Washington, DC —This week’s armed seize of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by self-styled “militia” stems from the lack of a coherent response to earlier confrontations with anti-government extremists, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), pointing to a threat assessment from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The failure by the federal government to take any action following the April 2014 armed stand-off with renegade rancher Cliven Bundy was seen by his supporters as a victory and encouraged his sons and other followers to stage similar clashes.
“Rather than abating conflict, the federal hands-off approach has backfired and enables the Bundy clan to franchise a ‘Militia McDonalds,’” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the current “call to arms” to spread resistance against “federal tyranny.” “In Nevada, federal authorities have ceded a 200-square mile militarized zone on national park and range lands as a staging ground for further operations to challenge the legitimacy of public ownership.”
The July 22, 2014 Homeland Security assessment entitled “Domestic Violent Extremists Pose Increased Threat to Government Officials and Law Enforcement,” correctly predicted that the “perceived victory” from the Bundy stand-off “is galvanizing some individuals – particularly militia extremists and violent lone offenders – to actively confront law enforcement officials, increasing the likelihood of violence.” The assessment also linked the murder of two Las Vegas police officers to this effect.
The rationale for the Malheur Refuge armed takeover by the Bundy brothers and their confederates has shifted somewhat but is now supposedly aimed at ending federal management because the refuge “is rightfully owned by the people.” This self-proclaimed liberation of public land is ironic in that:
- The refuge is now completely closed to the public due to the continued presence of “an unknown number of armed individuals,” according to the refuge website;
- The Bundys envision a capitalist outpost rather than a proletariat of the people, saying they want the refuge for private and for-profit uses, especially for “ranching, logging, mining and recreation” without any oversight or limit; and
- The refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds” at a crucial stop along the Pacific Flyway. It is not clear how migratory waterfowl figure into the Bundy vision or what they have to do with combating “the terrorism that the federal government is placing upon the people.”
“This armed takeover should be treated as a terrorist act designed to spread fear in the community,” added Ruch, pointing to the Secretary of Interior closing all nearby federal offices due to concern about employee safety; even local public schools are closed. “Demanding public attention at the point of a gun is not the exercise of First Amendment rights but the actions of deluded wackos.”