve found it surprisingly sophisticated that the Bundy group has been fairly careful about hiding their weapons during photo ops. That all changed yesterday when a group of super patriots armed to the teeth arrived on site. Ironic that the Bundys who sent out an earlier a call to arms over the internet are now saying “Go away, we didn’t invite you!”

    It just gets curiouser and curiouser!

  6. They threatened no one. They were armed and NO one was there. You can play with the wording all you like but the actions are what determines the validity of your claim. You are racist as you had to put a color to the story.
    Drone on but, while you are at it, what about all of the black “terrorists” in Ferguson and Baltimore or New York where they were calling for the deaths of cops? Your game is divisive and lame.

    • The Malheur terrorists have said the are willing to kill or be killed if law enforcement tries to remove them. That’s not a threat? So it’s only a problem when black protesters use that kind of violent language? Yeah, you’ve got logic on your side. And not a hint of racism.