The attention of all anti-fascist people in the U.S. has been drawn to Burns, Oregon in recent days, due to the takeover of a federal building in a wildlife refuge by a group of so-called Patriots/Militia members led by the sons of Cliven Bundy. As of January 4, the Hammonds, the local ranchers whose case was ostensibly the cause for which the Bundys were protesting, turned themselves in to federal authorities to serve out the rest of their terms for arson.
The local sheriff, David Ward, has called on the Bundys and their supporters to leave the area. As of Jan. 6, Ward indicated that the FBI will be pursuing charges against the occupiers after the occupation is resolved; in the meantime he urged the community and people at large to distance themselves from the occupation. (Oregon Public Broadcasting)
The Hammonds have distanced themselves from the Bundy takeover, and the takeover has been denounced by most of the Patriot/Militia movement, including the Oath Keepers. The Bundys are millionaires who don’t want to pay taxes (ie grazing fees). In 2014, they used this issue to create a fascist mobilization in Nevada during which video was shot showing militiamen training their weapons on federal authorities. The 2014 standoff emboldened the Bundys because they were able to turn back the Feds at gunpoint without repercussion. The Bundys are also racists, as can be seen by Cliven Bundy’s remarks in April of 2014 in which he asserted that African Americans were better off under slavery.
It is clear that the Bundys are seeking an armed confrontation so they can lead the movement of the ultra-right. As they started their occupation, they called for armed co-thinkers to join them at the building in the Malheur refuge, to remain there and build a base from which to attack the federal government.
Underlining the fascistic character of this occupation the Bundys have been joined by extreme anti-Muslim racists Jon Ritzheimer and Blaine Cooper. The Bundys and their collaborators are hoping to create a confrontation, even become martyrs, in order to build their movement. President Obama, not wanting to play into their hands, has said the Oregon takeover is a local law enforcement matter even though it involves federal property.
Racist double standard
Of course, many people have correctly pointed out the hands-off treatment meted out by law enforcement to this armed right-wing takeover is diametrically opposite to the brutal repression experienced by unarmed and even completely non-violent progressive protesters. The rhetorical question has been posed, “If these were armed Blacks or Muslims occupying a federal building, what would be happening to them?” To ask the question is to answer it.
In 1985, in response to nuisance complaints, a Black organization, the MOVE family, was brutally firebombed, burning alive five children and six adults. When the American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee in 1973, they were confronted with “barricades of paramilitary personnel armed with automatic weapons, snipers, helicopters, armored personnel carriers equipped with .50-caliber machine guns, and more than 130,000 rounds of ammunition” from the federal government; several Native people were killed by government forces.
Whose land is it anyways?
The underlying issue of the take-over in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, as well as in the 2014 confrontation in Nevada led by Cliven Bundy, is about their “right” to profit off federal land which they see as “their” land which they believe the federal government has “stolen” from them. Of course, they do not acknowledge that the federal government stole the land from the Indigenous peoples. Specifically in the case of the two Bundy-led stand-offs, the lands in question were literally stolen from the Shoshone and the Paiute nations.
On Jan. 6, Paiute chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique addressed a press conference in Burns, saying: “Armed protesters don’t belong here,” she said. “By their actions they are desecrating one of our sacred traditional cultural properties. They are endangering our children, and the safety of our community, and they need to leave. Armed confrontation is not the answer.”
Ammon Bundy tried to somehow link the militia occupation with issues of Indigenous rights, saying at his own press conference: “I would like to see them [Native people] be free of the federal government as well. They’re regulated by federal government very tightly and I think they have a right to be free like everybody else.”
Rodrique scoffed at this. “For them to say they want to give the land back to their rightful owners – well, I just had to laugh at that…When they talk about returning land, I know they didn’t mean us,” referring to her tribe. “When [the US government] wanted us to give up the land, we didn’t do it. We have never given up our aboriginal rights there. We do as well feel there – because this is still our land.”