Before turning to my piece about why it will be such a challenge for anyone involved in the Malheur Occupation to get a fair hearing in what I often refer to as the so-called justice system, there’s something else I’ve got to get off my chest. Although I’ve been buried with pre-existing work, and now the aftermath of LaVoy Finicum’s death, there is something I do have to get off my chest, and it has to do with the hypocrisy and discrimination involved in our Governments’ approach to the Malheur Occupation.
To help put this discussion in context, back in April, 2015 I wrote a guest editorial for the Southern Utah Spectrum asking about the difference between how the BLM was treating Cliven Bundy’s cattle, versus how they were treating and managing their own wild horses. The piece suggested gross hypocrisy in federal policy and approach.
I suggest the same is true regarding the state and federal handling of the occupation at the Malheur Wildlife refuge, that the occupants renamed the Harney County Resource Center.
To help explore this thought process, I want to compare the Malheur occupation with several things, including lengthy annual occupations of “public land” by the “Rainbow Family” involving thousands, even tens of thousands of people. I also want to compare it to forced government occupations, where the federal government commandeers a school, for example, in an armed occupation, to use as a command center; or the armed occupation of a whole community, as in the town of Burns, with hundreds of agents, officers, operatives, and contractors involved, scaring and disrupting the entire community. Or more benignly, when under the guise of wildfire management, they take over even private property to occupy and use as a massive encampment and staging area for watching wildfires burn out of control.
Back to Rainbow Family gatherings. For years the Rainbow Family has been engaging in large annual occupations of federal – BLM and Forest Service Lands. Maybe I live in a cave, but despite this regular occurrence I really knew nothing about the Rainbow Family and their annual gatherings until the Spring of 2014.
On Saturday, May 10, 2014 (I remember the date because the following day was Mothers Day – and because of other reasons I’ll explain later), one of my friends came by and asked me if I wanted to go check out the folks camped out in Corn Creek Canyon, on the Forest Service, just up the creek from our family ranch. Most people in the very conservative little community where I live would have been very uncomfortable in that crowd, but not this friend. He is a modern mountain man, who frequents Mountain Man Rendezvous, and in those places goes by the name “Three Stones.” He is an excellent primitive archer, master woodworker, and he and his family are all renowned fiber (as in wool) artists.
He said he was headed up to check out some “Rainbow Scouts” camped in the canyon, and wanted to know if I wanted to join him. “Rainbow what?” I asked. He tried to explain briefly, and then said, “just get in; it will be easier to show you than to try to explain it.” Boy was he right.
They had a good-sized encampment in the trees along Corn Creek, several miles above the Forest Service line. It was not at all unlike the situation at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. There were multiple vehicles hidden in the trees, including a big self-sufficient bus that would probably make the military jealous. After we finally made it past their own checkpoint, just off the road, we were led to a campfire where eventually we were joined by 20+ people. We visited for a while. Three Stones knew how to speak their language. I mostly just listened and observed. They said that Utah had been chosen for that year’s Rainbow Family Gathering, so they and groups like them were scouting for locations to hold both their “Spring Council,” in June, and the main gathering the first week of July. They told us about the Rainbow Family’s history, activities, and a fair amount about their collective, communal “kitchens.” And they offered us food – good food. In 50 years I had never received as much education about that counter-culture movement as I got that afternoon.
The next morning, on Mothers Day, Sunday, May 11th, we woke up to the results of an unprecedented late spring snow storm that dumped 15” of heavy, wet snow on the area overnight. Because trees in the area were already fully leafed-out, and the snow was so heavy, it had broken down trees all over town. The whole town looked and sounded like a combat zone, as tree branches were cracking, snapping and breaking off. Since none of us “locals” were even very well prepared for what happened, I knew the Rainbow Scouts would be in trouble. After getting our own situations somewhat under control, Three Stones recruited some friends, including me, to go check on the Rainbow folks. And boy were they glad to see us. We brought food, dry firewood, and dry clothes. We also brought chainsaws to help clear the roads, paths and trails in the area so they could get out. It took us the rest of the day to do that. They were thankful for our help.
