This Land Was Your Land, But Now It’s Our Land

Ammon Bundy (photo by Gage Skidmore)

When I heard the news that an armed militia had taken over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon and was demanding that the government turn the public land over to private hands, I wasn’t surprised. With anti-government sentiment on the extreme right at a disturbing high and Tea Party presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio proudly proclaiming how they would cut down the federal government if elected, right-wing protests of this nature seem inevitable, if not long overdue. For decades, pundits on Fox News have been shouting that the private sector is more efficient and that public programs and property would be better off under their control. Now this rhetoric has resulted in dangerous action that local residents are afraid will escalate into violence.

While this “protest” might seem comical—militia members told reporters that they were planning to remain at the refuge indefinitely but couldn’t seem to plan far enough ahead to bring snacks—it betrays a worrisome trend in American culture in which collective property, and by extension the collective good, is disregarded in favor of private profit. Ammon Bundy, leader of the militia group, wants 300 square miles of the wildlife refuge to be opened up to ranching, mining, and logging. Environmentalists, however, are defending the public preservation of the refuge so that the land can be a safe haven for migrating species of birds as well as other plants and animals whose ecosystems would be damaged by these human activities. Though Ammon Bundy (son of Cliven Bundy, who’s pulled similar stunts to spite the government) claims he’s acting on behalf of local ranchers, federal programs already permit ranchers to graze on public land. Ostensibly, Ammon Bundy was outraged when two Oregon ranchers, Steven and Dwight Hammond were convicted of arson after a fire they lit on their property spread to the refuge. However, Ammon Bundy is from Arizona, not Oregon, and Oregon ranchers, including the Hammond family, told CBS News that they don’t want the militia there. Despite the community decrying his actions, as of this writing Bundy and his collaborators show no signs of leaving.

At least some of Ammon Bundy’s intentions can be explained by his religious beliefs. He claims his actions were inspired by prayer, during which he discovered that “the Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds.” He also defended his occupation by saying, “I did exactly what the Lord asked me to do.” In appealing to a higher power to justify his actions and dismiss the federal government, Bundy’s hardly alone. The Christian right in the United States has a considerable history of promoting privatization in the name of God. The New York Daily News notes that the Mormon Church has a history of openly defying the government, sometimes even violently, though the Church of the Latter Day Saints has officially denounced Bundy.

Despite the claims of Bundy and his ilk, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is our land. That is, it’s public land that has been set aside by the federal government for the use and enjoyment of everyone in the United States. Our National Wildlife Refuge system protects thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are endangered. The land may be used by hunters, fishers, photographers, hikers, and anyone else who wishes to appreciate our nation’s natural beauty. Many humanists care deeply about the environment, and our system of wildlife refuges is one way in which we can preserve our country’s land. The national wildlife service provides educational resources for conservation and sustainability that are also invaluable to our country as a whole. We must not let bullies like the Bundys turn our land into their land, and we must be vigilant against those on the religious right who would take more than just 300 square miles from the public purely for profit.

  • If YallQueda wants to “take the land back,” they should do it right and give it back to the Native Americans.

    • Humphrey Reader

      Nice one!

      • willknutsen

        Give me strength! it is NOT a “nice one! It is too simplistic. We atheists are supposed be more clever than that! You gonna give what ever you call home back to the “Native Americans”? They have homes, and more land than you and i ever will have. Oh, and there is no such thing as “sacred land” (especially not that constantly warring place, “The Holy land”!) Nor are there “spirits” to be protected. .American Indians who believe in that nonsense may be less violent than, say, Muslim or Christian fanatics (who also believe in “sacred land”, and “spirits”) but they are still superstitious and, when you think about it, arrogant: “OUR ancestors”, “OUR sacred lands”. In other words, not like the rest of you low-life,”Non-native Americans”. Yeah, right, like they didn’t war against each other before Europeans and Chines arrived. The Injuns are just like the rest of us. Well, not me: I am superior…and don’t you forget it!
        Ah, cheers, peace and love.

        • Bob Golden


        • True, no piece of geography is more sacred than another. However, given white America’s history of colonizing other people’s land in the name of God, I think it’s important to talk about these things. We may not be able to give everything back, but at least we can learn how to stop colonizing stuff.

          Which I don’t have time to get into now because I’m still learning.

