Wednesday, 27 January 2016 00:00
Spencer Sunshine By Spencer Sunshine, Truthout | News Analysis
The FBI and the Oregon State Police have arrested most of the leaders of the three-and-a-half-week armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. At least two militia members were shot during a highway traffic stop that turned into a shoot-out Tuesday night, and one militia leader – Robert “LaVoy” Finicum – was killed.
From its start, the Malheur occupation highlighted the social and political fault lines within the United States, drawing sharply conflicting reactions ranging from mockery to hero worship to criticisms of the capitalist and colonial underpinnings of the militia’s tactics and aims. Reactions to the shoot-out have also revealed even more fault lines, including divisions within the left, as some celebrate the downfall of the far-right-wing occupiers and others question how any progressive could ever celebrate the shooting of a civilian by the police.
As the Malheur occupation fades into history, there are many insights on the US social and political landscape to be distilled both from this episode and from the national conversations it has sparked. One underreported aspect of the affair is what it revealed about the nature of the partial but significant overlaps between neo-Nazis and anti-federal-government activists like the Bundys.
The occupiers had been demanding the abolition of the federal government as we know it, using a set of rationales that were originally derived from racist movements. Some of the occupiers were known to spout anti-Semitic or Islamophobic conspiracy theories, while another denied that slavery existed. And so it should not have surprised anyone that neo-Nazis and other organized racists have applauded the occupation.
Instead of wearing a swastika and burning a cross, they were wrapped in the American flag and waving the Constitution.
Until their arrest, Ammon and Ryan Bundy (sons of deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy) were leaders of the occupation of the refuge’s headquarters outside of Burns, Oregon, which had gone on since January 2. They had two demands: to remove control of the bird sanctuary (previously Indigenous-held land) from the federal government’s hands so that ranchers could use it for private gain without current environmental and other restrictions; and release two members of the Hammond family, local ranchers serving sentences for arson on public land.
Many of the ideas and political forms that Ammon Bundy and his friends used were derived from the 1970s white supremacist group Posse Comitatus. It promoted the formation of militias, developed a fictitious parallel legal world based on an idiosyncratic reading of the US Constitution, and rejected the authority of federal and state governments – claiming that the county sheriff was the highest legitimate elected official. But while Ammon Bundy and the others directly around him had many of the same ideas, they were careful not to use Posse Comitatus’ bigoted language.
This was not true of many of the Bundys’ followers at the refuge. Jon Ritzheimer, who was also arrested Tuesday night, is a famous Islamophobic organizer, known for his vicious rhetoric. Blaine Cooper once wrapped a Koran in bacon and set it on fire. Brand Thornton and David Fry are reported to hold anti-Semitic ideas. Ryan Payne (also arrested on Tuesday) believes that slavery didn’t exist. Rance Harris is said to have neo-Nazi tattoos like “88” – the alphanumeric code for “Heil Hitler.” And together they collectively offended the Burns Paiute Tribe (whose land used to include the refuge), by – among other things – breaking into an area where the tribe’s artifacts are stored.
So flirtatious overtures from neo-Nazis to the Bundy gang should not have surprised anyone.