Balloon Juice Bunker Standoff Update Day 3: What Do They Want?

In the comment threads to the posts about the standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge there has been both speculation about, and references to, what exactly is driving Ammon Bundy and his fellow travelers. The answers to this are neither simple, nor are they necessarily straightforward and easy to follow. Charles Pierce at Esquire, as several have done in the comments, has articulated that Bundy and his followers are seditionists. I think this understanding of what they are doing makes a lot of sense, but I also think they are insurrectionists. The reason for this is that they clearly believe they are rebelling against not just governmental power, but tyrannical and despotic government power. That this, as Mr. Pierce has observed, is an irrational understanding of the United States in 2015, and the institutional problems that it faces, doesn’t really matter. They believe it and it is the basis of the definitions neutralizing of acceptable norms and favorable to their current actions.

So what exactly do they want? If you watched Ammon Bundy’s statement of his and his followers intentions, you might have come away confused. And if you watched his 19 minute statement from last Thursday, or John Ritzheimer’s from Saturday, you might be even more perplexed. The reason for this is that the ideology or theology or doctrine that is driving this is a bricolage – an ideational construct from a diverse set of ideas, theologies, dogmas, and beliefs. Not all of which actually compliment each other or fit and play well together. For those that accept them, they have a functional coherence. For those that do not subscribe to them, they are confusing, appear irrational, and seem to be contradictory, incoherent, and make little sense.

In short Ammon Bundy and his fellow travelers want the Constitution upheld, starting in Harney County, Oregon. They also want to reclaim the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and give it back to the people. Also, they intend to be non-violent until they are forced to be violent. Most of us hear or read this and think: huh? The Constitution has not been suspended by the Harney County Commission. The Malheur Wildlife Refuge already belongs to the people and is held in trust and administered for them by the Department of the Interior. And if your intention is to peaceably assemble to seek a redress of your grievances, why have you broken into and are unlawfully squatting in a Federal building where you’ve established sniper’s nests and are stating that you’ll become violent (non-peaceful) if your actions are challenged in a manner that you do not like?

The real issue here is that Ammon Bundy, as well as his father (as evidenced in his orations during the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014), and the others involved with taking the Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters building have learned, and are now acting on, a completely alternative understanding of US history, the Constitution, their particular religion’s belief, etc. This is a combination of epistemic closure originating from alternative, and factually inaccurate*, source material combined with an equally irrational paranoia that powerful, sometimes secretive, forces are arrayed against them and trying to destroy their way of life. It is all cemented by a pervasive belief that everyone and everything that is not part of their ideological/theological/doctrinal system is either purposefully trying to deceive them or being manipulated and fooled into doing it unwittingly. This is why they first appealed to the Harney County Sheriff, because they believe he is the highest level of legitimate Constitutional government in America**, and once he rebuffed them, they immediately denounced him as somehow being coopted by their enemies or an outright traitor.

Some of Bundy’s and his followers ideas appear to come from the extremes and fringes of Mormon theology. This includes the references to Captain Moroni, who according to Latter Day Saints’ scripture led a successful uprising against a despotic king. It also includes a healthy dose of good old American millenarianism and eschatology and the belief that the Deity is blessing one’s endeavors because one believes them to be righteous. This has been with us since the Revolution when many of the Founders framed the coming fight with King George in apocalyptic terms and the revolutionaries as godly, righteous, and blessed. There also appear to be concepts carried forward from the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Wise Use movement of the 1980s. From what’s been presented, their beliefs also include typical and traditional tropes from the American extreme right. These include ideas about the role of government, civil society, and race relations incorporated from the John Birch Society; the Posse Comitatus movement; Christian Reconstructionism/Dominionism; Charismatic Christianity (which was also a baseline for Christian Identity); long standing anti-tax beliefs; and an extremely absolutist understanding of the 2nd Amendment combined with minimalist interpretations of the 1st and 10th Amendment; as well as the Supremacy Clause. Finally, a number of concepts that were in the Confederate Constitution, or in one case the lack of a clause about promoting the general welfare in the Confederate Constitution, seem to also be in play here.

