Guns and government: standing down in Oregon

The Occupation at Malheur Wildlife Refuge is falling apart as federal law enforcement picks away at it. On Tuesday afternoon, the FBI and Oregon state police arrested seven Occupiers, and killed another one, LaVoy Finicum, under circumstances that are unclear at this point.

The confrontation took place on Highway 395, some distance from the Occupation, as Occupiers were traveling to a community meeting. I assume they were trying to build outside support for their efforts, an ongoing public relations battle that had, for them, gone quite badly. While the Occupiers hoped that local residents would rally around their efforts to get the Federal government to cede land and control to locals, few of the neighbors were ready to do so–even as they shared some of the Occupiers’ concerns. At town meetings, residents called on the Occupiers to leave.

Counterprotesters had been appearing outside the Wildlife Refuge to demand public access, chanting “Bundys, go home.” Members of the Burns Paiute Tribe announced that the people who were first on the land were Native Americans anyway.

But the Occupiers, fronted by Ammon Bundy, were publicly resolute in their commitment to stay in the fight for local control for the long haul. Finicum, who was accessible and friendly to the press, had announced the cause worth dying for–although it’s hard to think he thought he would have to. (You can see his video blog, One Cowboy’s Stand for Freedom.)

There may have been hundreds of Occupiers at Malheur, but after the arrests, the commitments eroded as demonstrators reassessed the situation. Although the Occupiers expressed confidence in their arms and their preparations to resist the federal government with force, the first crack in their defenses broke their resolve.

Meanwhile, Ammon Bundy, the most visible spokesman, now in custody and speaking through his attorney, urged the Occupiers to leave the Refuge, go home, and hug their families. The fight, he said, had now moved to the courts.

Certainly, Bundy’s fight has now gone indoors, and he’ll be spending most of his time trying to avoid conviction on federal conspiracy charges. I have no doubt that he’ll be able to raise money from supporters for his criminal defense, but an ongoing Occupation is of no help now. Perhaps he is also concerned with the safety of his colleagues, realizing that the first arrests and Finicum’s death, make them all the more vulnerable. Surely, his attorney has let him know that ending the Occupation can only help Bundy demonstrate contrition–or at least rational calculation–in court many months hence.

So, whatever guns and armaments the Occupiers had been able to stockpile in the Refuge were not enough to protect them from the Federal government. I’ve always thought that this argument for gun rights, protecting citizens against government tyranny, was particularly weak–just because the the Feds can always mobilize more and more deadly armaments against any opposition group. In this case, the guns may have made the Feds both more cautious and more committed to end the Occupation.

The arrests punctured an activist fantasy about how change takes place in America.

…..Then again, it was the Feds who stood down in the previous confrontation with Cliven Bundy, who still hasn’t paid the money he owes for grazing fees…..

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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