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Tina Casey headshot

Corporate Leadership Lessons from Malheur National Wildlife Refuge


When Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy orchestrated an armed invasion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon earlier this month, apparently he expected the same measure of support that his father got from prominent Republican leaders during a notorious 2014 standoff with federal agents over grazing rights in Nevada. However, Ammon Bundy has failed to rally prominent supporters, local residents or anyone else who could make a good impression on the national stage. If attracting a strong executive team and a cadre of effective collaborators are hallmarks of good corporate leadership -- and they are -- then clearly the younger Bundy has been bested by the elder.

Before we launch in to the details, it looks like Ammon Bundy has been bested by the Internet as well. Last weekend a pair of Oregon residents started an online fundraiser called G.O.H.O.M.E., in which donors add to the pot each day that the occupation continues. The funds have been dedicated to the Malheur refuge, the local Paiute community, a gun control reform group, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a longstanding civil rights organization that tracks hate groups. After just a few days the page has already clocked in almost 600 donors for a total of more than $24,000.

The Malheur invasion: Be careful what you wish for ...

For those of you new to the topic, Cliven Bundy gained fame by calling in supporters for an armed standoff with federal agents over grazing rights in Nevada. Though he later fell out of favor with Republican leadership after making a series of bluntly racist remarks, those remarks also served to distract attention away from his relatively nuanced articulation for the right of states to appropriate federally owned land -- a policy favored by the powerful lobbying organization ALEC.

In contrast, Ammon Bundy has blundered into a weeks-long occupation of a popular public park, which he has punctuated with a steady stream of calls for turning over public, federal property to "local authorities" for use by miners and loggers as well as ranchers. He has continually put his foot in the bucket by ignoring native Paiute claims to the land, in addition to ignoring local residents' nearly universal pleas for him to go home.

Bundy describes himself as someone there to help the local community, but from the outset he has alienated all but a handful of residents and ranchers -- and even that handful, the six-member so called "Committee of Public Safety" -- has publicly disavowed Bundy for acting and speaking on their behalf without their knowledge or permission.

However, Bundy has remained steadfastly oblivious to the steady stream of negative reaction from the community. His message to a reporter after a full two weeks of occupation was:

"We came down here to take a county and give it back to its constitutional premise, to work with the people so that they can begin to claim their rights themselves and so that they can begin to use them."

In that context, it's no mystery why ALEC and other powerful allies have failed materialize for the younger Bundy. His "getting the miners back to mining" mantra has stripped away ALEC's loftily crafted states rights pretense, and reduced it to nothing more than a land grab to benefit private businesses.

The irony is that if ALEC accomplishes its privatization goal, then small scale local businesses -- ranchers, miners, and loggers alike -- could easily find themselves left out in the cold.

In reality, considerable globalization and consolidation have taken place over recent years in both the logging and the mining industries, so clearly ALEC is not particularly interested in promoting states rights as it applies to small scale, local business owners. In effect, Bundy is supporting ALEC's efforts to give away the store to large, national and multinational corporations.

As for the connection between ALEC's insistence on privatizing federal land despite consolidation in the mining and logging industries, take a look a 2012 article in USA Today about ALEC-funded U.S. Sen. Al Melvin (R-Arizona):

"... With the state in control, the backers say, loggers could return to forests where endangered species halted work decades ago and miners could regain access to ore outside the Grand Canyon.

"In the last 30 years, the radical environmental policies of these federal agencies have ground those industries to a halt — right into the ground — and almost killed them," said state Sen. Al Melvin, a Republican from Tucson, Ariz., and sponsor of the land-takeover measure."

That would be this Al Melvin, as reported by ProgressNow Arizona:
"... Melvin also attended the conference at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, disclosing that ALEC picked up a $2,300 tab for registration, hotel, airfare and meals. ALEC also paid $1,800 for Melvin to attend a 2011 conference in Salt Lake City. “Al Melvin ran for the Legislature as an iconoclastic Tea Party candidate, but it didn’t take him long to ‘go Hollywood,’ if you catch the drift,” [ProgressNow Executive Director Robbie] Sherwood said."

So there's that.

With friends like these ...

Without any significant measure of local leverage to fill in the radio silence from ALEC and its partner legislators, Ammon Bundy has been left to rely on his small core constituency. He has spent the past two weeks calling for others to join, bust so far the occupation still consists almost entirely of people from outside of the local community, and a good number of them have magnified Bundy's numerous blunders with their own misadventures.

Last week, for example, Bundy supporter Kenneth Medenbach was found at a local store in possession of a vehicle from the Fish & Wildlife service, and was promptly arrested. That was clearly an unforced error, as federal authorities have been allowing the invaders to come and go at will in their own vehicles.

As of this week, a second Bundy follower got into trouble when he flipped his own vehicle on an icy road and was cited for driving without a license, a third was revealed to be living on a six-figure income wholly derived from the State of Arizona, which had been paying him and his wife to provide temporary care for a series of foster children, and a fourth has gone online to claim that Child Protective services removed his children from his home.

To make matters worse, a quick search for Kenneth Medenbach on the Intertubes uncovers a very fervent disavowal of Bundy from a small-scale Oregon mine owner, the very kind of person who should be at the core of his intended constituency.

Reportedly, last spring Medenbach took part in an armed rally in support of the Sugar Pine Mine in southern Oregon after the owner requested help during a dispute with the Bureau of Land Management. Apparently, armaments were not what the owner had in mind. He requested the men to go away, and ended up reaching an agreement in court with BLM to stop work until he filed the proper papers.

The whole situation has also drawn attention to the messy details of Ammon Bundy's personal life, including property tax delinquency, an apparent foreclosure and a rather spotty record as a small businessman that makes his cowboy attire look more like a fashion statement than workwear. In addition, his acceptance of a federal small business loan of $530,000 in 2010 does no service to his anti-federal rhetoric, further contributing to the feeling that the whole Malheur episode is the played-out fantasy of a poseur.

The aforementioned Sugar Pine Mine owner now has this to say about the Malheur takeover, in full:

We here at the Sugar Pine Mine have been made aware of the situation unfolding in Harney County, Oregon.

Although we fully support the Hammond family, we DO NOT support the splinter group currently occupying a Federal Government building to further their own agenda - whatever that may be.

Whatever the reason, whatever the motives of this group, this is not the way to deal with the traitors inside the rogue government agency called BLM.

The crimes of the BLM are so vast, so wide-ranging, that the Federal government will have to deal with the criminals who work for them.

We still believe in the LAW.

We still believe in JUSTICE.

We still believe in the CONSTITUTION of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA.

We still believe there are good people, righteous people, who work IN government and FOR the people.

We still believe that we can, and will, win in court.

We hold these values and beliefs dear and we shall never surrender them.

We DO NOT and WILL NOT support any action that has been designed to inflame emotions or incite violence.  We DO NOT and WILL NOT support any action that will render a wife without a husband, nor children without a father.

- The Sugar Pine Folks.

This latest disavowal leaves Bundy with virtually no support from any sector other than a small circle of extremists, leading one to conclude that he is in fact acting on behalf of ALEC, and only ALEC -- whether that organization likes it or not.

Image: An adult American Avocet with four chicks at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, USA via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service by Barbara Wheeler, creative commons license.


Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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