What if…?

The day after militia members began their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Washington Post writer Janell Ross asked a question on a lot of minds “Why aren’t we calling the Oregon occupiers ‘terrorists’?”

As of Sunday afternoon, The Washington Post called them “occupiers.” The New York Times opted for “armed activists” and “militia men.” And the Associated Press put the situation this way: “A family previously involved in a showdown with the federal government has occupied a building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and is asking militia members to join them.”

Not one seemed to lean toward terms such as “insurrection,” “revolt,” anti-government “insurgents” or, as some on social media were calling them, “terrorists.” When a group of unknown size and unknown firepower has taken over any federal building with plans and possibly some equipment to aid a years-long occupation — and when its representative tells reporters that they would prefer to avoid violence but are prepared to die — the kind of almost-uniform delicacy and the limits on the language used to describe the people involved becomes noteworthy itself.


White Americans, their activities and ideas seem always to stem from a font of principled and committed individuals. As such, group suspicion and presumed guilt are readily perceived and described as unjust, unreasonable and unethical.


The sometimes-coded but increasingly overt ways that some Americans are presumed guilty and violence-prone while others are assumed to be principled and peaceable unless and until provoked — even when actually armed — is remarkable.

Underlying Ross’ analysis, which sticks with the power of words,  is an implicit question: What actions would the government have taken if the those who have taken over the federal wildlife preserve were black?

Well, the Portland Oregonian, which has been providing some of the most complete coverage of the Malheur occupation, has provided an answer. The Oregonian’s Joseph Rose put together an excellent roundup, with photos (some below), of how authorities have responded to other occupations of federal property.

Rose details a 1979 incident in Georgia. A group of descendents of slaves, in an act of civil disobedience, camped on land where some of their grandparents had been kicked out in 1942.

Feds forcibly removed black occupiers from wildlife refuge in 1979


FBI agents forcibly remove black protesters from a tent during a 1979 camp-in at Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. government had seized the property in 1942 from descendants of former slaves. (Emory University/Lewis H. Beck Center)

Although on the Georgia coast and much smaller, like Malheur, the Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge is a mix of wetlands and farmland whose ownership has been disputed since the 19th century. Unlike Malheur, the Harris Neck “squatters” were unarmed and black, attempting to reclaim refuge land, which was being leased by a white county commissioner to graze his cattle.

1979clip 1979-camp1


Children play at the 1979 camp-in at the Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge on the Georgia coast. The U.S. government seized the property from the descendants of former slaves in 1942. (Emory Univ.)

Malheur protestor arrested after driving federal vehicle into town for more snacks

Malheur protestor arrested after driving federal vehicle into town for more snacks

The farce continues. I hope someone is working on a musical comedy about all of this….


Kenneth Medenbach, 62, of Crescent, Oregon, was arrested Friday shortly after noon at the Safeway in Burns for “unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” reported by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stolen from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.


photos: Thomas Boyd | The Oregonian/OregonLive

Medenbach had been released from custody in Medford on condition that he would not “occupy” any federal property. He’d been convicted of illegally camping on federal property, where he’d  attempted to protect the site with trip-wires and explosives. State police were taking him to Bend to be booked into the Deschutes County jail on a class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Bail was to be set at $10,000.
There has been no explanation for why the driver of a FWS van recovered from the Safeway lot has not been detained.

Medenbach at another USFWS pickup whose agency logo had been obliterated.


The pickup from which Medenback was aprehended had been “rebranded” with new stickers that read “Harney County Resource Center” covering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife logos.


According to the Oregonian’s Les Zaitz, who has been covering the Malheur militia shenanigans,

In 1995, Medenbach was convicted on federal charges for illegally camping on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state. He was ordered held in custody because of evidence that Medenbach poses a risk to the safety of other persons or the community because [he] acknowledges intimidation practices, references ‘Ruby Ridge’ and ‘Waco, Texas,’ and clearly would not follow conditions of release restraining his presence at the scene of the alleged unlawful activity,” according to a federal appellate court ruling upholding his conviction.

