The Ahistorical Anti-Government Ideology of the Bundy Militia

Ammon Bundy, a guy tasked with an incoherant, ahistorical ideology laced with the occassional legitimate grievance.

Ammon Bundy, a guy promoting an incoherent, ahistorical ideology laced with the occasional legitimate grievance.

It never should have come to this, but the cause of freedom doesn’t rests on its laurels. On January 2, 2016, a gaggle of armed, babbling Bubbas decided to re-launch the American Revolution by taking over the remote Malheaur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service administers the refuge, which is now serving as the unofficial Alamo of the Pacific Northwest for a loose collection of Far-Right Militia goonies who have decided to take a stand against the Federal Government, ostensibly to protest the incarceration of father-son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond at the hands of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Led by Ammon “Son of Cliven” Bundy, the Militia members have declared their intentions to occupy the refuge for multiple years, even as they evidenced a fair amount of short-term planning when their social media call for snacks got them boxloads of dildos instead and earned them the unflattering Twitter designation as “Y’all Qaeda.” But for all of the media attention that Bundy’s antics have garnered, the real issue at hand here isn’t the Hammonds’ imprisonment, it’s the ahistorical ideology behind the modern Militia movement itself, a movement that operates under a bizarro world interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that renders any legitimate grievances the movement has with the Federal Government difficult to take seriously.

First, a little background on the whole Oregon Militia brouhaha.

The relationship between the Federal Government, which owns huge swaths of Western lands, and ranchers has always been fraught with tension. Ammon Bundy and his merry band of free-dumb fundies aren’t just protesting the incarceration of Dwight and Steven Hammond, they’re also protesting federal land ownership and stewardship. The Hammonds ran afoul of Federal law as far back as 1994, when they balked at what they considered to be the Feds’ unlawful management of public lands, and Dwight Hammond has a history of allegedly threatening federal wildlife officials.

The Hammonds’ grievances, like those of many anti-government Westerners, boils down to age-old conflict between the commonwealth vs. the individual. These ranchers believe that the Federal Government has no constitutional right to preserve land for wildlife habitat when said land could instead be used by private interests like ranchers and the extraction industry. In 2001 and 2006, the Hammonds allegedly set fire to roughly 140 acres of BLM-managed public land. They were convicted on arson charges in 2012 under the admittedly questionable Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, but a U.S. District Judge reduced their sentence from the full five years required by the act. The Federal Government, however, appealed the case in 2014 and won the full five-year sentence for the Hammonds. This appeal is what the Bundy Militia is now taking a stand against because they view it as symbolic of Federal tyranny.

If you watch how the Militia fellers preen about in front of the media, you’ll notice they pay a lot of lip service to the Constitution. They’ve dubbed themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, and Ammon Bundy has stated that, “We have allowed our federal government to step outside the bounds of the Constitution. They have come down upon on the people.” The problem, however, is that Bundy, and the broader Militia movement that he represents doesn’t just hold a limited-powers view of the Constitution; rather, this movement functionally rejects the Constitution as the Federal document that it is.

"Constitution:" You keep using that word. I don not think it means what you think it means.

“Constitution:” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Indeed, anti-government Militia ideology is fundamentally ahistorical. While they feign love for the Constitution, what they really seem to want is to bring back the Articles of Confederation. This pre-constitutional document existed from 1776-1783, and codified into law a weak central government that held little authority over the individual states. This was a problem, because it rendered the national government ill-prepared to deal with internal acts of revolt like Shay’s Rebellion, the 1786-87 uprising in Massachusetts led by Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays in protest against state and local tax collection policies. Shay’s Rebellion prompted George Washington to come out of retirement and call for a new Federal Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation and establish a stronger central government, a historical fact seemingly lost on the Constitution-obsessed Militia movement.

Of course, the anti-government Militia movement isn’t in the business of nuanced — if not accurate — historical interpretation. Rather, Bundy and his ilk traffic in a mis-mash of conspiracy beliefs about the looming threat of an almighty Federal Government working in cahoots with various incarnations of the New World Order, the United Nations, and possibly even Satan to take control of America, strip freedom-loving Americans of their land, livelihoods, and guns, and bring about the rise of some kind of totalitarian state.

Although there isn’t really a unifying belief among all anti-government types, what does unite them is their hatred for the Feds. Historian Robert Churchill locates the rise of the contemporary Militia movement in two interconnected events that occurred during the 1990s: the assaults by Federal authorities on Ruby Ridge, Idaho and the Branch-Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas, and the rise of the communications revolution in American society. The use of Federal force against anti-government types provided the spark that new media ignited into a fire via the creation of an “alternative public sphere” of anti-government paranoia among America’s right-wing subcultures. “Using talk radio, fax networks, Internet discussion lists and chat rooms, and the World Wide Web, gun owners, tax protesters, white supremacists, and common-law activists all came together to discuss what they perceived as a growing threat from their own government,” Churchill writes.* The Bundy Militia’s standoff in Oregon is the fruit of these recent historical developments.