It would be easy to dismiss all of this externally incoherent thought except that it is the social behavioral driver of an increasing number of disturbing incidents that the US seems unprepared to address. What we are witnessing is the result of social learning. These ideas and beliefs are transmitted through the primary associations of family, religion, and education – sometimes religious and sometimes home schooling. Learning that is both formal and informal. They function as the definitions favorable, unfavorable, and neutralizing that enable, promote, or retard behavior. Definitions favorable tell us what acceptable behaviors are. Definitions unfavorable retard unacceptable behaviors. Definitions neutralizing temporarily override definitions unfavorable, based on specific contexts, allowing normally unacceptable, illegal, illicit, deviant, and/or delinquent behavior to occur. These definitions are then socially reinforced within the group, movement, or society when they see other members rewarded or punished for their behavior. This leads to imitation – recreating the behaviors that the group or movement or society seems to reward. It is also almost impossible to counter or disrupt social learning from the outside without an overwhelming intervening event. This is why, 150 years after the end of the Great Rebellion (now doing business as the Civil War), white supremacy and racism still flourish in the US. It is very, very hard to disrupt and change (reconstruct) ideational systems and the cultures that they reside within. The Egyptians believed they had deradicalized the Muslim Brothers while they were incarcerated. Egypt’s reality over the last three years tells us this was not a successful endeavor.***

So what does all this mean for what is happening at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge? At one level it means we know what it is they believe, even if it doesn’t quite seem to add up for those of us looking in from the outside. It also means we know the process by which these beliefs are transmitted, as well as how they are adjusted over time. Developing a way to ever be able to successfully neutralize those beliefs, even if it is just long enough so that the current standoff can be ended without further incident, is the difficult part. In many ways Ammon Bundy, his father and brothers, and his followers at Malheur Wildlife Refuge and across the country are using the same words, grammar, and syntax as the rest of us. Unfortunately, they are also speaking a completely different language and there is no translation codex to help us interpret the conversation, establish communications, build rapport, and engage with them to constructive ends.

* That the material and what is derived from it is factually inaccurate is irrelevant. Even trying to demonstrate the inaccuracies is enough to further confirm them.

** That one of Bundy’s leadership circle is the husband of a NH state legislator (the one from CNN’s focus group who believes the President comes on the television in order to lie to her) just shows how little external coherence and validity the belief system has. If the highest, legitimate Constitutional officer is the county sheriff, then why would one support one’s spouse in seeking state level elected office?

*** Full disclosure: I was asked to write the review of Ashour’s book on the deradicalization of jihadis for the journal Politics and Religion.

101 replies
  1. 1
    Punchy says:

    Im confused by various LEOs that are making statements about how they wish they’d all just pack up and go home. Does this mean they wont be arrested? How is that possible?

  2. 2
    Mnemosyne says:

    I thought I was joking in the thread below when I compared them to the obsessive Bronys on “Bob’s Burgers,” but apparently I was kidding on the square.

  3. 3
    jl says:

    ” This is why they first appealed to the Harney County Sheriff, because they believe he is the highest level of legitimate Constitutional government in America**, and once he rebuffed them, they immediately denounced him as somehow being coopted by their enemies or an outright traitor. ”

    The good sheriff did not agree with their ‘way of life’ which appears to be running cons and repeatedly taking stuff they want and not paying for it.

    Commenter dogwood in previous post says one of they Bundy kids is saying they will leave if the good people of Burns want them to. So I am hoping for a quick wimp out from them. They defied their precious only constitutional lawful officer the county sheriff again and told him to get lost when he ordered them to scram.

  4. 4
    jl says:

    @Punchy: Fine with me if they are allowed to just pack up and go home. They can be arrested on their way home, or whenever it is convenient. I do think they should be arrested this time. None of their gun buddies seems to want to play this time, their fortress is so far off inconvenient and cold and all. They shouldn’t have tried this stunt in winter.

  5. 5
    Matt McIrvin says:

    If the highest, legitimate Constitutional officer is the county sheriff, then why would one support one’s spouse in seeking state level elected office?

    Forget it, Jake, it’s the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Arguably county sheriff is a higher office.

  6. 6
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mnemosyne: Is that a Masonic thing? With no disrespect to any Masons or Freemasonry.

  7. 7
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Punchy: I think there is a lot of wishful thinking that they’ll just get bored or hungry or cold and go home and we can all just forget about. Law enforcement, at all levels in the US, is exceedingly concerned with far right extremists. They are almost all heavily armed, they are unpredictable, and over the past eight years there has been a marked increase in law enforcement targeted by members of these movements.

  8. 8
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Matt McIrvin: I was thinking comprehensive health, vision, and dental, but what do I know?

