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Tina Casey headshot

The 'Deep Pockets' Behind the Oregon Takeover


From a corporate social responsibility angle, Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy's motivation for invading the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is clear: He has repeatedly said that he wants to help the local community in eastern Oregon. However, Mr. Bundy seems to have unique notions about who needs what kind of help. And just when you thought he could not find another bucket to step in, well, there he goes again.

The latest misadventure happened on Friday, when Bundy tried to orchestrate an on-camera interview with an FBI negotiator, only to be turned down unceremoniously over the phone. Instead of face-to-face drama, Bundy gave the media nothing but yet another statement of made-up mumbo jumbo about the constitutional authority of county sheriffs that only makes sense if you slept through your 4th grade civics class.

From that non-event, Bundy took the media over to the office of a genuine sheriff, Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward, who also refused to meet with him.

Meanwhile, Harney County officials have announced that another in a series of public information meetings will be held on Monday evening, but this time attendance is strictly limited to community members who have ID to prove their residency, and firearms are prohibited. Both policies are clearly intended to exclude Bundy and his group of miscreants, so now the whole community is on record in refusing to meet with him.

To hammer home the point, local officials agreed to allow Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Think Out Loud" program broadcast and moderate the event, providing community members with a national platform on which to describe exactly how they feel about Bundy and his group.

Despite the fact that nobody wants him around, Bundy stubbornly refuses to leave. So, what's going on here?

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a honey trap

For those of you new to the topic, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is located in Harney County, Oregon. Refuge personnel recently vacated the premises after receiving tips that trouble was brewing, and sure enough, on Jan. 3 a truck-fleet repair company owner from Arizona named Ammon Bundy led a group of heavily-armed men to the site and occupied the buildings.

An armed invasion of federal property necessarily involves federal authorities, but while the FBI has been operating in support of local law officials from the start, Ammon Bundy and his small group of followers are allowed to come and go as they please. Despite the clearly criminal nature of their actions at the refuge, so far only one arrest has been made, when a follower was apprehended in the nearby town of Burns for unauthorized use of a federal vehicle.

Local residents, officials and elected leaders on up to the governor of Oregon are becoming increasingly frustrated with the FBI's strict hands-off policy, but two critical things are happening because of that policy.

First, day after day Ammon Bundy and his initial group of followers have been building up a solid wall of federal charges against themselves. In the past week, for example, Bundy's group has released video of themselves handling Pauite artifacts stored at the refuge, and they've used heavy equipment to carve a new road through an important archaeological site.

Second, and more to the honey-trap point, Ammon Bundy's repeated calls for support are beginning to have some effect, and like-minded souls have begun to turn up in Burns and at the refuge, providing the FBI with a very convenient way to assemble a head count of every whackaloon in the U.S. who is ready and eager to participate in armed sedition, while affording those so inclined with ample opportunities to entangle themselves in Ammon Bundy's growing net of criminal activity -- which, by the way, has been liberally documented by the group's own YouTube videos as well as by the media.

All of this makes it evident that federal agencies have learned a lot from their notorious 2014 armed standoff in Nevada with Ammon Bundy's father, Cliven Bundy. That encounter was relatively brief, and while weapons were involved, the feds seem to have decided that the episode was not egregious enough to build solid public support for their rather extensive case against the rancher's theft of federal property.

The Ammon Bundy situation is altogether different. The local community is solidly against him, his father's supporters have disavowed him, and he is giving the feds plenty of criminal charges to chew on even if they decide not to nail him on any weapons-related offenses. The 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act, for example, can kick in a felony penalty of up to $20,000 and one year in prison for a first offense, and it exposes the offender to civil action by both the federal government and Native American authorities.

A second felony offense, by the way, involves a fine of up to $100,000 and five years in prison.


The deep pockets behind the takeover

That finally brings us to the so-called "deep pockets" behind the takeover. In a media interview posted on YouTube, Ammon Bundy had this to say about support for his actions (go to the one-minute mark to catch it):
"We have a lot of political support, but I'll let them be the one to step up ahead. We also have a lot of deep pockets if you will, financial support that are willing to invest in the people of Harney County, so that they can get very low-interest loans so that they can buy cattle; they can buy equipment; they can [unintelligible but sounds like "buy mules"]; and pay employees. And then we also have support in other ways across the country."

In terms of support from elected politicians, the reaction to Ammon Bundy has ranged from almost total silence to active condemnation, even among leading Republicans who once spoke in favor of his father. That's not exactly a reluctance to "step ahead." That's a nearly bottomless void of support with the exception of Bundy's own narrow sphere of followers.

As for the deep pockets, on a first listen it might appear as if Bundy is referring to wealthy interests that are backing his efforts, but as far as we can make out, he's just promising that a low-interest loan program for local businesses will materialize -- perhaps modeled on the $530,000 loan guarantee that Bundy himself received from the federal Small Business Administration back in 2010.

Aside from ranchers, the intended recipients of this cash infusion would presumably be two other business sectors that are on Bundy's short checklist of people to help, those being miners and loggers.

However, given the trend toward consolidation in the mining and logging industries, it's not evident that any kind of loan program would directly benefit all that many small, local business owners in the area of the Malheur refuge.

Ironically, the local business owners who would most likely benefit directly from a low-interest loan program are probably the ones who Bundy has completely failed to acknowledge over the past three weeks, namely, people who don't own a ranch, a mine or a logging company.

With that in mind, here's a shout-out to the Steens Mountain Brewing Co., a new "nanobrewery" that recently opened in Burns. The super-tiny but prolific brewer seems to be off to a great start, and is looking forward to expanding with the help of an online fundraising campaign, so keep your eyes on Kickstarter for a chance to support -- really support -- the local business community around the Malheur refuge.

If you just can't wait to pitch in, check out the G.O.H.O.M.E. campaign started by two Oregon brothers. Locals and other supporters will continue to add to the pot each day the occupation continues.  All funds go to benefit the Malheur refuge and the local Paiute community, as well as a gun control reform group and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the longstanding civil rights organization that tracks hate groups.

Image: via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

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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