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Tina Casey headshot

Oregon Takeover Update: The Plot Thickens

By Tina Casey

Last month a group of armed thugs kicked off the New Year by invading the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. To many observers, the whole episode has been a bit of a head-scratcher. The out-of-state group claimed they had come to "educate" the local community about their rights, prevent two local ranchers from going to jail for arson, and turn the public preserve over to ranchers, loggers and miners. But as it turned out, pretty much nobody in the local community wanted them around -- not even the two jail-bound fellows.

Well, scratch your head no more. When the Malheur takeover first came up, TriplePundit was among those who detected the long, sticky fingers of the Koch-funded lobbying organization ALEC at work, and now it appears that the smoking gun has emerged.

ALEC and the Koch brothers pulling strings behind the Malheur takeover

Considering the practically zero level of local support for armed thuggery, the only way to make sense of the Malheur takeover is that it was a proxy action on behalf of ALEC, and by extension the Koch brothers, who happen to number ranching, mining and logging among their interests.

The leader of the Malheur takeover was Ammon Bundy, son of the now-notorious Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy. The elder Bundy is known for his affinity for the ALEC "states' rights" lobbying effort, the idea being that federal agencies have no Constitutional authority to manage public land outside of Washington, D.C. The ultimate goal is to have states take control of federal property, easing the way for development, resource extraction and privatization.

For many years the elder Bundy has put the ALEC philosophy into action by refusing to pay fees for his cattle on federal grazing lands, gaining support from like-minded legislators including several in the current crop of Republican presidential candidates. When federal agents finally attempted to enforce legal action, he called on a network of armed thugs to drive them off (it's no secret that ALEC is also behind the liberalization of gun laws). That was two years ago and enforcement seems to be in a holding pattern.

Like his father, the younger Bundy also put the ALEC philosophy into action with the help of a weaponized group of volunteers, only he upped the ante by barricading his armed men inside a working federal facility.

As for the ALEC connection, of course that's a matter of inference and interpretation -- or it was until now. The Salt Lake Tribune has a scoop that ties up the Bundy-ALEC-Koch connection in one tidy package.

Bundy's video used by ALEC group, misspellings and all

Last week, Tribune staff columnist Paul Rolly discussed a video being peddled on Facebook by the ALEC-backed American Lands Council through its former president, Utah state Rep. Kenneth Ivory. The video purports to show reckless and irresponsible controlled burning practices by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

That's significant because, as noted above, Ammon Bundy's initial excuse for invading the refuge was to support two local ranchers. Last fall the two men were re-sentenced on arson charges related to burning brush, and their supporters argue that federal agencies behave far worse when it comes to fire management.

This week, Rolly followed up by asserting that the American Lands Council post was based on a video produced by Ammon Bundy himself in support of the two jail-bound ranchers. (We found two such Youtbue videos uploaded by Bundy: here on Dec. 5 and here on Dec. 31.)

Bundy's videos rely on footage shot by a local rancher who was making the exact opposite point about federal burn practices. Rolly explains:

"The [American Lands Council] video was misleading, since news stories and subsequent BLM reports of the 2012 blaze show it was lightning-caused, fueled by heavy dry underbrush and desperately fought by federal, state and area firefighters.

"Here's the rest of the story: It was a rip-off of a heavily edited propaganda video produced in December by Ammon Bundy."


"Research by Michael Heggen, a Salem, Ore., horse breeder, discloses that an original video was shot by an area rancher named John Witzel, who was armchair-quarterbacking the BLM's battle against the blaze. While Witzel criticized the agency for not acting quickly enough, he didn't accuse the BLM of "burning out ranchers" — as claimed in Bundy's edited version.

"'What you see in the video,' Heggen writes, 'are firefighting efforts — including the use of backfiring, which involves intentionally burning land ahead of a wildfire in order to create a black line devoid of fuel for the wildfire — not thuggery by the yellow-clad stormtroopers of the tyrannical BLM.'"

So, there's that.

The Malheur mess drags on...

As of this writing, only four lone holdouts are still barricaded inside the refuge, despite repeated pleas from Ammon Bundy to give themselves up. Bundy himself is in jail facing a raft of federal charges, along with more than a dozen of his cohorts, having provided prosecutors with ample evidence of their crimes through their own social media as well as the mainstream press. He and most of the others are considered flight risks and have been denied bail, at least until the refuge is cleared.

Earlier this week Bundy issued a somewhat pathetic video plea from jail for "any elected representative" from eight Western states to come and visit or speak out in support of the group. But so far the only out-of-stater planning to stop by is Nevada state Rep. (and gun enthusiast) Michele Fiore. Fiore, though, has made it clear that her visit was planned before Bundy released his plea.

So, why the radio silence?

TriplePundit has followed the whole Malheur mess from the beginning, and one of the first things we noted was that under Bundy's blundering leadership, the Malheur "occupation" was disavowed by other affiliates and sympathizers of the so-called armed "patriot" network in addition to alienating every local stakeholder group.

Bundy has also been abandoned by the same elected officials who once supported his father, with Fiore being one of the few outliers. In this context, Ivory's Facebook video appears to be designed to leverage Bundy in support of the broader goal of federal land privatization.

We're thinking that nobody else has come forward because Bundy's ham-handed land grab stirred up a hornet's nest, shining an unwanted spotlight on the legislators supported by ALEC and the Koch brothers to advance the privatization cause.

On the other hand, Bundy's criminal actions seem to have galvanized conservationists. Hundreds of volunteers signed up to come and clean up the mess at the Malheur refuge once the coast is clear, and hundreds of others have pledged financial assistance through the G.O.H.O.M.E. campaign.

Image by Shane Theall via U.S Fish & Wildlife Service

Tina Casey headshot

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.

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