  9. 9
    jl says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I would hope the law is waiting for them to render themselves completely ridiculous before arresting them. Sooner or later, someone has to be held to some account for one of these stunts.

    Edit: do you think that always just forgetting about this kind of thing is a good idea?

  10. 10
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    We may be talking at cross-purposes, but this is what I’m referencing. I don’t remember any jokes about Masons, but I may not have caught them.

  11. 11
    amk says:

    tl;dr. shorter version: white entitlement.

  12. 12
    Punchy says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Im not expecting a raid and arrests; nobody wants Waco II, Eclectic Boogaloo. But I would expect arrests after they give up and before they leave the property. Otherwise, you’re either telling me they’ve broken no laws or the law doesnt pertain to them. Both ideas are flat farcical. What message does that send if they can just walk away and try a different bird house next month?

  13. 13
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @jl: I completely agree and hope that my repeated assertions in earlier comment threads that discretion is better part of valor when dealing with these folks not be misconstrued that they shouldn’t be held accountable. In one way they are like the locally well connected pain in the societal ass that every city and county has at least one of. You know the brother of the mayor or sister of the governor or nephew of the sheriff. They terrorize their neighbors, often manage to skate because of their connections, and often things eventually escalate to the point where things can only end badly. An excellent example is Governor Brownback’s brother:

  14. 14
  15. 15
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mnemosyne: I appear to have lost you by being a smartass. Masons identify each other by referencing being on the level and meeting on the square. So “kidding on the square” made me think of this traditional greeting. For full disclosure: I am not a Mason, nor a Shriner. I have several friends, including a teammate who is, and have great respect for their work while having only little knowledge of their rites.

  16. 16
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Punchy: I expect arrests and they are necessary. Given how hard it is to get these guys to appear once arrested, history tells us they should also be held without bond.

  17. 17
    Mnemosyne says:


    I would love to see Ammon Bundy stand in front of a federal judge and explain that he can’t be held accountable on those federal trespassing charges because the flag in the courtroom indicates that it’s a maritime court. Sadly, he would probably plead out and we’ll never get to see it.

  18. 18
    dogwood says:

    @Matt McIrvin:
    I think there are over 400 seats in the New Hampshire legislature. Must be a zoo.

  19. 19
    peach flavored shampoo says:

    @Punchy: Apparently, being a Western Angry Rancher provides one with near-limitless Get Out of Jail cards. They cant be arrested, they cant be at fault, and seemingly cannot be held responsible for anything they do. Hell, they dont even require lawyers to assist them. Just some land, a few cows, and a cowboy hat immunizes you from Federal law.

    Nie gig if you can get it.

  20. 20
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mnemosyne: Given that these guys have a history of threatening the judges they appear before, as well as making mockery of the court and its proceedings, and a Federal judge and her husband were murdered (assasinated) by one a far right extremist within the past decade, they will be on very short leashes once they make it to court.

  21. 21
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Now you have me wondering if Sen. Al Franken is a Mason, because “kidding on the square” is from his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Franken’s definition is that you tell a joke that contains the truth, so you’re kidding, but not really.

  22. 22
    Mike J says:

    @Mnemosyne: I remember he always talked about it on his Air America show. I was shocked when I saw a clip of Sinatra from the 50s or 60s and he used the phrase in the same context.

  23. 23
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mnemosyne: Its possible, but unlikely. There are not a lot of Jewish Masons. Not because Jews have problems with the Masons (I’ve known a few) or Masons have problems with Jews. From what little I know of and understand, there are significant components of Masonic belief and tradition that are derived from Kabbalah. Rather, it has to do with the nature and manner of the initiation rites. My limited understanding is that portions of it run counter to things that Jews are allowed to do. I have an aikido student that I think is a Mason. I’ll ask him if he is comfortable answering the question and if I can then report it back to you.

  24. 24
    Face says:

    Just what part of the US Constitution has the verbiage they believe makes County Sheriffs the supreme law of the land? Serious question — just what section/Article are they quoting?

  25. 25
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Bacon?!

  26. 26
    Ruckus says:

    I’d bet tRump’s bogus fortune that they will be arrested. But they are heavily armed and taking them in any group will surly end up in a firefight. That makes martyrs of them to their fellow idiots and that just keeps this going and going……… Not that arresting them individually will probably change much but trying them separately works better and reinforces the rule of law. That’s a vital need in these cases because these idiots don’t recognize the law/government the way most of us do, even if we frequently hate the way it works.

