I saw LaVoy Finnicum today at the Malheur Refuge. He waved both times he saw me, the last as he drove in his pickup truck. I wanted to talk to him but I was rushing from one interview to the next and figured I could catch him later. He said weeks ago he would die before he was arrested. A few hours later he was shot dead.
Ryan Payne also drove by in his pickup truck. He stopped, rolled down his window and chatted. Like the Bundys and others, Payne is adroit at talking to the media. He didn’t want to be pinned down, and threw out platitudes loved by the right, such as, “The government is best that governs the least.”
Payne said he was going to the Grant County, Oregon, meeting Tuesday night to start up a new chapter of the “Committee of Safety.” The first began in neighboring Harney County, Oregon, last month. The Bundys and Payne established it as the first institution in their armed revolt against the local, state and U.S. governments.
Payne claimed all he wanted was a constitutional system of government, but when pushed he could name very few federal agencies that would remain in his vision of the United States. Most would be abolished, even the Departments of Defense and Commerce would be radically changed.
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He said, “Everything from county and municipal and state and federal government is corrupted at some level and people need to reclaim their right to self-governance." What he meant was, every institution needed to be swept away and he and the Bundys were the holy swords of fire that would cleanse the governmental corruption and filth that had led America astray.
Payne and the Bundys engaged in a classic military overreach. They were trying to create a revolution with the Malheur Refuge as their base, and they thought the people of Harney County and then Grant County would be the sea in which they swim. Though over the last week talks with numerous townspeople and officials indicated that while the Bundy militia did have support, it was a tiny minority.
Many townspeople agreed with the causes the Bundys highlighted, the “unjust arrests” of Dwight and Steve Hammond, two ranchers imprisoned for five years for arson on BLM lands, and “federal mismanagement of lands.” But almost no one supported their continued occupation with guns and threats of violence of the Malheur Refuge.
Some may gloat now that the Bundys and their lieutenants are dead or in custody. But the anger remains, an anger they stoked for months with a simple explanation and simple solution: get back to the basics of the Constitution, give back local control, and everything will be right. The anger will reverberate whether as more anti-government violence, more mass shootings, or more violence that is turned inward in communities, in the home, against oneself. And that anger will be snatched up by the Donald Trumps, Ted Cruzes, and other national demagogues.
There is widespread anger over the declining fortunes of the rural West. Nearly everyone in Burns says the town is dying, the good-paying jobs are gone, the schools are closing, the youth are leaving. People in Harney County and in many rural counties in the West want to use the timber, the range, the water, the mineral resources for economic development, and they blame the federal government and environmentalists for strangling their communities.
One spectacle of violence ended tonight, but in the struggling towns of the West other types of violence continue to ferment, and they will erupt sooner or later.
Arun Gupta contributes to The Washington Post, YES! Magazine, In These Times, The Progressive, Telesur, and The Nation. He is author of the forthcoming Bacon as a Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste, from The New Press. Follow him @arunindy or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.