The appellate ruling said there was “evidence that Medenbach had attempted to protect his forest campsite with fifty to a hundred pounds of the explosive ammonium sulfate, a pellet gun, and what appeared to be a hand grenade with trip wires. The government also proffered evidence that Medenbach had warned Forest Service officers of potential armed resistance to the federal government’s continued control of the forest lands in question.”

Mendenbach earlier attempted to squat on federal land in southern Oregon. During those court hearings, he claimed the U.S. Constitution gave the federal government authority to own property only for military installations and post offices, The Oregonian’s archives show.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan handled some of the proceedings. Hogan was the judge who in 2012 decided that Harney County ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven should serve lighter sentences than required by law for setting fire to public lands.

Medenbach also has a long history of convictions on charges related to driving documentation and providing false information to law enforcement.

Malheur means misfortune

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was aptly named; since the mid-19th century, the area has been the scene of tragedy, adversity and misfortune—meanings of malheur, the name some trappers applied after disappearance of their cache. I don’t know for sure about the several thousands of years when native Americans roamed, hunted, fished and farmed the area—before they were rounded up and moved away—but I’d bet they had their share of bad times here long before Europeans arrived.

  • The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is part of a complicated history of land in the western U.S. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CC BY-SA)

    The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is part of a complicated history of land in the western U.S. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CC BY-SA)

A short History of US Western land policy

John Freemuth is a professor of public policy and senior fellow at the Cecil Andrus Center for Public Policy, Boise State University.

Misfortune at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon

For the past week or so, I’ve been commenting and posting information on my Facebook page about the ongoing occupation of the national bird sanctuary near Burns, Oregon, a couple hundred miles from my Boise, Idaho, home.

I thought it might be useful, or at least entertaining, to collect those posts here, along with the many links to other information and background about the militia takeover and some of those involved. I have long been interested in the power of agreement, a phrase I picked up from Paul Crockett, the desert sage who rescued several people from the Manson “family” in the late 1960s.

I am fascinated by the ways some among us are able, occasionally, to awaken from what Gurdjieff likened to the early stages of hypnosis, in which he found the vast majority of humans almost all of the time. We are terribly vulnerable and quite susceptible to having others shape what we consider to be the “real” world.

So, here goes the collection of my thoughts, and others’, about the events unfolding not far from here, in reverse chronological order—moving from recent to earlier events and postings.

Wednesday, Jan. 13

Mix Heather, Sage, and Boyle—what a brew:

 Tuesday, Jan. 12

A picture worth a thousand words:

A man dressed as continental army officer walks through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Sunday, near Burns, Ore. A small, armed group has been occupying a remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon to protest federal land use policies. You write the cutline. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

More details of the conspiracy leading up to the armed occupation of the Malheur NWR, followed by many eye-opening comments of both supporters & detractors:

Monday, Jan. 11

More backstory on the Hammonds’ and others’ law-breaking and intimidation of federal employees and their families in Harney County, Oregon. While there are a few minor inaccuracies in this story, it paints a pretty clear picture of a problem that has been festering there for decades. The Bundys are not the first troublemakers to target the area. Most of the article was published in the “Village Voice” in the mid-1990s:

wise words:


According to the Oregonian, Idaho state legislators Judy Boyle, Heather Scott and Sage Dixon were among a half-dozen out-of-state lawmakers who met with the Bundy gang on a “fact-finding mission” Saturday.

Beware the righteous man doing the bidding of his God.

Ammon Bundy tells how the Lord directed him: “I did exactly what he Lord asked me to do….I was to call all these people together….to participate in this wonderful thing that the Lord is about to accomplish.”

…and, oh, so, so sincere….

Ammon Bundy: Dear Friends, If we do not stand we will have nothing to pass on.








Sunday, Jan. 10

Bundys’ anti-federal Mormonism has deep roots—Ammon, Capt. Moroni & modern-day, self-styled “Nephites”:

Capt. Moroni: https://youtu.be/1KHuOpE578M
Ammon: https://youtu.be/9E4Qr0ZkRKg

To folks who might think these kinds of beliefs are harmless, I strongly recommend Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven.”


