So apparently things are getting a little complicated in Oregon.
To be honest, I find it more than a little disturbing how many people on the left are so frothingly eager for this to be classified in terrorism and end in a bloodbath. Equally disturbing are the number of people on the right who want to see it escalate into armed insurrection.
Most unnerving of all is the seeming inability of either side to understand where their opponents are coming from.
I suppose part of it simply has to do with a radically different set of life experiences. The divide between liberals growing up in cities, and conservatives growing up in the country, and in how those upbringings influence their view of the role of government.
In the view of one side, this is a case of a tyrannical, unelected government agency abusing its powers and systematically seizing control of privately owned land in order to expand its own sphere of influence. In the view of the other, it’s a case of hyper-individualistic scofflaws ignoring regulations designed to protect the natural heritage of the country for all of its citizens.
In my view?
I have no idea.
It’s difficult to side with the government when they’re bringing charges for events that happened over a decade ago, when their case is based on little more than unreliable eyewitness testimony, some of it from minors, and that they elected to file these charges using laws designed to combat terrorism. Moreover, after the original judge in the trial decided that minimum 5-year sentences for grass fires that harmed no humans and did no lasting damage were egregious, appealed to have those harsher sentences reimposed.
However, I also know that while it can be difficult to see regulations change and the historic uses of public lands shift as a result, those changes, in theory, are for the greater good, and not simply for those who may have historically used, or more to the point overused that land. Seeing your way of life altered as a result is no doubt painful, but that doesn’t give you the right to ignore the law.
I don’t trust anyone involved in this case.
Gray fallacies aside, I do suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, tied intricately into the human condition. We like to boil these things down into simple right-versus-wrong, black and white situations, but people are never so simply categorized, and bureaucracies, despite their seemingly inhuman nature, are in fact made up of people.
People get frustrated when things change, when their plans are stymied by others who don’t feel the same way, don’t agree, don’t submit. They take steps, they work within the law and sometimes right up to the edge of it, and from time to time they’ll cross over it if they feel it’s necessary.
With what information I’ve managed to gather on this case? I’d say that the Bureau of Land Management wanted to get rid of the ranches surrounding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and took steps to make life difficult for the ranchers. Not because they hated the ranchers, or anything personal, but because they likely felt that the land was overused and that making ranching uneconomical would be the simplest long term solution to the problem.
Obviously the Hammonds disagreed. And at that point, things do start to get personal. In the immortal words of Yoda, once you start down that path, forever will it dominate your destiny. With that shift in perspective, everything becomes a small part of that greater injustice, at least to you.
It’s not hard for the local officers of a bureaucracy to start taking things personally themselves, of course. For impersonal policies to become targeted vendettas, with each act of defiance throwing more fuel on that fire. And let’s not kid ourselves: Federal agencies have enormous power, and very little in the way of accountability.
So what do I think?
I think the militia members that seized an empty federal building in what is a pretty much symbolic gesture aren’t thinking very clearly, though they certainly have managed to drag the public eye onto what they consider a grave injustice. I think that their rhetoric is unwise, and that it will do little to garner public support for their cause from the people who wouldn’t have been willing to give it already.
It’s playing to the home crowd, preaching to the choir, and that never accomplishes much more than making the person giving the sermon feel good about themselves.
But I remain unsure what to think about the root cause of this incident. I don’t know enough to judge with any certainty which party is in the wrong, and I must accept that in all likelihood I never will. I think that charging the Hammonds with, effectively, terrorism was probably egregious at best and downright vindictive at worst, but I also think that their habit of setting fires on their property without proper coordination with the authorities was dangerously irresponsible. In all likelihood, they probably deserved to serve at least part of the sentences that they have already served.
Going back to jail for years though? Unlikely.
Ultimately I just hope that things don’t escalate, that nobody gets hurt, and that the idiots screeching from the fringes and throwing more logs on the fire get ignored by the rest of the nation.
It’d be a nice change of pace, after all.