    • willknutsen

      Oh, yeah, like “native Americans” are better than other humans. That’s racist! You think the Norwegians should give Norway back to the Lapps (okay, the “Sami”)? What part of “conquered” don’t you get?. You gonna give your home back to the “Native Americans?” You gonna give Manhattan back to, oh, wait:the Indians who sold Manhattan to the Dutch didn’t own it, another tribe did..thus cheating both that tribe and the Dutch..but in any case, no one could find the deed! Or a Native American word or concept meaning “own the land”! So the British gave the Dutch an offer they couldn’t refuse (war ships pointing their canons), so the Brits ended up owning Manhattan. Still no deed found. But then the colonists fought a revolution against the British royals (who hired as troops, German mercenaries…who were peasants and starving back in their serfdom-like land), and so British banks ended up owning AMERICA. (don’t ask!)..but a few Americans took over the banks…by pointing big guns at them…and then the Founders of America, after they put their guns back in locked closets, WROTE a big bloody deed, and that is all there is to it, mister! Oh, wrong… now the Rockefellers and Company own Manhattan. Considering all that history, The Native Americans should be eternally grateful that that folks who could so callously do all that there above didn’t exterminate them! Some did want to do that…I think one of them was a ancestor of the Bundys. I’ll check my sources. Cheers!

    • Bob Golden

      Which native americans? 600 yrs ogo? Or the ones they stole it from 900 years ago? Or have you ever spent 13 seconds thinking about how embarrassingly stupid it is trying to give something back to “native americans” who are dead.

      • You could have easily presented facts that challenge my previously held assumptions instead of saying I’m stupid.

        • Bob Golden

          You are right. Im sorry. I get a visceral reaction to the generalizations about “native americans” which somehow lumps 11,000 years of tribal, warring history ito a Dances With Wolves” fairy tale the misinforms millions ”

  • johndowdle

    Another approach might be to insist that Bundy and his fellow band of crackpots stay on as small a piece of that land as is possible on the grounds that while they are there, everyone will know they are there and not making mischief anywhere else. It might be a useful use of public land to keep these idiots contained there indefinitely until eventually they all die there and are buried there.
    If I were a US citizen, I would insist to Bundy that he and all his fellow numbskulls MUST stay on that land and not leave it – ever – for evermore. Let’s see how he – and they – like that!

  • Gordon Hansen

    God told me that you’re crazy and need to go back to your homes!

    • willknutsen

      You keep my mother out of this! She actually said to you. “Tell those crackers they are bloody nuts. And that they should get a good butt tanning”!

  • Arjen Bootsma

    If your imaginary friend “Larry” talks to you, you’re certifiable. However, if your imaginary friend “God” talks to you, you expect that everyone takes you seriously, and quite a few people actually would take you very seriously.

    I’d say, whichever imaginary friend talks to you, you’re delusional and should be treated (in the medical sense) as such.

    • willknutsen

      “God” told many a killer to kill, apparently, or so said the killers. They got locked up. Regarding these lunatics in Oregon (and elsewhere): what is the government waiting for? For people to get killed? THEN they will lock up the lunatics? I, however, do admire the government’s restraint…oh, wait isn’t there an election coming up…or so I have heard. Ii is ALL so confusing!

      • Tom S

        Even if it weren’t an election year, the smart thing to do would be to surround them so nobody goes in or out, turn off electricity & water, wait for them to give up, then take them into custody. Going in with guns blazing is just what they want, and gives more fuel to their argument that the government is tyrannical. Of course, just letting them sit there begging for supplies and complaining about a totalitarian government makes them look pretty ridiculous, too.

  • The Gorn

    He is only anti-government when it suits the situation. Apparently he had no trouble taking a government small business loan that cost taxpayers over $20,000

    • Martha Medrano

      He took a small business loan for $530,000. Anti-government only when it suits him!

    • willknutsen

      And the some of the biggest receivers of government handouts are ranchers and farmers. I think Wall Street (Republicans mostly) take first place. Don’t quote me.

  • kirtanloorii

    These guys are so desperate to become martyrs. I’m starting to think we should just do it already.

  • William Fripp

    The “rhetoric” of Fox news has NOTHING to do with the “militia” nonsense in Oregon…

    …the couple of dozen people in the state park have NOTHING to do with the Hammonds’ dispute…

    …the only difference between the Oregon circus and the equally ridiculous Occupy movement is that some people, mostly leftists, pretended to support Occupy, while the Oregon “protesters” are, what did you call them?


    It’s professional agitators HIJACKING other people’s principles and USURPING causes not their own to further some agenda they think we’re too stupid to figure out…

    …but hey, this IS America, right? 1st Amendment, all that jazz?


