I've struggled with whether I should post my thoughts on what's been happening in Eastern Oregon (relative to the conviction of the Hammonds on arson charges and the militia occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge). This post, like my thoughts, is disjointed - but I feel like I need to write down my ideas. I hope the few of you who read this will add to the thoughtful discussion.
It's on the Internet - it must be true!
While the Internet is wonderful in many ways, it doesn't facilitate thoughtful discussion of complicated issues. Over the last week, I've seen "news" articles and analyses that justify everyone's perspective on this issue. The Hammonds are being persecuted. The Hammonds are deer-poaching right-wing radicals. The Bundys are patriots. The Bundys are crazy. The Bundys are trying to establish a Mormon homeland. The federal government is trying to steal the Hammond's land. The Feds are simply trying to protect our public lands. So here I am - writing about this issue on the Internet. Not sure this adds anything to our collective understanding of the subject or not.
It's good to be white!
Regardless of the cause, there does seem to be some hypocrisy involved in our collective reaction to what Ammon Bundy and his followers are doing. I'm sure this will offend some of my friends, but it seems to me that if an armed black man and his followers were to take over a federal building, we'd call him a thug. If an armed Muslim man were to do the same, we'd call him a terrorist. If an armed Native American were to do the same, we'd put him in federal prison. I can't bring myself to think of Bundy and his followers as patriots.
Based on what I've read, the Hammonds may have started one of the fires for which they were convicted to cover up illegal deer hunting activity. The people who taught me to hunt, and those with whom I hunt today, were and are offended by poachers. On the other hand, I know ranchers who have lost grass to backfires set by state and federal firefighters who weren't familiar with the local area and who didn't care that the rancher might know more about the locale. I've also read that the Feds were pressuring the Hammond family to sell out to the Malheur refuge (or to a national monument, depending on what one reads). The overload of information online makes it more (rather than less) difficult to discern the truth.
Good and bad...
I am a rancher. I've been a federal employee. I've worked with federal agencies and ranchers throughout my career. The overwhelming majority of those in both categories are good folks. They love the land; they love their communities. They work hard. But there are a small handful - as with any community or profession - who aren't good people. I find it terribly difficult to judge who is good (and who is bad) from afar.
Rural communities feel dispossessed and disenfranchised...
Personally, I accept the concept of federal land and multiple use. Before the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management were established (and in some instances, afterwards), our public lands were mismanaged in pursuit of private gain. That said, I also understand the frustration of people and communities who depend upon the resources provided by public lands. As a rural westerner, I am frustrated when decisions are made in cities about my own community and livelihood by bureaucrats that have no understanding of or concern for on-the-ground conditions. My frustration, and that of the vast majority of my colleagues, drives me to educate my suburban and urban neighbors - and my elected and appointed representatives. And like the vast majority of my colleagues, the Bundy family doesn't represent me.