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Tina Casey headshot

Going Galt At the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge


When you turn a corporate social responsibility lens on the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, the influence of the conservative lobbying organization ALEC comes into sharp focus.

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is a Koch-funded organization. So, it should be no surprise that the occupiers have articulated their mission in the libertarian terms favored by the billionaire Koch brothers, and that their actions mimic the libertarian ideal as expressed by the novelist Ayn Rand in her 1957 work, "Atlas Shrugged"

ALEC is not shy about pushing 10th Amendment "states-rights" legislation, so it's also no surprise that the Republican National Committee has also gotten behind the idea that federal land should be turned over to the private sector. With that in mind, let's see how the occupiers have interpreted the inspirational message of the hero of "Atlas Shrugged," John Galt.

CSR lessons from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Before we get to Galt, here's a brief recap of the Malheur situation. Early this month, a group of heavily armed men took over a building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. The group is headed by Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The elder Bundy gained fame in 2014 by deploying men with guns to fend off federal agents who had come to enforce legal action relating to the rancher's longtime refusal to pay grazing fees on public land.

The elder Bundy has explicitly cited the ALEC "states-rights" argument for justifying what amounts to theft of public resources, but none of that seemed to bother those who spoke out in his defense, including Republican legislators.

In contrast, virtually all of those legislators have condemned the younger Bundy's action to one degree or another, and a CSR analysis of the Malheur takeover reveals why: He failed to articulate a clear message and to take into account the complex network of stakeholder interests in and around the Malheur Refuge, alienating virtually every local stakeholder and quite a few outsiders, too, including the very politicians who supported his father.

Going Galt in Harney County

That brings us up to the latest events, and to John Galt. You can find any number of intensive analyses of the character, but for our purposes the Cliffs Notes version will do:
"He functions rationally, holding an undeviating allegiance to reality that his most honest judgment grasps. Galt's life embodies a proactive eagerness to seek out truth and an inviolable willingness to accept it, no matter its content. He recognizes that man can only achieve success and happiness by revering reality."

Did you spot the massive character flaw? Situational reality is not something that you can pick up and examine like a rock. It consists of fluid moments in time, and everyone in the situation has a different perspective of what's going on, even if they agree with each other.

Acting unilaterally, with full force, on your own version of reality is going to have some unforeseen consequences unless you are the fictional creation of a ideologically-driven author, in which case your powerful intellect enables you to overcome all obstacles and propel the situation in your chosen direction, which, naturally, is the right direction.

That may be a good working model for extremely wealthy and powerful people like the Koch Brothers, but it is clearly not working for Ammon Bundy. Again looking through the CSR lens, it appears that Ammon Bundy has no idea what exactly is going to happen when he acts, because he has no situational control.

Here's the damage in the last few days:

Ammon Bundy sent out a call for supplies and did receive many useful things, but a lot of the attention has been going to his requests for items like tampons and tobacco products, and to the many sex toys he received, because one of his group put it all on YouTube.

Ammon Bundy loudly announced that he was going to tear down a fence on federal land at the request of a rancher, apparently to spark a confrontation with law enforcement. The confrontation never materialized, and the rancher has denied that he ever requested anything. As reported at KTVZ.com, the rancher "says he works with federal officials on land management and his employees have repaired the fence."

Ammon Bundy sent out a call for supporters to come to the area, and promptly had to convince some of them to leave because their "long guns" were sending the wrong message. They left but others have come, and the new influx of armed, geared-up outsiders has added to the existing tensions and reports of harassment, prompting another wave of calls from local residents for the occupiers to leave.

One arrival -- the group's new "resident computer expert" -- is either a fan of Hitler and ISIS, or he is comfortable using Hitler and ISIS to express sarcasm; either way, he hasn't exactly burnished Ammon Bundy's leadership credentials.

Relatedly, Ammon Bundy has also called for a "common law grand jury," drawing even more outsiders into the situation and further undermining his own "states rights" platform. The new arrival, a computer shop owner from Colorado, titled himself "United States at Superior Court Judge," a position that appears to exist only in his own mind.

Declare victory and leave

As of this writing, Ammon Bundy finally appears to have at least partially grasped the reality that local stakeholders really, truly want him to go home. He has organized a town meeting on the evening of Friday, Jan. 15, to describe his exit strategy, to be held at the Memorial Building at the Harney County Fairgrounds.

Or, maybe not. Apparently a request went out to book the hall, prompting this Jan. 13 press release from Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, in full:

"Harney County has a longstanding practice of allowing community groups to use county facilities. Unfortunately, we have come to a place where the county must deny use of those facilities to any group associated with, supportive of or on behalf of the armed militants at the Refuge. The county does not take this action lightly. The Harney County message to the armed militia remains steadfast, 'Please go home to your families.'"

From a CSR perspective, it's hard to imagine any more complete and total failure.

To bring the irony full circle, take another look at the vintage photo at the top of this article. Those militarily-organized men are on their way to Malheur, not as armed occupiers but as a "peacetime army." They are part of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which conducted multiple conservation and improvement projects at the refuge in the 1930s during the Great Depression.

Image (screenshot, cropped): 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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