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Tina Casey headshot

Other Shoe Drops: Malheur 'Occupation' Ends with Arrest of Cliven Bundy


When Ammon Bundy and his gang of armed thugs barricaded themselves inside the Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, last month, the idea was to somehow "turn over" this public property to local ranchers, loggers and miners. Most folks are still trying to figure out exactly how that was supposed to work.

In the meantime, Bundy and more than a dozen of his gang are now cooling their heels in jail, and his father Cliven Bundy has just been arrested in Portland.

The Malheur takeover: A honey trap for Cliven Bundy

To those of you familiar with the Bundys, the Cliven part may still come as something of a surprise.

After all, it has been two years since Cliven, a Nevada rancher, also called upon a gang of armed thugs to stave off federal officers, who had come to enforce a legal action against him. The elder Bundy had been grazing his cattle on public property for years without paying grazing fees, taking a page from the ALEC "states' rights" lobbying agenda by claiming that the federal government had no constitutional authority to manage land outside of Washington, D.C.

Rather than pressing the issue, federal officials backed down. All this time, Cliven has apparently been free to conduct his business, coming and going at will.

The failure to press the enforcement action has frustrated a number of pundits and other observers, but the long delay did give Cliven ample time to dig a bigger hole for himself.

We'll know more when all of the charges are made public, but we're guessing it has something to do with Cliven's recent public statements, to the media and on his own social media, egging on the occupiers and their supporters (the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to incite crime).

That's exactly the "honey trap" tactic that law enforcement took with Ammon and his gang. They made national headlines when they barricaded themselves into the Malheur refuge on Jan. 3, but for weeks law enforcement was practically invisible. Instead of forcing a confrontation, they enabled the occupiers and their supporters to come and go at will. That provided Ammon and his gang with plenty of time to rack up a long list of criminal actions, many conveniently recorded by the mainstream media and on their own social media.

To round out the comparison, Ammon and leading members of his gang were arrested only after they drove off the refuge together, lured by the promise of a sympathetic rally in another county at the invitation of that county's sheriff. They were caught in a roadblock on a remote stretch of highway, far from the assistance of other supporters, and where the risk of harm to bystanders was practically zero.

Similarly, Cliven was arrested only after he left his comfort zone, and traveled from Nevada to Portland, Oregon. As for why he did that, consider that last weekend Ammon issued a somewhat pathetic video plea from his Portland jail, begging elected officials in Western states to visit and show support for him and the other detainees. Apparently nobody wants to get within 100 miles of what is now a very hot potato, but Cliven could not resist the bait. He left his ranch and boarded an airplane, virtually guaranteeing that he would be unarmed upon his arrival in Portland.

Sure enough, the trap was sprung and Cliven Bundy was arrested at Portland International Airport on Wednesday evening, apparently facing the same charges that sons Ammon and Ryan face: interfering with federal officers.

As of this writing, only four holdouts remain at the refuge. Earlier this week, federal agents moved in to contain the four within a small part of the refuge, and by Wednesday evening they had agreed to give themselves up on Thursday morning.

Whether or not that happens, it looks like the Malheur mess is finally winding down to a conclusion that accomplishes none of Ammon Bundy's goals.

The ALEC connection

So, what was that all about?

We brought up the powerful business lobbying group ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) at the beginning of this post because the privatization of federal lands is high on the organization's to-do list. ALEC's strategy is to undermine federal policy by coordinating state-level legislation through key officials. In the case of land policy, the idea is to transfer federal property to the states, as a step toward more intensive resource extraction and private ownership.

Intentional or not, Ammon and Cliven Bundy have been acting out ALEC's agenda while endangering the public, putting themselves at risk of criminal prosecution, and ensnaring others in criminal activity.

Not facing charges for any of the Malheur mess, of course, are the billionaire brothers behind Koch Industries, who are major funders of ALEC and other related organizations. Not surprisingly, the Koch brothers count ranching, logging and mining among their interests.

On the other hand, major U.S. corporations that used to support ALEC have been deserting the organization by the dozens for its increasingly extremist positions. We're guessing that this latest episode will motivate another round of defections, further depriving Koch Industries of the safety-in-numbers shield that has served to protect it from public scrutiny.

The public eye is also taking a closer look at the Koch brothers with the release last month of the meticulously researched new book "Dark Money."

Update: The four remaining holdouts -- Jeff Banta, Sean Anderson, Sandy Anderson and David Fry -- have been taken into FBI custody. 

Photo: white pelicans at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by Barbara Wheeler, via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, flickr.com.

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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