The modern Militia movement’s anti-government ideology centers around the belief that the Federal Government has no right to own western lands or to tell private individuals what they can do with those lands. This stance, however, exists under a storm cloud of irony given that the Federal Government is the reason why white ranchers even have access to lands in the American West.

For example, the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, which acquired some 530,000,000 acres of the West from France, was first and foremost a massive federal land grab, instigated at the behest of none other than modern-day libertarian hero — and the most Founding Father-est of all the Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson. Of course, Jefferson was well aware that the Constitution didn’t state explicitly that such a land-grab was within his powers, but in this case, lust for expansionism overruled strict constitutional adherence, and the Louisiana Purchase now stands as one of many significant historical developments that supports the Federal Government’s implied powers.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Technically, the Constitution didn't have much to say about it, but, you know, land is cool, yo.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Technically, the Constitution didn’t have much to say about it, but, you know, land is cool, bra.

Moreover, the Manifest Destiny craze of the 19th century ensured that the western United States would eventually fall into the hands of white settlers (and out of the hands of non-white native peoples), and the Federal Government acted as both the procurer of western lands and as the enforcer of white settlement rights. For example, the Homestead Act, which President Abraham Lincoln signed into law in 1862, encouraged the western migration of white people into then-Indian territory. The government provided white settlers with 160 acres of public land provided that potential settlers pay a filing fee and live for five continuous years on the land before they could receive ownership. Those settlers who could afford it could shorten the process to a mere six months, after which they could buy the land from the Federal Government at $1.25 per acre. The Homestead Act distributed 80 million acres of public land by 1900.

Of course, western lands weren’t exactly unoccupied in the 19th century: the various Native American tribes who called the West home weren’t about to give up their lands without conflict, so in addition to acting as the dispenser of land to settlers, the Federal Government also made its agent, the United States Army, into the enforcer of white settlement. In response to settlers’ complaints about “savages” getting in the way of “civilizing” the West for whitey, the government established military forts and sanctioned raids on tribal lands, all of which fueled the violence that historians refer to as the Indian Wars. Indeed, conflict between the U.S. Army and Indians resulted in brutal massacres of native people at Sand Creek, Colorado in 1862 and in the Minnesota River Valley during the Dakota War (aka the Santee Sioux Uprising) of 1862-63.

At the center of the displacement and near-extermination of native peoples in the American West was the notion that communal — you might even say public — tribal stewardship of western lands had to be suppressed and eventually ended to make way for individual settlement by profit-seeking white landowners. Indeed, the goal of the U.S. government, as enforced by the Army, was, in the words of one white U.S. agent to the Minnesota Sioux, “to break up the community system among the Sioux; weaken and destroy their tribal relations; individualize them by giving each a separate home and having them subsist by industry – the sweat of their brows; till the soil; make labor honorable and idleness dishonorable.”

The ideology behind this statement was clear: public lands should exist to be settled by white individuals who seek to make a profit from that land. This is a position that the U.S. government would later soften, even recant, by embracing the necessity of land and wildlife conservation in the early 20th century, especially via the conservation efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt, who understood that wilderness has intrinsic value beyond what capitalist enterprises seek to extract from it. Yet while elements of the Federal Government eventually recognized that land and wildlife have an intrinsic right to exist, Ammon Bundy and the Far-Right Militia Movement reject this idea. Instead, they promulgate the right-wing libertarian notion that all land should be privatised, and that profit-seeking individuals should be allowed to exploit such land as they see fit.

These native individuals, pictured guarding corn justbefore the Dakota War of 1862-62, would have had something to say about the government taking someone's land.

These native individuals, pictured guarding corn just before the Dakota War of 1862-63, would have had something to say about the government taking someone’s land.

Thus, while it may seem ridiculous — even comical — for a band of self-styled, tyranny-toppling hard-asses to lay siege to something as benign as a Wildlife Refuge, to them, a symbol of land conservation isn’t benign at all. It represents a Federal Government that believes in, and enforces the notion that non-human life (plants, animals) has, on some level, a distinct right to exist, and that the destructive forces of private capitalism must be limited in their attempts to despoil wild lands and wildlife. In the minds of Far-Right dingbats like Ammon Bundy and his band of firearm-fondling doofuses, the notion that private, profit-making enterprises are not the supreme authority on earth is a truly radical notion.

