Y’allQueda, YeeHawd, and Climate Change
January 5, 2016
The jokes are coming fast and furious as social media tears up the pathetic, but heavily armed, yahoos occupying federal buildings in Oregon – but they are part of a multi-decade effort by powerful right wing forces to destroy the system of public lands and parks meant to preserve America’s, and the world’s, natural heritage, and deliver them to billionaire developers, coal barons, and oil cartels.
Since the 70s, it has taken the form of phony “grassroots” campaigns known as the “Wise Use” movement, a reaction to the first generation of environmental legislation. In the Reagan era, it became the “sage brush rebellion”, fanned by reactionaries like Interior Secretary James Watt (who famously banned the “unwholesome” Beach Boys from the National Mall, and found the Grand Canyon to be a crashing bore..)
In the current era, those most vulnerable to recruitment to the Land Baron cause are lower middle class white men, who perceive themselves on the losing end of a number of social and economic changes that have displaced them from their assumed primary place in the American Dream. Their anger and resentment, fed by a steady stream of disinformation and invective from Fox News and Talk radio, famously boiled over in the 2014 standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada, in which self described “militia” members, heavily armed, set up road blocks, and pointed weapons at federal officers. The fallout from this event included the murder of two Las Vegas police officers by would-be revolutionaries.
Adding fuel to the fire, coal and fracking barons are more motivated than ever to take over federal lands, as it becomes clear that only by locking up the fossil fuels on those lands can we stand a chance against releasing the carbon deposited there, and irrevocably cooking the planet.
Rancher Ammon Bundy said on Monday that his group of militants would continue its armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge until they were able to “unwind” the government’s ownership of public lands.
Bundy told reporters at a press conference that the group had made a statement by taking over the federal property, but he said that “statements aren’t good enough.”
“We intend to go to work in assisting the people of Harney County in claiming their rights, using their rights as free people,” he announced. “We have a lot of work to be able to unwind the unconstitutional land transactions that have taken place here. We also have a lot of work to unwind the claims that the federal government has upon this land.”
Bundy said that his group would be willing to leave as soon as the federal government decided to “remove its unconstitutional presence here in the county.”
According to the rancher, all federal wildlife refuges were in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“Wildlife refuges do not fall within those enumerated authorized lands,” Bundy insisted.
The Bundy crew is being manipulated by powerful interests who want to privatize public lands. This is not new. In the 1970s: it was called the Sagebrush Rebellion. In the 1990s: the Wise Use Movement. These are efforts by mining, timber, grazing, oil and gas interests to privatize your public lands.
4 Our public lands are crucial for wildlife, purifying water and air, providing recreation and tourist dollars for local economies. Know this: more and more extraction is occurring ON OUR PUBLIC lands. Time to stop this.
5 The false narrative here is that big, bad government types are trying to stir up trouble. In reality: from Ted Cruz to powerful extractive industries: they are desperately seeking ways to give these lands, our lands: back to the states. Then: let the extraction begin with sales of our prized lands to the highest bidder.
This latest action, like the Bundy affair of 2014, is little more than the recycling of old gripes from a small cadre of ranchers and miners. Their main complaint: They don’t want to play by the rules that tens of thousands of other public land ranchers and miners abide by every day of the year, mostly involving minimal fees for the right to use federal lands owned by the public. Cliven Bundy started refusing to pay grazing fees in 1993, and the Hammonds began their “rebellion” against the feds in the early 1990s, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service built a fence to keep their cattle from trespassing on the (now-occupied) Malheur refuge.
Though the militia folks attracted to the Bundy and Hammond tales of woe may not know it, the Sagebrush Rebellion is really a century-long pout over the end of the open and unregulated frontier. Its modern incarnations begin in the 1960s and 1970s, when Congress passed a slew of national environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and the agencies reluctantly began to implement them. By the early 1980s, disgruntled ranchers, who largely ran local and state politics, formed the “wise use” movement. Backed by opportunistic mining and logging companies, they pushed against environmental regulation and for increased resource extraction. For a while they found a sympathetic audience in the Reagan administration, but their dream of wresting the public lands from the feds gained no national traction.
The rebellion flared again in the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt tried to increase grazing and mining fees, brokered a spotted owl plan that ended the Pacific Northwest’s logging spree, and protected tens of millions of acres from development through executive orders. The “rebels,” led by ranchers from New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Nevada, pushed back with a “county supremacy” movement. Dozens of Western county commissions approved cookie-cutter ordinances declaring that the federal government had no authority within their borders, and they enlisted lawyers who thought they could, on constitutional grounds, “take back” the federal lands. The courts repeatedly rejected their arguments.
Now the rural West is going through yet another wave of rebellion, sparked by the anxieties of a recession-scrambled, increasingly multicultural world, one that has left places like eastern Oregon grasping for a future. The rhetoric the Bundys are serving up this week sounds mighty enticing yet all-too-familiar.
In a video posted on OregonLive, Ammon Bundy says the refuge takeover, which could last “several years,” aims to get “loggers back to logging, ranchers back to ranching and miners back to mining. At one time (Harney County, Oregon) was the wealthiest county in the state; today it is one of the poorest,” he says. “We’re going to be reversing this in just a few years by freeing up these lands and resources … by getting them back to where they belong.”
A coalition of more than 400 groups have signed a letter to President Obama they will send on Tuesday urging him to stop the sale of new oil and gas drilling leases on public land to combat climate change. The signees include indigenous groups, labor unions, scientists, religious leaders and environmental organizations.
“Over the past decade, the burning of fossil fuels from federal leasing has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions and nearly 4 percent of global emissions,” the letter states. “Despite this pollution and the looming climate threat, your administration continues to lease publicly owned fossil fuels, endangering the health and welfare of communities and the planet.”
The campaign comes four days after the Obama administration announced it would open nearly 40 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to new oil and gas drilling leases, and one month after it approved a permit for Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic.
The letter campaign was organized by the Rainforest Action Network, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Greenpeace and WildEarth Guardians. Signatories will also gather in front of the White House on Tuesday morning in support.
“This egregious drilling, fracking and mining is devastating the health of communities and endangering the stability of our climate,” Lindsey Allen, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, said in a statement. “We are simply asking President Obama to stop selling off our national forests, oceans and sacred heritage sites for pennies on the dollar and slow the effects of climate change by stopping fossil fuel leasing on public lands.”