  27. 27
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Mike J:

    I don’t think Franken ever claimed to have invented the term, but he popularized it for a new generation.

    @Adam L Silverman:

    I think it’s just a coincidence, but with Masons involved, who knows? ;-p

  28. 28
    Satby says:

    @Mike J: My dad and his brothers, all stereotypical Irish cops, all used to say “kidding on the square” the way Franken did. It’s an urban, not Masonic thing in that context.

  29. 29
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Face: They’re not. They are working off of an arcane and incorrect understanding of the English concept of the power of the sheriff (posse comitatus). Here’s a good rundown:

  30. 30
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I think it has to do with bending a knee and oath taking. But I have only the most limited knowledge of the rites as I’m not a member. But an Orthodox rabbi I once studied with was, and he explained to me that after he was approached, he asked to have the ritual explained, and determined that it was kosher. I don’t think that is necessarily a widely held rabbinic view. He was also a major Kabbalist scholar, and he left me with the impressions of the similarities/borrowed and adapted traditions.

  31. 31
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Satby: Thanks, I appreciate the clarification.

  32. 32
    Mike J says:

    So now Bundy is saying he may leave:

    This is their county – we can’t be here and force this on them,” Bundy told OPB Monday. “If they don’t want to retrieve their rights, and if the county people tell us to leave, we’ll leave.”

    Of course he doesn’t count the sheriff as a legit person to tell them to leave. I guess he needs to go house to house and have anyone tell his to take a hike.

  33. 33
    Sly says:

    Great post.

    I’d only add that the reason why law enforcement is skittish about dropping the hammer on these people is the same reason why various governments in the Middle East and South Asia are skittish about going after their own violent reactionary groups. Not just because they are violent, and unpredictably so, but because they garner enough sympathy from the greater community to create a viable political constituency. DHS merely issues a report on far-right violent groups and conservative white America has a conniption fit and not only does the report get retracted, but the group responsible for collecting information on these groups and disseminating that information to other law enforcement agencies gets its funding gutted.

    If that frightens/enrages people, especially given how easy it is for law enforcement to get away with actual tyranny with respect to police brutality cases, it should.

  34. 34
    a different chris says:

    They’re free to do anything they want, and anybody who doesn’t like it is free to go live somewhere else.

  35. 35

    Adam L Silverman: Thanks for an excellent analysis.

    It’s important not to make these guys martyrs, so obviously (given Waco and Ruby Ridge) law enforcement has to be very careful how they handle taking them into custody.

    Another hard part is that if they are brought to trial, their tribe’s epistemic closure will turn that into martyrdom too. Look at some of the statements about the Hammonds. But at some point, a line needs to be drawn, because sedition and insurrection cannot be tolerated.

    It’s good that they are isolated, in a place where they can’t hurt other people. That gives law enforcement time to think about the best tactics.

  36. 36
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: For a moment, I thought I was on Twitter and was going to RT and like.

    BTW: I hate the rugby pitch at Ripon. There is a godawful drop-off on one touchline that caused me much pain.

  37. 37
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mike J: My guess is this he’s looking for a way out while saving face. The problem is he’s got followers who are going to hang on to any local wanting them to stay, like the Pelletier woman who brought them chili Saturday night, as reason to stay. And he’s probably hoping if he slinks off he’ll be allowed to get home to Nevada rather than arrested. I think he’s going to be sadly disappointed. He’s learning he’s got little support, a poor situation in terms of supplies, and no really good options.

  38. 38
    kimp says:

    This was not a matter of an accidental fire that got out of hand. “Clearing underbrush”. Witness testimony attested to poaching, and they set the fire intentionally to cover up evidence and they burned more than 130 acres of federal land to ensure that . I am with the rest of the commenters here. How are the Bundys still not imprisoned, and barring that, how are they still able to roam freely, creating havoc for law enforcement, citizens and townspeople that neither welcome them there nor support their cause?

  39. 39

    @Omnes Omnibus: I wish all blog comment sections had “like” buttons.

    When were you at Ripon?

  40. 40
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Custer felt that way at one point.

  41. 41
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I went to Lawrence (82-86). Played rugby vs Ripon.

    ETA: I was also there while monitoring elections during the WI recalls, but I don’t think that counts.