Although the Rainbow Family had never even been on my radar screen before that weekend, after that I kind of paid attention to what they were up to, and noticed that they ultimately decided to hold their main annual gathering that year near Heber City, Utah.
A Rainbow Family gathering is what you could legitimately call an “occupation.” They come in droves – thousands, even tens of thousands. And from the beginning to the end, they probably physically occupy the spot they choose – on BLM or Forest Service land -- for at least 60 days. They don’t get any permits. They don’t ask anyone’s permission. They just do it. It’s “public” land. They are members of the public, and they believe they have a right to be there. If what they do is anything, it is, at the very least, an occupation.
And make no mistake, I have since heard that federal and state governments don’t like them and what they do, and there is indeed plenty of friction between them. In fact, it is my understanding that there is a special Rainbow Family task force that deploys to whatever locations they choose to hold their gathering each year.
But to my knowledge, no one has ever made the kind of fuss about Rainbow Family gatherings as has been made about the occupation at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Why? To my knowledge, state and federal governments have never felt like it was worth killing anyone over it. If Bundys and company can be charged with “impeding federal officers,” and conspiring to do it, can’t the same be said of the Rainbow Family? What is the difference? Very good question.
The only real difference that I can think of boils down to one word: “guns.” The Rainbow Family are known to be pacifists who loath guns and firearms. Make no mistake, most people consider them to fit the bill of “crazy nutjobs” every bit as much as people like Ammon Bundy and LaVoy Finicum, but apparently they are perceived to be less dangerous in some senses. In places like Utah, however, locals are even more worried about how they will affect the local “morals,” etc. In fact, in most conservative, rural areas in the West, like the area where I live, local populations are probably much more alarmed by the Rainbow Family’s presence, and would feel much more comfortable with, and much less threatened by, the likes of Ammon Bundy, even if they are fully armed, than they do about the Rainbow Family.
Although plenty of long hair, tattoos, body piercings, nudity, contraband, and other such perceived “craziness” abounds in a Rainbow situation, I have no reservation saying that I had no fear or concern for my own personal safety when I visited the Rainbow scout encampment; but neither did I have any fear when I visited the occupied Malheur Wildlife Refuge. And I would like to think that I’m not the only person around who isn’t afraid of their own shadow. In fact, what I observed at the Malheur Refuge was that there were many more Harney County locals coming and going, visiting, and getting to know the occupiers than there had been people in my area visiting the Rainbow Scouts. Although Harney County locals may have been apprehensive at first about visiting the refuge and its occupants, once they were there and saw what was going on, they seemed to lose all fear and concern about safety and security. Under the occupation, at least during the time I was there, there was a steady flow of locals coming to visit, and the place had a very peaceful, comfortable feel to it. On that score, local rancher Rodney Johnson stated on several occasions that when he learned that the schools were going to be closed for a week, he told his wife to take their children on a field trip to the refuge.
And why weren’t the kids in school? The school district announced that the schools would be closed for the whole week out of concern for public safety. The minute I heard that I knew something was fishy. The wildlife refuge was out in the middle of nowhere, at least 30 miles from town. When I learned that the FBI wanted to use the Jr. High School as a command center, it all made sense. Now that is truly an armed occupation. Eventually the entire town of Burns became completely occupied by armed outsiders, state and federal agents, officers, contractors and officers, who have completely taken over the community in what is truly the epitome of an armed occupation.
So in light of all this, aside from the most basic hypocrisy of the whole thing, why was Oregon Governor Kate Brown completely freaking out about what was going on at Malheur? What was the real issue? What was the big problem? Why was she treating this situation differently than a Rainbow Family Gathering that in almost every case is much bigger, more intrusive, and more “impeding” than anything that has happened at Malheur?