    • Grey Star

      Wrong. Almost all of that is wrong. You don’t understand the Occupy movement in the slightest, nor did they take over Federal land with guns and demand that it be given to . . . who exactly? Themselves, I guess. Occupy was protesting bailouts for the super rich while the poor get the shaft. The Bundys are comical. They see everything as theirs and the government of the people as tyrants. Occupy protests the Oligarchy. These clowns protest any government that doesn’t subscribe to their limited understanding of the Constitution. And nobody from Occupy threatened to shoot the law enforcement people who might come to get them. There’s a significant difference between civil disobedience and armed insurrection. Equating the two is ridiculous.

      • Barb Logan

        Well put..

      • Arjen Bootsma

        The Bundys aren’t comical, they’re terrorists.

    • Barb Logan

      Did you say something relevant in there? I must have missed it.

  • Thin-ice

    Wrong. You stopped prematurely on the history of that land. It’s not “our” land. If you’re going by the principle of first inhabitants, then the Payute tribe are the owners. But of course, white Protestants stole it from the Payute, and now white Mormons are trying to steal it from the white Protestants.

    • Barb Logan

      It’s “Paiute”

      • Thin-ice

        They’re just alternate English phonetic spellings. One is not more correct than the other. Look at older maps of Native American territory. (You do know that Native Americans did not use our alphabet, pre-European invasion, yes?)

    • willknutsen

      Paiutes were immigrants from Asia. They should go home. The Coyotes owned the land…no, wait……

    • Joe Frisco

      Is the land not owned by the Lamanites?

  • Pablito

    These false-prophet-ish, ‘I talked to god and he told me to…’ things never turn out too well.

    • jennyintexas

      President Bush being told by god to invade Iraq is a perfect example!!

    • Arjen Bootsma

      I can’t help but notice that every time somebody claims that “god told me ….” it usually perfectly aligns with their most selfish interests.

  • Amber Lee

    Bundys, “We are being opposed by the tyrannical government because they won’t just give us public lands to use for our private profits!!!”

    Government, “Well, actually we forcibly took those lands from the Native Americans FOR EVERYONE’S profit and we are holding them as the managers. We lease the land to you ranchers for well below market value so you can make the largest profit possible. We take care of the cost of the upkeep of those lands and the buildings on them… all for your and everyone else’s enjoyment.”

    Seriously, just shut off the damned power, water, heat, and WiFi to that place, block the roads, don’t let anyone in or out, and they will ‘decamp’ VERY quickly. You can then charge them with child neglect and endangerment as well as with every single law they have broken for their ‘protest’. These folks are nothing more than terrorists of another color.

    • mdhome

      Absolutely right Amber

    • Debi Biderman

      Not to mention subsidies etc.

    • willknutsen

      Stop being realistic and logical. You will scare people!

      • Eric Veltri

        Amber is absolutely right and if it scares people well; they should be scared.

    • Tom S

      That’s what I say, turn off the power & water to the building (since the federal government is under no obligation to supply electricity & water to traitors who take over government property by force) and don’t let any supplies in, then wait for their “we’ll be here for years if we have to” turn into, “Well, we’ll give it until next Thursday.”

  • Franki Tollefson

    When you talk to god it’s prayer, when god talks to you, it’s psychosis.

    • Arjen Bootsma

      when “god” talks to you, it’s indeed psychosis, but when you talk to “god”, it’s not prayer, it’s delusional.

      • willknutsen

        And why, if one believed a god was “all-knowing”, would one think he should tell this god what to do, or ask “it” to do something? That isn’t just insane, it’s just plain arrogant. Cheers!

        • Tom S

          Because apparently the all-powerful creator of the universe can’t do anything unless you ask it to. And even then apparently it can’t.

  • Humphrey Reader

    This does not surprise me. I hate to remind you of this, but your country is the land of Ayn Rand, to whose followers the concept of anything in public ownership is total anathema (and immoral to boot). Have a look at such as ‘The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution’ and her other non-fiction which I actually find a far easier read than the novels which I frankly found a bit turgid. I’m afraid it’s a world-view that’s gaining strength here in the UK as well – our National Health Service is already looking worryingly like an anachronism left over from the Age of Wicked Welfare.

    • willknutsen

      Actually, American is a big country and cannot be labeled as “Ayn Randland”, “godland”, or any other label. Ayn Rand was a hypocrite. But when I was young I thought she was great. But then I grew up.