  42. 42
    GregB says:

    I assume there is at least one Federal agent embedded unbeknownst to these nitwits. That is how they bagged a couple in NH that were planning on a long standoff.

  43. 43
  44. 44
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: This is what happens when you tell very young lieutenant colonels that they’re generals just because we’ve declared war.

  45. 45
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: It’s also what happens when you give cavalrymen any authority. Artillery lends dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl.

  46. 46
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Mnemosyne: Let me google that for you…

    The idiom is known from the early twentieth century — it turns up in February 1907 in McClure’s Magazine and is often recorded in the years that follow. It’s not possible to work out what part of the US it comes from.

    Kidding was by then a long-established term of somewhat obscure origin. It was originally low slang of the criminal classes for getting something of value by false pretences; it may be from the slang sense of kid for a child, suggesting that to fool the person was as easy as stealing candy from a baby or that the kiddee was as naive as a child. To kid is to joke, but in particular to fool a person into believing something or deceive them in a playful way.

    If you are on the square, you’re honest or sincere, an idea that turns up in other idioms, such as square deal. It may be from a square being an uncompromisingly straightforward shape, but a link with Freemasonry has been plausibly suggested. For masons, a square was a key instrument for accurately measuring a 90° angle, those of the corners of a square (also called right angles because they were the correct or true ones), so that a structure on the square had been properly built. Similarly, anything off square had something wrong with it.

    I first remember seeing the expression in the mid-1960s (Harry Golden, I think). From what little I know about Freemasonry and its origins, the whole “square foundation” meme was a key component, and certainly by mid-century the Masons were both sufficiently well-known and sufficiently ‘exotic’ — like Mormons or Scientologists, today — that a connection between the catchphrase and the society would be assumed.

  47. 47
    Mnemosyne says:

    All of this talk of Masons shook something loose from my memory — many of the rituals of the LDS church were taken directly from Masonic rituals, because Joseph Smith was that kind of plagiarist.

    I really do think that there are some similarities between fandom and these kinds of “political” movements based on fiction, but I’ll have to ponder it a bit more. Fandom is generally pretty harmless, but you did have those dickwads who made death threats at a Pokemon convention last year, and brought guns with them to prove they were serious.

  48. 48
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: To quote my favorite talking racoon: “This is also true!”

  49. 49
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I got nuthin’.

  50. 50
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Didn’t see Guardians of the Galaxy?

  51. 51
    jay s says:

    @Adam L Silverman: As a practical matter, I would guess the sheriff arresting these clowns would be likely to bankrupt the county.So yeah the local LEOs would be happier if they just ambled on without doing any bloodshed or much economic damage. Let the feds or the state patrol pick up the tab and the grief of dealing with them and their sympathizers.

    The county has a number of people that agree with the “cause” but see them as outside trouble makers. The sheriff isn’t likely to get a lot of votes by being macho here. I’m guessing any arrests will be Federal unless a local gets killed or injured.

  52. 52
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    You know who else was a lieutenant colonel who was promoted to general? But he started in the artillery, so it turned out okay (except for those Whiskey Rebellion organizers who got themselves hanged).

  53. 53
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @jay s: The arrests will be Federal. The crimes committed: breaking and entering, criminal trespass, and carrying a weapon in the commitment of a felony, are all on Federal land, so Federal jurisdiction. And that’s not counting if they do any damage to the facility or if someone decides to talk on interfering with Federal officers because everyone who works there is on telework right now as their office is being occupied.

  54. 54
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    From what little I know of and understand, there are significant components of Masonic belief and tradition that are derived from Kabbalah.

    Most of what I know about the Masons came through either Fortean articles or offbeat stuff on the American Revolution, and my understanding is the same as yours. I’ve also gotten the impression — possibly unfairly — that the ur-Protestant American version of Freemasonry, at least, takes a certain pride in “improving”/replacing the crude, primitive Kabbalah garbling of “foundational” Hermetic esoteric rites. One can see where this would make Freemasons every bit as popular with practicing Jews as the all-too-complacent Lutheran theory that Martin “replaced” garbled Vatican rituals is with practicing Catholics.

  55. 55
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @efgoldman: Court ordered community service…

    There is a legend, for lack of a better, term, that the Baal Shem Tov was a Master Mason. And another that some of the Freemasons involved with supporting the colonials in the Revolution were also Jewish. I’m not sure if this was a reference to Hyam Solomon, who financed a great deal of the Revolution, but it might be.