Obviously, it is the massive build-up of federal agents in the area that has had many locals more scared and concerned about than anything. And just who is it that this state-sponsored army is supposed to be protecting the locals from? For weeks now the locals have just wanted the whole thing to end so the feds would leave, and they can get back to normal. But there is no question that full responsibility for the over-the-top – and ultimately violent – reaction rests entirely with the government – including the current local government, the federal government, certainly the FBI, and the State of Oregon, with Governor Brown issuing the orders to shoot on sight, sooner rather than later.
But to be fair, the media has also played a role. They were chomping at the bit for a real story. They knew the news cycle only lasts about two weeks, so they hoped to see it all wrapped up in about that amount of time, and they put a lot of pressure on Governor Brown to see if she could help make that happen, and help deliver a real story, so the whole thing would not end up fizzling out with an anti-climactic ending, as happened with, say, Sugar Pine Mine. So, the media seemed to do everything in its power to fan the flames. Plus it was getting really cold and boring hanging out day after day at Malheur, waiting for something to actually happen. So they were pushing for something to happen sooner rather than later. And there is no question, the media shares primary responsibility for the malicious branding that has occurred.
But there is no question, the biggest difference in the whole equation is that word “guns.” Because this group of people at the wildlife refuge were known to be exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms, they were discriminated against six ways from Sunday, and treated very differently – just based on their exercise of a fundamental constitutional right. And in that malicious branding, the media has led the charge. In terms of basic mode of operation, there doesn’t’ really seem to be much actual difference between what Bundys did and what the Rainbow Family does over and over again. Yet because Bundys wear cowboy hats and believe in the Second Amendment, they have been labeled by the mainstream media as armed militants and terrorists. Their defensive sidearms are portrayed as the root of all evil, while the governments’ Bearcats and .50 caliber machine guns are completely ignored. And let’s not forget, that in two of these so-called armed standoffs now, out of thousands of so-called redneck militia, not a single one of them has actually “pulled” a gun on anyone, or had an “accident,” let alone killed anyone, while law enforcement has now apparently fired hundreds of shots for the express purpose of terrorizing Americans.
It used to be that the media was considered the quasi-governmental fourth branch of government – the accountability branch. But for the most part, those days seem to be long since past. Now, the mainstream media is complicit with government to do its bidding, and in this case, the marching orders have been to brand the Malheur occupiers as domestic terrorists, while giving the state-sponsored terrorists a free pass.
And the discrimination that is occurring in that regard reminds me of a case I handled a few years ago. In a future piece I will explain in more detail what happened in that case, but let it suffice to say it involved the law enforcement shooting death of a young Native American man by the name of Brandon Chief, in West Valley City, Utah.
Because law enforcement erroneously believed there might be a .22 rifle in the home where Brandon lived with his parents and family, the responding officers shot first and asked questions later, and ended his life in just a matter of seconds. It was the perfect case to test this theory that people are treated very differently and actively discriminated against by law enforcement when they exercise their most fundamental right to bear arms. Unfortunately, I inherited the case mid-stream, and the attorney who had handled the case before me (and was killed in a car accident), had not thought to include such a claim in the original complaint. When I recognized the possibilities, and asked permission from the court to amend the complaint to assert that claim, my request to amend was denied, and the case was ultimately dismissed on the basis of qualified immunity – a fancy phrase for no accountability.
Having now viewed this whole scenario from several different angles, the hypocrisy of the governments’ overreaction, response and approach to the Malheur occupation is more than obvious. Once again, I want to emphasize that I know for a fact that a peaceful resolution was in the works. Because these particular kooks happened to be wearing cowboy hats and bearing arms, however, instead of rocking ponytails and baring the rest of their bodies, impatient Governor Kate Brown, the FBI, and apparently plenty of others, were more than willing to engage in an armed occupation of their own, and way too eager to resort to violence, with no apparent reservation about spilling the occupants’ blood, sooner rather than later.
In my view their actions are the epitome of governmental hypocrisy and discrimination.