If terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims, then the armed men who have occupied a building in the Malheur Wildlife Reserve in Oregon are, by definition, terrorists.
Led by Ammon Bundy, the 40-year-old son of anti-government Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the armed men took over the building after accusing federal officials of unfairly punishing Dwight and Steven Hammond, ranchers who were convicted of arson and sentenced to prison after setting a fire that burned 130 acres in 2001.
But Bundy and his followers do not represent the Hammonds. They represent themselves, and in my view, any peace-loving American who believes in the rule of law should repudiate Bundy’s tactics. Because if Islamic extremists who brandish guns in pursuit of political gain are labeled terrorists, then right wing extremists who do the same must fall under the same definition.
If we allow men like Bundy to adopt the language of patriotism to rationalize utter thuggery, we have abdicated our responsibility as Americans. If we allow such men to use bully tactics to usurp the rule of law, we are inviting them to be more aggressive. If we fail to call a spade a spade, we are allowing terrorism to win the day, simply because it changed its clothes and dressed itself as a rancher.
It’s easy to get lost in the soaring rhetoric of freedom and justice when it comes from someone who claims to represent the American people. Bundy used such language to explain why he and his followers had taken over the facility in Harney County, Ore.
When a reporter asked what their goals were in doing so, and when they would be willing to leave the facility, Bundy waxed poetic.
“When the people of Harney County can use the land and resources without being put in fear, and without being restricted to the point that it puts them out of business,” he said. “And once they can use these lands as free men then we will have accomplished what we’ve come to accomplish and there will be no need for us to be here. We’ll go back to our families and back to our occupations and back to our homes.”
I struggle to understand what any of that has to do with the fact that the Hammonds committed arson, illegally burning 130 acres in what the government said was an attempt by the Hammonds to cover up their poaching. I also struggle to understand why Bundy is positioning himself as a representative of the people of Harney County when he openly admits “it might take a little bit for people to realize that.”
More than anything, I am confused by the fact that Bundy claims the people of Harney County are not free men.
Bundy, his followers, and the people of Harney County are free in ways that most people in this world are not. They are free to demand a redress of grievances from their government. They are free to speak openly about what they believe to be the shortcomings of their society. They are free to use the media to carry their message to the masses. They are free to bear arms in a country where guns are available to every law-abiding citizen.
They are free in ways that the people of Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Russia, and Iran, are not. Free to claim that the government is engaged in unconstitutional land controls. Free to make claims that may or may not be true, in pursuit of political gain.
In more places than we care to admit, such actions would have already cost Bundy and his followers their lives. In America, it cost them nothing.
That’s why it’s clear that Bundy and his armed band aren’t fighting for freedom. They are fighting to advance a political agenda.
In America, they are free to do so. But when they take up arms, illegally occupy a government building, and threaten violence if they are confronted by law enforcement, they are engaging in terrorism.
Until we’re ready to admit that, the Bundys of the world will continue to hold America hostage.
We should never allow them to do so unchecked.
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