    Also, other than the rabbi I studied with, apparently your entire family accounts for the totality of Jewish American Freemasons!

  56. 56
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I did, but I am not that kind of nerd.

  57. 57
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Gotcha. Couldn’t tell from your reply if I had lost you with the reference or your were screwing with me.

  58. 58
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Mnemosyne: Get help.

    ETA: G may well have grounds for… you know… over a 200 years dead guy.

  59. 59
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    He’s learning he’s got little support, a poor situation in terms of supplies, and no really good options.

    Bundy knows that God speaks to him. To quote one of my high-school teachers (a nun of the Domican order): “If you listen with an open heart, God will tell you what to do next. And sometimes what God will tell you is If you’d paid attention to what I was telling you all along, you wouldn’t BE in your current fix, you idiot!

  60. 60
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Gamer stuff, most Sci Fi, and related things are so outside my wheelhouse as to be on a different boat.

  61. 61
    jay s says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I thought they had set up blockades/checkpoints on a county road, but i don’t know the area. At any rate I don’t have high confidence in a quick public arrest by the Feds or anyone else. The “why don’t you just go home and we’ll deal with you later” impulse is likely to be strong unless shooting or burning starts.It might even be the best outcome assuming there is a follow up.

  62. 62
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Anne Laurie: Sounds about right. I’m always amazed by folks who sincerely believe that the Deity, as they understand it, is not only speaking to them, but that they are capable of actually understanding the message. Always seemed a might presumptuous to me. And I mean no disrespect to anyone’s particular beliefs.

  63. 63
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    He only has himself to blame — he’s the one who made me listen to the whole cast album on a car trip. He’s also a fan, but not quite a Super Fan.

    (And just to frighten you, I don’t even count as a Super Fan, compared to a lot of people. For one, I didn’t dress my toddler up as Hamilton for Halloween and pose her outside the Grange in NYC.)

  64. 64
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Mnemosyne: “Exterminate the brutes.”

  65. 65
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @efgoldman: I hope someone thought to do an oral history with these folks while they were still with it.

  66. 66
    tamiasmin says:

    Along with their out-of-the-ordinary views on the Constitution, property rights, tyranny, and persecution by faceless bureaucrats, these folks have the very understandable motive of wanting stuff without having to pay for it. Grazing rights, for example. It costs a rancher around $500 a year to feed a cow. But if he can put her on public land and refuse to pay the grazing fees ($1.35 per day per animal x 365 days = $492.75), he’s home free.

  67. 67
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @efgoldman: I have some multiple greats who who were 48ers. They came here and luckily they came clean. My ancestors moved away but Milwaukee ended up with a bunch of Socialist Mayors.

  68. 68
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @efgoldman: So the family name might actually be Bukharin?

  69. 69
    Adam L Silverman says:

    You’ve all been great fun, but its to bed for me. Play nice(ish).

  70. 70
    Schlemazel says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    AH HA! So that ties it all together neatly!!! The Protocol of the Elders and the Masons are all just tentacles of the same Cthulhu!!!

    I used to work with a guy who was one of those guys. He gave me a book about the evils of the Rockefeller family & the very first page of the very first chapter explains that John D was really a Jew. Of course everyone knows Roosevelt was. It explaines soooooo much. SIGH, this sludge has been around so long, I know I shouldn’t laugh and make fun of it but it is so stupid I can’t help myself.

  71. 71
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    I’m always amazed by folks who sincerely believe that the Deity, as they understand it, is not only speaking to them, but that they are capable of actually understanding the message.

    I’m an animist. I believe there are plenty of gods willing to give me advice, but not all of them have my best interests in mind.

  72. 72
  73. 73
    Anoniminous says:


    In the 1920s the Palmer Red raids captured anarchists and socialists, locked them up, and sent them into exile, almost always the Soviet Union. Emma Goldman was the best known, I guess, of the “resident aliens” (sic.) Despite the fact some them, like Emma Goldman, were actually citizens. Your grandfather was right to be worried and to keep a low profile.

  74. 74
    Ruckus says:

    @Anne Laurie:
    I’m not sure all of them have their own best interest at heart. I’m certain their interests do not mesh with mine.

  75. 75
    Schlemazel says:

    When I told my kids about the Palmer raids they refused to believe me. They couldn’t imagine anything like that happening in the US. This was the early 90s so they had to wait to go to the library to read about it. It is beyond belief to most people but I think we might see something like it again if things do not go well for us.

