A Well Regulated Militia (on Opposite Day)

There’s an armed rebellion going on right now. It’s not occurring in Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria, or any of the other garden spots where we like to send our young men to fight unwinnable wars. Nope this one’s right here at home—in Oregon.

Sometimes we get the wrong idea about that state. We hear about Portland and automatically assume that its progressiveness is indicative of the entire state to the east. It’s not—there are areas of Oregon so remote that time can’t even find them…which brings us to the current standoff.

It began in 2001 when Dwight Hammond and his son Steven began setting fires. They did so, they claimed, to protect their property from wildfires and invasive plants. (Setting back-burn fires is often used by firefighters to protect homes and property.) But the Hammonds’ little strategy also burned 140 acres of public land, following by two years another escapade that also consumed government territory. The Hammonds were convicted of arson in 2012, served time, and paid a large fine—close to $400,000.

This is where it gets hairy. After their release a federal judge determined that they had been imprisoned for short a time in custody, something relating to a 1996 anti-domestic terrorism law. That’s pretty much where we are today.

The Hammonds, despite their propensity to play with matches, have served their time. I don’t claim they’re the good guys here, but by comparison to the people who have decided to assist them, they just may be. Last Saturday night an armed group took control of an empty building in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and their goals have little to do with the support of the Hammonds. (In fact the Hammonds have already stated they don’t want help from this militia or anyone else.)

The leader of this band of armed protesters is Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy, he of the 2014 Nevada standoff that came about when federal agents ordered him to stop grazing his cattle on public land. Cliven became the darling of Fox News and a lot of tea-party aficionados—at least until he suggested that African-Americans were better off as slaves. (Time has probably been unable to find Cliven Bundy also.)

Here’s the thing: there’s not one of us who hasn’t thought at one time or another that our government has overstepped. Perhaps some of us have even protested—waved signs, carried placards, pasted bumper stickers, maybe even chanted offensive slogans. But it’s the fact that these people in Oregon are armed that makes me a little queasy, especially at a time when the legitimate authorities face such close scrutiny. We have just undergone a year of protests—in Missouri, New York, Maryland, elsewhere. There has been property damage and there have been injuries, but there have come about changes too—many of them the results of these protests. Now try to imagine any possible positive results from protesters in Baltimore striding down the streets with assault rifles. (Sacking and burning a CVS would be the least of our problems.)

This militia in Oregon has not issued demands, has not spoken in specifics; in short, they’re an amorphous group of discontented citizens who don’t know what they’re doing. Many of the local citizens are on record naming them as armed trouble-makers. Seems right.

But that word armed—that’s the difference. No one is going to pay any attention to what they say, only to what they’re carrying. And if nobody gets shot in this latest skirmish in the Bundys’ war against the U.S. Government, it will be a most pleasant and surprising outcome.

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