Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A new and more dangerous Sagebrush Rebellion

by Jonathan Thompson

At first, as the armed occupation in Oregon's High Desert unfolded in January, it looked like a widescreen version of the flare-ups we've seen in the West ever since the Sagebrush Rebellion erupted in the 1970s. Recall the so-called "oppressed ranchers," their anti-federal rhetoric and the sight of cowboy-hatted heroes riding to their rescue.

But a closer look, and the episode's violent culmination, reveal a bigger and more sinister problem than your run-of-the-mill local-control scuffle.

For starters, precious few locals or even ranchers were among the couple of dozen occupiers of Oregon's Malheur Wildlife Refuge. The lead occupier, Ammon Bundy, may look the part, but he actually owns a truck-fleet maintenance business in Phoenix. At one of his press conferences, Bundy said that he wasn't just sticking up for "the ranchers, the loggers and the farmers," but also for the "auto industry, the health-care industry and financial advisors." That remark, which ignored the federal largesse those industries receive, revealed the crusade's true scope.

Whereas the Sagebrush Rebellion of old was driven largely by pragmatic, grassroots concerns, today's version is purely ideological –– a nationwide confluence of right-wing and libertarian extremists. Many of them have little interest in grazing allotments, mining laws or the Wilderness Act. It's what these things symbolize that matters: A tyrannical federal government that activists can denounce, defy and perhaps even engage in battle. This movement, which has grown increasingly virulent since President Barack Obama's election, has created a stew of ideologically similar groups, ready to coalesce around each other when necessary.

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