  76. 76
    Anoniminous says:


    Men call Odin faithless when He gives victory to the cowardly. But He must keep his eye on the Jötun, fill Valhöll, and prepare the einherjar for ragnarok. Would you take ease in Hel and perish, know not the pride of locking shields with Odin, Thor, and Freya in that last battle of this earth?


  77. 77
    Anoniminous says:


    Anyone who relies on our Civil Rights as enshrined in the Constitution to protect them against the power of the State is a fool.

  78. 78
    Soylent Green says:

    But if he can put her on public land and refuse to pay the grazing fees ($1.35 per day per animal x 365 days = $492.75), he’s home free.

    Guess again. The fee is $1.69 per animal unit month (AUM), which is how much forage is needed to feed both a cow and her calf for a month, not per day. So, a whopping $ 20.28 per year.

    When these yahoos get their wish and the public range is privatized, that fee will jump way up. And they’ll have to pay extra if they want roads, water, wildfire suppression, predator control, and other goodies that they get for free from the federal gummint. That’s if the range hasn’t been bought up by corporations for other purposes more profitable than arid West ranching, which isn’t very profitable.

  79. 79
    PencilNeck says:

    @Soylent Green: This.

    The Freemen as we recall were also sophisticated dole farmers who did not think they should pay taxes. Interestingly enough, their two chapters were in Montana and Sonoma County, home of goat cheese and many of the last remaining Haight Ashbury hippies. A USDA employee in the Sonoma office remembers them as being first in line each year.

    One thing to perhaps add to Adam’s excellent blog post is the existence of the grifter culture within Southern and western rural communities that is connected to revivalists … and carnivals.

  80. 80
    Zinsky says:

    These dipshits have no idea what they want. They have a 3rd grade, comic book understanding of American history and think their supposed grievances (which really amount to playing by the same rules as all Americans) are valid and newsworthy. They aren’t. I say take these bastards down as quickly and as violently as necessary. They are thugs with dangerous weapons – treat them as such.

  81. 81
    different-church-lady says:

    All they wanted was a a Pepsi!

  82. 82
    raven says:

    @Zinsky: Delta is ready when you are.

  83. 83
    BretH says:

    One thing should be certain – none of these people should ever be legally allowed firearms for the rest of their lives.

    As for Bundy the elder, my wish is he and anyone still supporting him at his reach gets some very unwelcome Federal visitors on November 9th.

  84. 84
    D58826 says:

    Thanks for the overview. When I read some of their documents it sounded like they took half the political science and history books in the library, cut them up and threw the pages at the wall. What stuck became the basis of their ‘manifesto’

  85. 85
    What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Are they really seeing the right wing as a threat? I mean, they spent the early 2000s infiltrating Iraq war protests. They’re summarily executing any black guy (and some black women) who look at them wrong. Yet, any armed white yahoo with right wing views is treated with kid gloves and walks away alive from doing something stupid and/or threatening and/or unlawful. I’ll believe they see these folks as a threat when they start treating these folks the same way they treat scary hippies and black people.

  86. 86
    D58826 says:

    @Soylent Green: I suspect without the federal subsidies these ranchers would go out of business as they can’t compete with the big feed lot operations.

  87. 87
    Davebo says:

    @Adam L Silverman: More likely he’d slink off to Arizona. Who’s running Ammon’s fleet repair business while he’s gone?

  88. 88
    Tractarian says:

    I really think this post is over-analyzing things. These guys are just unemployed, two-bit criminals looking to get face time on CNN. The Feds should ignore them for now; then throw the book at them when they inevitably run out of snacks.

    Also, too: “Full disclosure” is usually used when you have a conflict of interest that the reader needs to know about.

  89. 89
    Soylent Green says:

    Most feed lots are found east of the Rockies, because livestock in those concentrations need a lot of water and are raised on corn from the nearby corn belt. If you don’t have water, or productive grasslands, or expensive feed, you can’t raise very many livestock — the acreage required goes way up.

    Western ranchers would go out of business because what they are doing is subsidized, not because competition would drive them out, except from developers and industry, which would take much of the range away from them.

    One thing the Bundy gang wants is the god-given freedom to kill every animal they see that doesn’t make them a buck, without regard for wildlife laws (“shoot, shovel, and shut up”). This whole thing started because of couple of guys were covering up their poaching.