Make no mistake: the BLM, like any government agency, has its share of corruption, and it shouldn’t be let off the hook for its transgressions. This doesn’t mean, however, that goon-squads like the Bundy Militia should be the ones to put the Feds in their place. With their belief in the unregulated, unrestrained rights of private interests to exploit western lands to no end, and their insistence that the Federal Constitution be interpreted in a manner more appropriate to the now-defunct Articles of Confederation, the Militia Movement espouses beliefs that are not only ahistorical, but also dangerous and morally bankrupt.

Those looking to the Militia Movement as some kind of bulwark against government tyranny ought to look somewhere else, because if you really want to understand what it’s like to have your land rights violated by a tyrannical government, go talk to a member of a Native American tribe — and count your own privileges.

* See Robert H. Churchill, To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant’s Face: Libertarian Political Violence and the Origins of the Militia Movement (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), 187.

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27 Comments

  1. I loved watching a so called Constitutional expert state with conviction that the US Constitution did not give the US government the authority to own any land outside of the District of Columbia. She even pointed out the exact article and section as proof of her statement. However, upon reading the section she gave as evidence, the words clearly contradict her interpretation. The rest of her speech was the usual harangue about conspiracy this and that, big government, freedom, rights, liberty, and a bunch of bs that falls apart before you even look at it.

    These people are just trying to force their views on the nation through armed force. It is not going to work. They have next to no support, yet here they are claiming that it exists. The few people that I know personally who support stupid stuff like this all believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories, aliens, and other junk. Not a freaking one of them has a degree in anything, but they’re all experts in history…the kind that is not supported by any facts.

    Sooner or late the militia movement is going to end up getting some people killed. I am appalled that these people love to talk about how Waco was a government action against freedom. They apparently overlook the fact that the leader of the Waco bunch was a child rapist, but hey, they don’t care about reality.
    Also, they are not a militia. If they want to take on the US Army, that’s fine with me. It will be a very short engagement and the ding dongs like Bundy will be dead or imprisoned for their treason.

    • There’s been some significant scholarly studies on these militia yahoos, and I was surprised to find out, as you note, that aliens even occasionally come into their weird grab-bag of nuttiness. Granted, there’s a lot to criticize the Federal Government about, especially the BLM, but these clowns are not the ones to be doing it.

      • There is a means to address these issues. The Founders put it in place with a Republican form of government. The people later pushed to make the process more democratic. The system put in place via the Constitution was meant to prevent rabble like the Bundys from doing exactly what they are trying to do. It’s time to follow the Constitution and put an end to the Bundy thugs.

        • The system put in place via the Constitution was meant to prevent rabble like the Bundys from doing exactly what they are trying to do.

          Yep. I’ve seen several places lately where anti-government, secessionist types are citing the reference to “a well-regulated militia” in the Second Amendment as referring to *them*, and sanctioning (or even endorsing) armed uprising against the government. They are ignoring the fact that (1) the republican form of government embedded in the Constitution was created exactly to ensure peaceable continuance of a national government through elections, the courts, balance of powers, etc., and (2) that at the time, there was no standing national army or navy, and the militia system of the states was the only means of national defense. The Constitution was written specifically to avoid the sort of violence and conflict that the Founders themselves had just lived through. If the Founders had viewed armed uprising against the national government as a legitimate means of influencing policy, they would not have explicitly granted the federal government the authority to “suppress insurrections” (Article I, Section 8).

          I’m sure they will argue that there is a “natural right” to revolution when government becomes so onerous as to become intolerable, and I don’t disagree. But it’s also an act that necessarily abandons any legitimacy under the law.

          • My first emotion over this group of ding dongs was to just wipe them out. However, that lasted all of a millisecond and the brain kicked in overriding the urge. The wise course of action here is to let these wannabees run their mouths. If they have the support of the people, then the people will support them. That is not happening is it?
            Instead, the only folks who agree with the gun-toting intellectually challenged Bundy types are fellow gun-toting, intellectually challenged Bundy types and conspiracy nuts. The American people have basically told them to go f*** off.

            Instead of machine gunning them down, the government is just letting them prove to the world that the Bundy types have no legitimacy, no authority, and no intelligence. Sooner or later one of the bozos is going to try to do something that will get someone hurt or killed, but when they do it’s going to make them look even worse. Unfortunately someone will have died, but they don’t care about anyone but themselves. They are extremely self-centered because they refuse to accept the reality they live in which is rejecting their views on government. If anything, they’ve shown just how pathetic they are.

