More Than 12 Angry Men

The armed militants in Oregon are fighting a losing battle.

The Armed Militants In Oregon Are Fighting A Losing Battle

A group of around 20 armed militants kicked off the new year by taking over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The militants are being led by Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who is famous for inciting a dangerous standoff with federal officials over cattle grazing fees. The militants are advocating for the transfer of national public lands into state or county control as well as ostensibly defending two ranchers who were incarcerated for arson on national public lands.

Four days after the armed seizure began, not too much has changed. The FBI is reportedly monitoring the situation and the agency has said it wants “to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation.” But the contrast between the Oregon standoff and other recent protests is stark. A peaceful Black Lives Matter protest last month at the Mall Of America last month was met with militarized police and resulted in more than a dozen arrests. By contrast, Bundy and his buddies have enjoyed more patient treatment, even being allowed to hold daily press conferences. The FBI’s measured response to the Oregon standoff is a positive example of how to avoid escalating similar situations that unfortunately hasn’t been enjoyed by all–but that in this case, will hopefully result in the armed gunmen being safely detained and prosecuted under the law.

Unfortunately, the Oregon militants’ anti-government sentiments are not unique. In fact, anti-government extremism is on the rise. A 2012 study from the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy found that the number of violent attacks in the U.S. perpetrated by far-right groups or individuals rose to an average of more than 300 per year between 2001 and 2012, causing 254 deaths, and is reportedly still climbing. And the number of far-right “Patriot” groups grew from 149 in 2008 to 1,274 in 2011.

While the tactics of the armed militants occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge are extreme, their views on public lands are unfortunately more widely held—even in the more mainstream political sphere. Republican Presidential Candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were among the first to criticize the armed seizure in Oregon. Sen. Cruz called for the group to “stand down,” and Sen. Rubio called their actions “lawless.” But despite their rhetoric, both candidates, along with the majority of the GOP Presidential candidates, support efforts to seize or sell America’s public lands.

But the Oregon militants are fighting a losing battle. An overwhelming majority of voters in the West—home to most of our national public lands—oppose transferring control of national public lands to state or county control. And luckily, despite dozens of failed attempts to roll back conservation laws, America’s public lands won several major victories this year, including the creation of six new national monuments, the Paris climate agreement, and the saving of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, America’s best parks program.

BOTTOM LINE: The armed seizure of a wildlife refuge in Oregon is, unfortunately, only the most recent example in the growing trend of anti-government extremism. But in addition to the reckless lawlessness of gunmen seizing a national wildlife refuge, the underlying ideas they claim to be promoting are also dangerous: getting rid of our national public lands would mean that all of us would lose access to the national forests, monuments, and cherished public lands that our proud inheritance.

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