  90. 90
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?: From what I’ve seen reported they are very worried. Not that they aren’t or haven’t done the other things you’ve described, but these folks scare them.

  91. 91
    What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I just don’t understand, if these folks scare them so much, why these folks don’t ever seem to be subjected to lethal force. “I was terrified for my life” is the eternal excuse the cops give for killing unarmed minorities. You’d think, once in a while, one of these scary white guys would get the same treatment – and before, not after, he killed someone.

  92. 92
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?: I think the operative word in your remarks is “unarmed”.

  93. 93
    NCSteve says:

    The reason for this is that the ideology or theology or doctrine that is driving this is a bricolage – an ideational construct from a diverse set of ideas, theologies, dogmas, and beliefs. Not all of which actually compliment each other or fit and play well together. For those that accept them, they have a functional coherence. For those that do not subscribe to them, they are confusing, appear irrational, and seem to be contradictory, incoherent, and make little sense.

    Yeah, I recall another ideological system that this describes perfectly. It was called “National Socialism.” If this be Godwining, make the most of it.

  94. 94

    […] … here, let’s try some… Balloon Juice Bunker Standoff Update Day 3: What Do They Want? by Adam L Silverman|11:47 pm January 4, 2016… […]

  95. 95
    Davebo says:

    The Guardian reports they are going to shut off the power if they haven’t already. Also that they are controlling access in and out.

  96. 96
    Kropadope says:

    @What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?: Well, unlike those unarmed black kids, these guys are giving them a legit reason to be afraid.

  97. 97
    emjayay says:

    “It also includes a healthy dose of good old American millenarianism and eschatology and the belief that the Deity is blessing one’s endeavors because one believes them to be righteous.”

    Scalia just gave a speech all about how he thinks the US is so fab because of all the Christians, and God therefore showering his grace in particular on us.

    He should be removed from the Court.

  98. 98
    J R in WV says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Well, as to damage, they have to have broken locks and doors to gain entry to their “encampment”, so there’s several federal crimes just right there. Using facilities to cook would be misappropriation of fuel, federal property.

    If they were from a broken down vehicle in a high plains blizzard and needed entry to a building to save their lives, I would think a small fine and funding repairs to the doors would be the end of it. But this is not the case, is it?

    I would use military tools to track individuals and vehicles as they travel away, and pick people up after frying their electronics individually. Which would also stop the vehicle suddenly. While they were trying to understand what had happened to their truck, a nearby vehicle loaded with armored but anonymous-looking US Marshals appears to provide help, and a ride to town. YukYukHahaha.

    I can hear it now, after their vehicle stalls half way up a high mountain pass 200 miles from the nearest gas station…

    “This looks like a really bad place to be broken down! Would you guys like a ride to town??”

    “Hop in back, there’s a bench to sit on.”


  99. 99
    J R in WV says:


    A friend of mine’s grandfather came here to avoid the Tsar’s draft into the war with Japan. Friend avoid the draft into the military during VietNam, his Dad knew a shrink who for the cost of 4 visits drew up a “Not qualified for military by means of CRAZY” document. Shrink may have owed funds on a sports book, his Dad ran a little newsstand in Philly that didn’t sell much but candy to kids after school, yet supported a very successful suburban life – but who knows, they’re all dead now. His grandma only spoke Russian and Yiddish.

    Friend was very disappointed that a wonderful family tradition of avoiding government enslavement for generations ended when his son (black belt in some karate-like tradition) joined the US Marines, where he was made an IT intelligence expert. Son still works for some black contract house.

    Friend was a MD for 30 years, now retired to work in community causes.

  100. 100

    Only mockery by the broader culture can destroy this “movement,” as the John Birch Society was destroyed in the 1960s. But that will require exposure by the corporate media, which has so far chosen to ignore it.

  101. 101
    klokanek says:

    Adam, you have been doing such a good job with these updates, and this one is truly a piece of art. I was just saying yesterday that these men exemplify the failure to teach critical reasoning skills that is the result of state-mandated testing, but you have exploded that assertion into something far more compelling, and in fact more terrifying. I wish everyone in charge of education policy at all levels would read this and make the big changes needed to get Americans better educated. I am so horrified that these men actually believe in their entirely moronic cause, something even a thoughtful teenager would reject as hopelessly flawed.

    Thank you. :)

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