“Do you see or do you not see that the reason why our lands are being destroyed in front of us is because of federal control?”
And we certainly were. And I apologize. And I will insure you that it will never happen again. — jtl, 419
Patrick Reilly For The Oregonian/OregonLive
WHITEFISH, Mont. – Ammon Bundy’s goals appear modest these days.
Ten months have passed since the federal government’s latest prosecution effort against Bundy – for his family’s armed 2014 confrontation with federal agents near his father’s Nevada ranch – unraveled. Bundy was previously acquitted in Oregon on federal charges after he and others seized the Malheur National Wildlife refuge in Harney County in 2016.
He has “no aspirations to jump into politics,” he said, unlike older brother Ryan, who’s running for Nevada governor.
But he was here last Saturday at a hotel in the Montana ski resort town of Whitefish, about 30 miles west of Glacier National Park, at a daylong conference sponsored by a local group called This West is OUR West, whose website describes Western states as “under siege from federal government over-reach.”
Bundy’s oft-repeated refrain from the armed Malheur takeover – that states, not the federal government, should control public land – fit well with that group’s view and with a conference agenda that covered everything from Native American tribal sovereignty to the intentions of the United Nations.
Bundy had his pocket Constitution with him but opted for a PowerPoint presentation instead of guns. It was the second time a Bundy family member has spoken in Montana this year. Father Cliven Bundy and brother Ryan Bundy spoke in January in Paradise, north of Missoula.
Ammon Bundy’s message drew a receptive audience, as did Jeanette Finicum, who is promoting a documentary about her husband’s life and death at places like the conference. Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was killed by Oregon State Police as troopers and FBI agents moved to arrest the refuge occupiers. Investigators said Finicum, a spokesman for the occupation, had a loaded gun inside his jacket pocket and appeared to be reaching for it when he was shot.
The audience of about 100 people came mainly from Montana, Idaho and Washington, and included some state and county lawmakers from those three states. The conference also attracted a counter-rally in a nearby park, where speakers urged a few hundred people to vote and press legislators to protect public lands.
Back at the conference center, Bundy and other guests dwelt at length on the West’s recent wildfires.
“I’m on the local fire department,” said Michael Kaech, who had made a 430-mile drive to Montana from Midvale, Idaho, with his wife, Cathy. Describing how fires moved through the area, he said if “you just let the forest grow, it just feeds fuel to the fire” but that “where the cows graze, the fire stops.”
Scientists say several factors, including climate change and buildup from decades of fire-suppression policies, are stoking today’s fires. Kaech, wearing a baseball cap with the U.S. Forest Service logo beneath a “No” sign, was among several people at the gathering who linked the worsening blazes to federal land management.
“We want the federal lands to come back to the state,” Kaech said.
Federal agencies “are not familiar with the reality of everyday life” near the lands they manage, Cathy Kaech said. “We basically wish the people making the decisions were better-educated.”
Montana State Rep. Kerry White, a Republican from Bozeman, echoed that sentiment when he talked about the negative health effects of wildfire smoke and called for more logging.
After he spoke, Bundy took the microphone.
“Do you see or do you not see that the reason why our lands are being destroyed in front of us is because of federal control?” he said.
Displaying his pocket Constitution, he asked: “Where does it give the federal government our permission to manage our lands locally or our lands anywhere? Please tell me.”
White pushed back, saying he’s working to give local governments a greater voice in managing land but believes the only feasible way to do it is “through the process of government.”
Montana faces two close congressional elections this year, and public land management has been a flash point between U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger Matt Rosendale, and between Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and his Democratic opponent Kathleen Williams.
Few speakers or attendees mentioned the upcoming vote, though some voiced dissatisfaction about their choices.
Jeannette Hall of Eureka, Mont., said she refuses to vote for “the lesser of two evils,” describing candidates from both parties as “puppets of the status quo.”
How, then, to make change? “We, the people, get the information out to people and try to make changes,” Hall said.
This West is OUR West isn’t just holding conferences to that end. The group aims to keep its eye on court rulings, administrative rules and legislation that affect its concerns, organizers say. As it does so, it’s likely to keep invoking the Constitution – and the Bundys.
“We’re not ranting and raving when we say ‘The Constitution, the Constitution, the Constitution,'” Ammon Bundy told his audience.
“That’s not what we’re doing, what we’re saying is, ‘You’re stepping over the jurisdiction that protects our liberty.’ That’s what you’re doing and you’ll keep doing it more and more and more to the point where we’re being threatened” he said.
“We would not need this meeting … if we understood and stood for constitutional jurisdiction,” he said. “That’s what protects us.”
The crowd applauded.
The Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other Misfits. Although woven around the experiences and adventures of one man, this is also the story of the people who lived during the period of time in American history that an entire generation was betrayed It is the story of the dramatically changing times in which this personal odyssey took place. It is the story of the betrayal of an entire generation of Americans and particularly the 40% (of the military aged males) of that generation that fought the Vietnam war.