Nel's New Day

January 18, 2016

MLK Day: Bundy Clueless about Civil Disobedience

MLK Day honors a man who tried to makes lives better for poor and black people through civil disobedience while Malheur occupiers use firearms to keep people from using public land. 

If Martin Luther King, Jr. had not been murdered in 1968, he might have turned 87 years of age last Friday. For 30 years, the man who espoused nonviolent civil disobedience has been remembered by a federal day in his honor, but the country has not been solidly behind King’s achievements. Ninety representatives and 22  senators, mostly Republican, still opposed this commemoration, arguing that the nation had been “misled into believing MLK was a great man.” President Ronald Reagan threatened to veto the federal holiday of Martin Luther King Day until Congress passed the bill by a veto-proof majority.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) defended his state’s governor, Evan Mecham, in rescinding the state holiday in 1986. Mecham told a group of black community leaders, “King doesn’t deserve a holiday. You folks don’t need another holiday. What you folks need are jobs.” Arizona started celebrating MLK Day only after NFL threatened to boycott hosting Super Bowl XXVII in 1990.

South Carolina was the last state to recognize the day as a paid holiday for all state employees. Prior to that, Southern states avoided the celebration of MLK Day by forcing employees to choose between this day or one of three Confederate holidays. Even today, three states—Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi—honor both MLK and Robert E. Lee, Confederate general on the third Monday of January.

Eight men who voted against honoring MLK are still serving in Congress: all are Republicans although Richard Shelby was a Democrat when he cast his vote in 1983. Senate: Richard Shelby (AL), Chuck Grassley (IA), John McCain (AZ), and Orrin Hatch (UT). House: Jim Sensenbrenner (WI), Hal Rogers (KY), Jim Scalise (LA), and Johnny Isakson (GA).

This is the first year that the Confederate flag has not flown over the South Carolina state capitol on MLK Day. North Carolina educator and activist Bree Newsome climbed the 30-foot flagpole in front of the statehouse and removed the flag ten days after a white man, showing white supremacy symbols including the Confederate flag on his website, killed nine black people during a prayer service in their church. This tragedy occurred in a state where the governor, Nikki Haley, said last week, “We’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion.” After heated arguments last summer, the state authorized moving the flag to a museum at a cost of over $3 million.

Today, MLK Day, people were allowed to go into national parks for free—except for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in north-central Oregon. That’s because a group of armed white people occupy the refuge, asserting that the public land belongs to “we the people.” Yet their occupation keeps everyone else from being able to use land that belongs to all the people, not just the few who patrol the land with semi-automatic rifles.

Environmentalists are taking on these men. A group of almost 300 people gathered at a protest in Bend, 150 miles southeast of Malheur.  Bitterbrush Broadband and their parent group, Old Broads for Wilderness originally designed to protect the country’s public lands on behalf of the elderly and not-so-able, are joining the Audubon Society and other advocacy groups against the occupation of Malheur. According to the broads, it’s time for people to push back against the hooligans. At their rally, they explained how Malheur had been the poster child for collaboration between locals and the feds and how hypocritical and racist the militants are. A “bro,” or male broad, described how he had been turned away from the refuge by a man with a large assault rifle.

hendersonToday environmental activist Candy Henderson, 64, attended a briefing by Malheur occupiers on her way from Walla Walla to Houston for breast cancer treatment. when occupiers claimed that the U.S. must turn the land back to the people because the government has no right to purchase property, Henderson asked if Alaska should be returned to Russia or if the Louisiana Purchase was to return to France. She said that she wanted the government to keep the refuge and other federal properties:

“I want to go to Mt. Rushmore again. I want to go to the national forests and the national Parklands.”

Bundy

One of the occupiers asked if the people behind Henderson were FBI informants and yelled at a man holding a sign that read, “Ideas, not guns”:

“Do you remember what I said to you about that sign? Don’t bring a butter knife to a gun fight.”

