Just when you thought things were settling down over at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, there they go again. Cliven Bundy, father of Malheur takeover leader Ammon Bundy, has just waded into the fray with a newly-issued certified letter notifying Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, and U.S. President Barack Obama that “we the people of Harney County” and “we the citizens of the United States” intend to “retain possession” of the federal preserve.
The younger Bundy and his band of armed hooligans occupied the federal preserve early in January and renamed it the ‘Harney County Resource Center,’ but as of this writing he and his main allies have been arrested and jailed without bond, and all but four of his fellow occupiers have fled. The four remaining in the refuge are running out of fuel, their Internet and phone service has been cut off, and Ammon Bundy himself is pleading with them to go home. It’s only a matter of time before they give up, so … What’s with Dad and this “possession” thing?
The long fingers of ALEC
TriplePundit first took note of the Malheur takeover when it began unspooling early in January, and the first thing we noted was that the episode looked really odd from a corporate social responsibility point of view.
The fundamental principle behind CSR is stakeholder engagement, including consensus and collaboration with your workers, your consumers, your supply chain and your community — and these are also guiding principles behind successful social engagement.
From the outset, the Malheur incident was curiously absent of any significant stakeholder engagement in the local community. That prompted us to look for some broader political perspective in our first post on the topic, and we found some commonalities with the “states-rights” agenda of ALEC, the powerful Koch-backed lobbying group.
Our Feb. 1 post on the Malheur takeover took a deeper dive into the ALEC connection. Based on local reporting and public record, we reached the conclusion that Ammon Bundy targeted Malheur for an extreme action not because federal policies in the region were demonstrably misguided, but for the exact opposite reason.
Back in 2013, local stakeholders — including the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association — reached an agreement with the federal Bureau of Land Management that established a collaborative system for land use in and around the Malheur refuge. According to local accounts the 2013 agreement was working, and it was being held up as a model for other regions.
That kind of stakeholder engagement is a direct threat to the ALEC states-rights agenda, which calls for turning over federally-owned public lands to the states, as a first step to private ownership and more intensive development.
Long live the 10th Amendment
That brings us to the latest action from the Bundy family. Cliven, the elder Bundy, is a Nevada rancher who gained notoriety in 2014 for calling upon a gang of armed men to help him stave off federal agents who came to hold him accountable for a decades-long theft of property involving his refusal to pay grazing fees on public lands.
Citing the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Cliven Bundy argued that the federal government had no right to collect grazing fees. His position was supported publicly by high-profile Republican leadership — including current presidential contenders who also receive significant campaign contributions from the Koch brothers, who are primary backers of ALEC.
Despite the evident failure of son Ammon to continue the Malheur occupation, Cliven Bundy issued the aforementioned certified letter, dated Feb. 1 and notarized by a Nevada notary public, which can be found in full on the Bundy family ranch blog. Following the postal addresses for Sheriff Ward, Gov. Brown, and President Obama is this message:
Mailed Certified & Emailed to the above Internet to the World
Dear Sheriff Ward,
This is notice that We the People of Harney County and also We the People of the citizens of the United States DO GIVE NOTICE THAT WE WILL RETAIN POSSESSION OF THE HARNEY COUNTY RESOURCE CENTER. (Malhaur [sic] National Wildlife Refuge)
Remove all federal and state policing agents out of Harney County.
Place a Harney County sheriff guard post at the entrace road of the Harney County Resource Center stopping all from entering or exiting, for a time.
If you’re waiting for some kind of explanation for the authority behind the letter, check the Bundy ranch blog post dated Jan. 31, the day before the letter was posted. It’s long but do read it to get the full picture, as Bundy’s argument deploys a liberal dose of poetic license. For those of you on the go here are the key snippets:
“… In the 10th Amendment only a very few enumerated powers are given by the people to the federal government. All other powers and rights are reserved to the states respectively or to the people.) (The Bill of Rights Article X)
“… Only in Article 4, Section 3 of our constitution do We the People give congress unlimited power over land and congress had power to dispose of these lands. That’s exactly what they did when they admitted states to the union. The only other power that the constitution affords the government is Article 1 Section 8 Clause 17, here We the People give congress unlimited power to legislate over 10 miles square, which is Washington, D.C., and other property purchased with the consent of state legislature for military purposes and other needful buildings.”
And here are some snippets from the model legislation promoted by ALEC on its website:
“WHEREAS, the Tenth Amendment limits the scope of federal power and prescribes that the federal government was created by the states specifically to be an agent of the states, rather than the states being agents of the federal government; and
“NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that [Insert State] hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States; and
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we state our intentions to ensure that all government agencies and their agents and employees operating within the geographic boundaries of [Insert State], or whose actions have an effect on the inhabitants, lands, or water of [Insert State], shall operate within the confines of the original intent of the Constitution of the United States … “
In sum, the Malheur takeover is looking less like the bumbling misadventures of an arrogant out-of-towner, and more like a calculated effort to disrupt a national model for collaboration, cooperation and mutual benefit between federal agencies and local stakeholders.
Image: Greater Sandhill Crane at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by Roger Baker via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.