      • Humphrey Reader

        Yes, absolutely fair comment, point taken.

        I thought she was wonderful at one time, too. Well, actually, not quite – I always had uneasily in the back of my mind the impression that she had what you might call a ‘steel and crystal’ view of human nature way out of touch with reality (always made me think of skyscrapers). Incidentally, her chapter on ‘Apollo and Dionysus’ in ‘The New Left – The Anti-Industrial Revolution’ p57 ancient Signet edition opens with a paean to the Apollo 11 launch and to the spirit of rationalism and application of human reason which inspired it and made it possible. She then compares this with anarchy at Woodstock. So far so good perhaps, she may have had a point unless there’s anyone out there who was at Woodstock and can show that the lady got it wrong.

        However, as far as I’m aware NASA is also one of those immoral publicly-funded institutions, so the Moon landings are surely a triumph for large-scale, publicly-funded enterprise (in this case, science) – precisely the sort of thing she loathes. An absolutely whopping contradiction here, surely, of which she appears entirely unaware!

        Oh, and in the same chapter ‘Kant was the first hippie in history’ (p65). I’ve read ‘A Critique of Pure Reason’, admittedly a while ago. One really cannot dismiss Immanuel Kant like that. I will admit that I can see where she came from – some behaviour at Woodstock maybe did leave a lot to be desired – but I’m a good deal less certain about her remedy than I would have been at one time.

        I’d like to know by the way how those described in the ‘Humanist’ article combine Ayn Rand with religious belief – she detested Christianity (because seen as socialist as well as irrational I think) and indeed all religion, and said so many times.

        Incidentally, I believe Ayn Rand now turns up on A Level (16-18 year olds) philosophy courses in the UK. She seems to be going mainstream.

      • Eric Veltri

        Actually, Will, it is a big country. Just the same however, it is looking more like Ayn Randland each and every day. This thanks to our greedy corporate overlords who control the media and the government.

        • willknutsen

          Well, they cannot control thinking people. Cheers!.

  • starmom

    I love that the Paiute Tribe has spoken out on this issue. Kinda dilutes the occupiers’ message.
    I’ve been to the Refuge many times – gorgeous place!

    • Tom S

      Not only that, but the locals and even the convicted ranchers who went back to prison don’t want them there. They did say that if the locals didn’t want their “help” they would leave, but I don’t see them packing up. You don’t think they’re just doing all this for their own self-aggrandizement, do you?

      • starmom

        A bit, maybe.

  • KCP6030

    “Steven and Dwight Hammond were convinced of arson”

    Actually, I think they were “convicted”.

    • Tom S

      I don’t know, I’m convinced they were convicted.

  • Shannon Massman

    I’m confused. This character doesn’t think the land should be public? Or thinks the land should be public, where “public” means a specific rancher should have rights to set fire to it to suit their needs?

    • Tom S

      He, like most right-wing nutjobs (and probably “sovereign citizens”) think that the federal government shouldn’t have hardly any power at all and since this standoff started they’ve been arguing that the federal government has no right to own any land at all, save for a few distinctions set out in the Constitution. Unfortunately, a weak central government didn’t work well for the Confederacy, so I don’t think we should do it now, either.

  • TheOccasionalAtheist

    What religion has done to us lately.

  • Bob Golden

    You are an idiot. Get a job and go make something with your own hands. No doubt you own and produce nothing. It’s all “yours” because you decided you were “in the collective”.

  • April Bri

    It is so bizarre how these people keep using GOD as an excuse to be complete ass holes. I guess their parents never taught them that they are responsible for their own actions and they will have consequences for them. Now will some one please give these clowns their consequences.

  • Eric Veltri

    I think Ms. Miller may have, perhaps inadvertently, answered Willknudsons question, “what’s the government waiting for”. Both Bundys, father and son, are, apparently successfully, defying the government to enforce the law. While I do not want a Waco style bloodbath, I would like to see the government enforce the law. It seems to me that a government agent could peaceably serve written notice to each of the ‘occupiers’ that they have violated federal law and are ordered to appear in court on a certain date and answer to those charges. This action would establish publicly and officially that the law was violated and those individuals would have to answer to the charges.
    That this hasn’t happened indicates to me a possible plan by right-wing elements to pave the way for increased privatisation of public lands.

  • Tom S

    I love how they planned to be there for years and then put out a plea for snacks & blankets… these idiots couldn’t organize a girls’ slumber party.