          • Instead of machine gunning them down, the government is just letting them prove to the world that the Bundy types have no legitimacy, no authority, and no intelligence.

            Every day that passes — every fence they tear down, every file they rummage through, every locker they break open — adds to the charges they’ll face eventually. Fine by me.

            In the meantime, there’s at least one commodity they won’t run out of.

          • I find it quite thoughtful that they included lube in the package. No going in dry for the militia dudes.

          • There certainly is a “natural right” to a revolution, I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Moreover, the mandatory sentencing laws that the Hammonds are facing are really onerous and deserving of protest. But Militia stances against a vague “Federal Government” mask a seriously radical ideology that leaves no room for conservation of public lands. This type of extreme privitization of natural resources has no place in a 21st-century society.

  2. The Feds could end this very easily by shutting-off the power and water. That high desert is extremely cold this time of year. Evidently, they haven’t even shut off the internet and phone service. If the militia fools are dependent upon landline phone service, then that can be cut-off very easily, and cell coverage could be blacked-out. If these idiots profess to be such rugged-individualist bootstrap types, let them do without government funded utility services. Just looking at how they are dressed, it is clear that they do not know what they are doing. No cold weather gear, just drugstore cowboy and pretend soldier garb. Especially, the moron wearing the jungle boony hat with the ground covered in snow. The more I read about the instigators of this farce, the more it becomes apparent that it is comprised of a bunch of troubled misfits.

    • And what’s worse than a bunch of “troubled misfits?” A bunch of troubled misfits with guns. Seriously, even if the Federal Government managed some wide scale takeover of the U.S., do we really want these morons to set up their own little pseudo-warlord fiefdoms?

  3. After the Waco and Ruby Ridge fiascoes the Justice Department established a Critical Incident Response Group. It successfully ended the Montana incident in 1996 with nobody getting hurt by using this kinder/gentler patient response. However, leaving the electricity and water readily available to them is just making it too easy. They should cut the power in the middle of some cold night. Just to see how rugged-individualist they really are. Just because these morons can use their disabilty checks and wives’ paychecks to buy guns and ammo doesn’t make them competent. If violence starts then the endangered peckerheaded booby will be that much closer to extinction. In the meantime, let’s see them have to rig generators and haul water, just like our colonial ancestors did.

    • “The endangered peckerheaded booby.” OMG. You, sir, win the day with that one.

  4. I reject your description and assessment as biased and extremely prejudiced. You aren’t interested in telling people the truth. You are interested in telling them what to think and believe.

  5. Judging by the events that took place yesterday and some of the comments made by people about them, there is a significant minority in this country that fail to understand why the US government owns so much land or what the Sagebrush Rebellion is all about. It is amazing and certainly distressing to see so many people demonstrate such a clear lack of knowledge about the Constitution or American government. Anyone that thinks that Lavoy Finicum is a martyr is flat out ignorant of reality.

  6. You have to give someone kudos for the masterful handling of the situation. Instead of charging in and blowing away these bozos, the government let the bozos show just what they stand for which is absolutely nothing. We watched them show poor planning and extremely bad judging regarding the support they thought they had. Then we saw them talk which revealed how little they knew. In the end, they were nothing more than pathetic shadows rambling on about their beliefs which were nothing short of lunatic fringe stuff.

    Is this the militia movement in a nutshell? The world can now see them for what they are: the desperate extremist white conservative religious nuts. They are being marginalized and they do not like that idea. The nation’s people are passing them by and leaving these types of people and their ideas behind. At one point the militants thought they were the wave of the future, but that didn’t take place. People are fickle and they react to various things in unpredictable ways. The American people have rejected the ideas of the Bundy Bozos and the extremist conservatives.

    Unfortunately, the bozos don’t understand that. They decided they needed some attention to rally the people to them. That’s a populist idea, but the people instead ignored them. That’s the danger of populism. As long as your ideas are seen as worthy by the people you have support. But that support only goes so far. That support also will disappear quickly once the people take a hard look at those ideas and judge them.

    The Bundy Bozos were examined the the people of the United States of America. Their ideas were found to be profoundly out of step with the ideas of the American people. Hopefully, this is the end of the bozos, but unfortunately, desperate idiots have a tendency to be too ignorant to understand why they were rejected and continue to scream to be relevant through idiotic actions much like this Oregon temper tantrum.

    • I’m glad this episode has ended without further bloodshed.

      It’s something I just don’t understand, these folks so caught up in their own rhetoric that they never really seem to have considered the possibility that the feds wouldn’t come in with guns blazing, and they they themselves would end up going to jail for what’s likely to be a long time — in some cases, longer than the Hammonds. Morons.