When Newsome came down from the South Carolina flagpole on June 17, 2015, she said, “I’m prepared to be arrested.” That is an act of civil disobedience, a peaceful type of protest used by Henry David Thoreau when he refused to pay his taxes in protest of the Mexican-American War and slavery in 1846 and continued by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his attempt to improve the plight of poor and black people. King was arrested 30 times and peacefully went to jail each time.

In contrast, Malheur occupiers threaten violence to anyone who opposes them and aren’t willing to be imprisoned to highlight what they perceive to be injustices. Instead they are capitalists living off the government and donations to get attention. Occupier spokesman is Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy who owns almost $1 million worth of cattle and grazes them free on public lands in Clark County (NV) because he has refused to pay any fees since 1993.

Bundy wants to “return” the land to the “people,” meaning ranchers although the land was Northern Paiute Indigenous territory called Malheur (“misfortune” or “tragedy” in French) in the 1870s where occupiers now live. Malheur, like much of public land in the United States, is owned by “we the people” because native peoples were forced to leave them and the federal government purchased the land. Ranchers like the Bundys have broad expanses of land because the federal government privatized land after dispossessing indigenous peoples or maintained public land for their use.

The two ranchers of Harney County, imprisoned for arson and illegal activities, have received federal largess. Hammond Ranches received $295,000 in payments between 1995 and 2012 under various conservation, livestock disaster, crop disaster and other federal assistance programs. Other federal bonuses for the Hammonds:

  • A government program that protects ranchers’ and farmers’ livestock from predators, including killing five coyotes for the ranchers between 2009 and 2011.
  • Charges to the ranchers of only $1.35 for a cow and calf per month, a savings of 93 percent for the ranchers for using public rather than private lands.
  • Reimbursement of half the grazing fees to the ranchers for range betterment to benefit the ranchers.
  • A federal drought disaster relief program that provided two insurgent rancher families in Nevada $2.2 million in 2013.
  • The federal “emergency feed program” providing money for feed even with no emergency.

Removal of wild horses from public lands to make way for cattle.

Many people in Harney County suffer from poverty, but these aren’t the people who would get the land if the Bundys were successful. Occupiers want to give the land to other ranchers like these:

Treetop Ranches, controlled by Larry and Marianne Williams who complain about government overreach, owns 6000 cattle impacting 750,000 acres and 100 race horses, one of them finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby. The Williams also made millions in timber.

Roaring Springs Ranch with its manager, Stacy Davies, extols the virtues of cattle grazing and subsidized taxpayer-funded clear cutting of Western juniper. The Sanders family, timber mill barons, purchased the ranch in 1992. Its 1,011,792 acres, three-fourths leased from the government, sustains over 6,200 head of cattle and 150 horses as well as 2,500 acres of meadow hay and 1,200 acres of alfalfa. The owners of six sawmills have an agreement with the federal government that precludes an endangered-species listing while government subsidizes projects, disguised as watersheds and redband trout protections, that maintain high levels of grazing disguised as watersheds and redband trout protections. Taxpayers provided the Sanders with $300,000 over five years starting in 2007 to provide the ranch with fencing. Davies praised this “funding and expertise” as a “fantastic partnership.”

Ranchers have succeeded in exempting agreement information from Records Act requests in Oregon, and the federal Farm Bill prevents anyone from discovering who is receiving government munificence. The Roaring Springs Ranch has its own biologist to ensure that these agreements keep benefitting themselves. The result is use of federal funding to protect wildlife going to wealthy ranchers who destroy wildlife.

Bundy wants these people to get public lands purchased by taxpayers—i.e., “we the people.” He and others claim the occupiers use “civil disobedience,” but their using weapons to keep people off public land mark them as insurrectionists trying to destroy the federal government. Lack of prosecution for the Bundy family and their followers in 2014 after they pulled guns on federal agents and anyone near the Bundy ranch in Nevada has led to a geometric increase of white supremacists who are terrorizing the United States. It’s past time for the government to stop the current insurgency.

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