I’ve written a couple of times here about how the Islamic State’s acts of terrorism are intended to destroy the Gray Zone. The Gray Zone is the civil and social space we all live in when we are in public. One of the Islamic State’s goals is for the responses to their acts of terrorism to make this public space unlivable for Muslims wherever they live by making them and their non-Muslim neighbors choose sides. The actions and stated intentions of Ammon Bundy and his followers, both at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and throughout the US, are intended to do the same thing for Americans.
We know that Ammon Bundy spent several months planning the standoff and occupation with a Montana militia man. We also know that this included establishing his own shadow government, the Harney County Committee of Safety. Today foster dad of the year and the occupiers’ resident Constitutional expert LaVoy Finicum announced that they have begun recruiting ranchers across the western United States to stop paying their fees for grazing their cattle on Federal land. According to Finicum they already have two ranchers that will come and sign a pledge to do so – one from New Mexico and one from Oregon. He also announced that he’s going to stop paying the fees for his own cattle in Arizona. The occupiers are also supposed to be holding a public meeting tonight at 6 PM PST at the Crystal Crane Hot Springs Resort in a county nearby Harney County. And Florida woman, lawyer, and talk show host for the “patriot” movement KrisAnn Hall is on her way to Burns to hold workshops on the Constitutional limits of the Federal government.
Bundy, Finicum, their fellow occupiers, and their supporters are trying to destroy the American Gray Zone. The space in which we all live when we’re not in private. The space where we are all citizens and neighbors. They are trying to do this by ginning up support for their anti-Federal beliefs that deny the legitimacy of not just the Federal government, but the American state as well. I’m not so sure they are also not opposed to the individual states that make up the Union too given their belief that the highest legitimate authority is the county sheriff. Bundy and his fellow travelers are attempting to destroy the Gray Zone by suborning other sheriffs and county officials because they can’t get the Harney County ones to side with them. This destroys the Gray Zone in two ways. First it makes it impossible for anyone to know who to trust, which increases the likelihood that people will choose sides to protect themselves. The second way it destroys the Gray Zone is that it demonstrates that might makes right. If you’ve got the most weapons, or are simply more willing to use them than anyone else, and are happy to ignore the norms, rules, mores, and laws that everyone else will abide by, then you can just take what you want. This is corrosive to the Gray Zone and ultimately to the fabric of the state and society.
We seem to have reached the point in the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and the related activities of its occupiers, where they have gone from oddity, to parody, to actual threat. And I don’t necessarily mean threat in terms of violence, though that is always a possibility. Rather their seeming objective, as they dribble out over time, is to destroy the social, public, and civic space of America. By trying to force Americans to take sides they are working to destroy the Gray Zone. While America’s civil space and civic culture is relatively robust, including its numerous regional variations, it can still be damaged. It is important to recognize that what Bundy, Finicum, and their fellow travelers want is to create an alternative civil society, one based on their imagined and fictional understanding of the US, its founding and history, and its Constitution and force everyone to either stand with them or be counted as domestic enemies of Liberty to be opposed.