      It bears repeating, though — although their beef was supposedly with the feds, in practice they did not recognize ANY law enforcement authority, at any level (local, state or federal). Law enforcement and elected officials at all levels asked them, begged them, pleaded with them to end this thing, and were uniformly ignored. (This includes the local sheriff who, under the posse comitatus nonsense many of these folks embrace, is the ultimate and sole legal authority.) The refuge occupiers talk about the law and the Constitution and so on, but in practice they held themselves to be above ANY law or authority.

      • The most amazing part of this is that they think they will die in a huge blaze of glory shooting down government agents who foolishly run across open fields throwing themselves at the bozos. That just shows their complete ignorance of the US military. I served in the artillery. We don’t need to see you to kill you. We just need grid coordinates. An unmanned Predator drone can do that for us. Of course, so can a GPS equipped radio controlled plane made out of polystyrene with a motor slapped on it. The whole package is less than $100.

        Then again, we could just launch some fighter-bombers and give the airboys some target practice. The bozos seem to think they can shoot down a jet with a .30-06. In reality they would have been blown up before they even knew the jet was in the air. The only blaze of glory would have been the ball of fire marking their instant deaths with the size determined by the number of missiles/bombs/rounds of artillery used.

        The only federal agents hurt would have been if they got too close to the fire while roasting hot dogs and marshmallows while they waited for the flames to die out.

        You are right. These bozos are aligned with the sovereign citizen fools more than anything else. They just want to do whatever they want with no one to tell them otherwise. They do not respect property rights when they want to use other people’s property. They do not respect the laws because they don’t care about the laws. I think the people saw that and rejected the bozos. Of course, they’re too stupid to realize that.

      • “Although their beef was supposedly with the feds, in practice they did not recognize ANY law enforcement.” This reinforces my long-standing belief that many strains of so-called “freedom-based” far-right ideology in the U.S. is really just an attempt to turn assholeism into an organized political movement. Moreover, these clowns seemed totally caught off guard that not only did the Feds. not take them especially seriously, but the general public didn’t either. Living in your own alternate reality really does have consequences. That said, I’m glad there was very minimal state violence in this incident. Just because I’m critical of right-wing ideologies doesn’t mean I endorse the state turning violent.

        • “This reinforces my long-standing belief that many strains of so-called “freedom-based” far-right ideology in the U.S. is really just an attempt to turn assholeism into an organized political movement.”

          Well, yeah. It happens. After all, Ayn Rand-style “Objectivism” is simply raw, naked selfishness masquerading as a respectable philosophy.

    • Your points remind me of a guy I went to high school with back in small-town Ohio who, for some reason, I’m Facebook friends with. He’s one of those gun-totin,’ far-right ding bats who likes to play soldier in the woods. He posts all kinds of “Don’t Tread on Me” memes and pictures of himself posing with his guns in his backyard. Of course, all of this is much safer than, you know, actually joining the military and putting yourself in mortal danger. Instead, he’s just fine bravely protecting the good patriotic citizens of Northeast Ohio from whatever the fuck he thinks poses a threat to his paranoid little world.

      • I know those people. There are a lot of them. All talk and no action. Joining the National Guard would impact their football season. Look at how they screamed when MIzzou players threatened to stop playing. They’re still howling mad about it here in Missouri, but they took action to address the problem finally.
        To put it mildly, these “Don’t Tread on Me” people won’t do anything that will interrupt their sports or other recreational activities. They want to play soldier, but they don’t want to the work that comes with being a soldier. They also don’t want to subject themselves to the discipline required to turn rabble into combat effective troops.

        • And now Shawna Cox has filed a lawsuit against the feds seeking $666,666,666,666.66 because she has “suffered damages from the works of the devil.”

          Okay.

          • A Canadian friend of mine asked me the other day, “look, we’ve all got our issues. But seriously, what’s wrong with you people down there?” I told her she just didn’t understand freedom 😉

    • So, wait, I don’t get it. They didn’t have access to bathrooms at the refuge? Good grief.

  7. So these strong, manly, self-sufficient individualists mooched off the local food bank for senior citizens, too:
    __

    Not included in the tally were things like added demand for food and services at the Harney County Senior Center. The nonprofit, with more than $1 million in annual revenue, runs a food pantry and administers federal energy assistance.

    Executive Director Angie Lamborn encountered new faces among the regular visitors during the occupation. They asked for extra food and acknowledged they weren’t full-time residents, she said.

    Lamborn couldn’t quantify the impact on the senior center’s finances, but she said they’ve “taken a pretty big hit” as a result.

    __

    They aren’t just going to jail; they’re going to Hell, too.

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