Jeffrey Lundgren & the Kirtland Temple: Another modern example of Mormon scriptural belief gone awry:

Jeffrey Lundgren – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Friday, Jan. 8

The book of ‘Alma,’ chapters 17 ff, in the ‘Book of Mormon’ may offer clues to Ammon Bundy’s behavior.

Is he living out a convoluted interpretation of the life of his namesake? In Joseph Smith’s story, Ammon goes to the land of Ishmael, where he sees his chance to use the Lord’s power to win the hearts of the Lamanites. Then they would listen to his teachings:

In addition to the church of “latter-day saints” based at Salt Lake City, there are 70-some other Mormon sects. At least one fundamentalist group is based on the Arizona border, at Cedar City, Utah, where Ryan Bundy runs his construction company.

The Bundys’ seditious actions have been decried by the SLC church. To which Mormon Lord is Ammon Bundy listening?

LDS.org illustration

Jon Krakauer, author of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” chimes in on the Bundys:

Thursday, Jan. 7

Laughter is the best medicine for the humorless jailbirds-to-be holed up at an Oregon bird sanctuary.

I like Robert Ehlert’s concluding comment of his editorial in today’s Idaho Statesman:

“The occupiers should take a clue from the tundra swans who visit in late fall and early winter at the refuge. They gather in the various ponds and their voices carry long distances. Though some stay, others know when it is time to move on.”


Wednesday, Jan. 6

Bill Kittredge, who grew up and ranched in southeastern Oregon’s Warner Valley, offers some deep insight into the myth of the West that is fueling much of the anti-government furor we’re seeing:

“…that old attitude from my childhood, the notion that my people live in a separate kingdom where they own it all, secure from the world, is still powerful and troublesome.”


The Ranch Dividians and their Republican supporters/apologists appear to be reading a constitution and listening to a god that don’t exist, except in a closed-off corner of their narrow minds:

Ammon Bundy arrives to address the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Jan. 4, 2016. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

Excellent op-ed by someone who knows Harney County, Oregon, well:

Marty Peterson—Idaho Statesman photo

The Ranch Dividians may meet their match:

Tuesday, Jan. 5

While Idaho militia leaders appear wisely not to be supporting the Ranch Dividians at the Malheur [Misfortune/Bad Luck] Refuge, Idaho politicians may agree with the ends if not the means of the occupation:

Check out this excellent Washington Post column, which was published in the Idaho Statesman today:

Roy Heberger

January 4 at 9:12pm ·

I’ve read most of what coming my way via cyber space about the occupation of the Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Oregon. The main stream media obviously does not “get” goings on in the west, and seems to be unaware of certain aspects of American History.

For example, there is no such thing as a grazing right. Such a “right” simply does not exist. Ranchers may be authorized to graze livestock on public lands via a permit that comes with requirements and restrictions. Such a permit is a privilege to hold, not a right. It never was a right.

Another example is the effort underway to move federal lands — your lands and my lands — “back” to the states. The “back” part is myth. The states never had ownership of those lands, and most human inhabitants of western states do not support transfer of federal lands to the states.

The thing is the occupation of the refuge facilities has little — nothing, actually — to do with the ranching family that got crosswise with federal laws and has a history of same. The Hammonds are NOT what this illegal occupation of federally managed property is all about. I would hope the national media would start to dig a bit deeper to understand the thugs — the pawns — and dig still deeper to determine who the string pullers are.

To to understand more about the ranching family, who has distanced itself from the occupants of the refuge facility, here is a link from the U.S. Attorney of Oregon that I saw as a result of an e-mail message from a friend and past colleague, Carter Niemeyer:

Dean Gunderson: Calling the actions of these yee-hadists (forging a little cow-liphate in central Oregon) – “Occupy Malhuer” is a little offensive.
There’s very little connection between their actions and what the Occupy Movement did. Occupy was inherently non-violent, offering only passive resistance.
Monday, Jan. 4

Friend and former “Idaho Reports” host and colleague Marc Johnson opines on the Occupy Malheur foolishness in Oregon:

Saturday, Jan. 2 — 8:30 p.m. My first post regarding the Malheur occupation:

Is this the well regulated militia for which the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed?

A government official said they apparently brought support trailers with them.