Is The Bundy Gang America’s New Folk Heros? Big GOP Thinks So


Is the militia that held hostage the Malheur Refuge modern day populist heroes? Cruz and Trump Would Say Yes.

Jake Ryan is still loose. No, not the jock who steals Molly Ringwald’s 16-year-old heart (shoutout to millenial women everywhere). I’m talking about the militiaman who, along with dozens of his buddies (some staying the whole time while others just popped in like it was an epic jam festival but for gun nuts anti-government types who respect everything Duck Commander has to say about social issues) held hostage the Malheur National Refuge for 41 days to protest what they see as federal overreach. Ryan is one of the last of the Bundy group still at large as 16 of the ringleaders await trial on charges of conspiracy to impede a federal officer. Suspicions abound that he’s hiding out in his home town of Plains, MT, but the sheriff, who would be the arresting officer, has denied that Ryan is home. Nobody’s buying that. But nobody can prove otherwise.

Calls urging the sheriff to make the arrest have poured in. On the other side, people have called out to resist being the US government’s errand boy, supporting Ryan’s flight, the Bundy’s fight, and in general the rebellion against the “terrorists” running America as our nation’s finest constitutional experts claim the standoff and all related activities are merely trod-upon citizens doing god’s work.

Are Cliven Bundy, who staged the first protest at his home last year (over federal regulation of  generational grazing lands)(and who garnered heavy support among the GOP rank and file until he started saying blacks had better lives as slaves), his son Ammon and all their people, including Jake Ryan, heroes? No; their tactics depend on intimidation, their actions and claims are full of hypocrisies (anything ironic about having an armed standoff against the organization from which you just borrowed half a million dollars ?) and most of their members are racist egotists who believe only as much of what they say as benefits them. Even more, when you really look at the cost of maintaining the lands or of grazing rights on others’ private land, the Bundies have gotten a steal from the US government (they would actually end up paying considerably more if they had to manage the lands themselves, much less if they had to rent it from a private landowner)(and it becomes clear to anybody with half a brain this Bundy is literally just a scumbag who threw a fit when his bill arrived in the mail despite the millions spent by taxpayers to take care of “his” pasture). But is their overarching claim, that local governments and populations have been overpowered by unconstitutional strong-arming from federal powers, a bunch of bunk? That question is much murkier than any level headed liberal-minded person would like to believe. But not for the scorched-earth GOP and its neo-populist revival.

Jesse James Rides Again

Has it ever occurred to you, Woodrow; that all the work we done was for the bankers? Hell, we killed off everybody made this country interestin’!” – Gus McCrae, LONESOME DOVE

Jesse James was a folk hero because he stood up to a Federal Government that was marginalizing everyday men and women out west (Missouri)(though, for that matter, all over the country). He did this by robbing banks, which were federally insured, and supposedly helping out poor rural folk. In doing so he and his men became heroes to the millions of rural citizens who’d been screwed over by banks, the wealthy and other members of the federal/urban-Atlantic ruling elite.

In the end, of course, they were just bank robbers. Still, there was (and is) some David-Vs.-Goliath romanticism in their claimed cause. America is the land of the free, sure enough. You can supposedly work whatever job you want, live wherever you want, for the most part how you want, marry who you want (thanks to government intervention), so on and so forth. But anywhere you live is regulated, and there’s mostly a good reason — in general, people do dumb stuff to themselves and even dumber stuff to the environment around them, often for the sake of temporary gratification or ill-founded curiosity. At the same time, the great beauty of the west, the ideal that the world holds on to as the true American image (we’re still the cowboy nation for most of the world) has mostly died out.

It’s a debate fraught with complications. For example, I spend most of my time recreating in one of the greatest National Parks in the world, Grand Teton National Park. If the park hadn’t received that protection, God only knows how many people would have swooped in and built trophy homes on peaks, leveled the canyons to make roads, built a tram to the summit of the Grand, just like they’ve done with Teton Village and the nearby town of Jackson. At the same time, the Park now charges $25.00 to camp. That is, to walk into this public place and put up a tent in the supposed wilderness costs money. Others, like Mt. Rainier National Park, require tons of paperwork and even greater fees to climb and camp. And there are so many arbitrary rules (you can hike and ski but not mountain bike; you can float lakes all you want but not the Snake River) not to mention the ongoing battle in places like Yosemite between the climbing bums who give it soul and the regulation of federal lands.

Almost everybody with some respect for the wonder of nature wants to keep these places pristine but most who visit them do so by driving carbon-fueled cars, especially RVs, into and through them on roads around fenced-off natural exhibits like it’s some big government-funded zoo. The food and fuel wastes of park concessionaires and especially hotels catering to these people are atrocious. National Park and National Forest and Wilderness and Refuge protections are important because they ensure that the interests of all humanity is put ahead of those who might abuse such places. But at times it can feel hypocritical considering all the destruction and carnage wrought by the very people imposing the laws, especially on the places they now call home and pollute with a shrug of “the cost of living.”

Everybody’s Got a Right to a Livin’

What do you think those mountains came from? I see them and I see the bones of my ancestors.” – Justin, one of the last real Idaho cowboys

Manhattan used to be an island hunting ground for the Manhattoes. Broadway was originally their main footpath to the tip of the island in search of food. Then it was bought for “$24” from people who likely didn’t understand the idea of land ownership. The hills were leveled so that all existed of them was the word “Hill” in some neighborhood tag. The rivers were polluted, the air was filled with soot and then CO2, the grass became stone and now this natural meadow is a monument to the power of man.

In fact most of the east coast was once beautiful and wild (except D.C., which was always a godforsaken swamp). And it was built upon and trampled and flattened and blasted and polluted to make towns and cities and allow those cities to expand for the purpose of allowing its citizens to live good lives and get jobs and pursue happiness. For most people that was being safe and comfortable as part of a massive community.

But some pursued happiness out west, where nobody bothered them, surrounded by life-and-death struggles, fulfilling their own needs and watching the sun set knowing they were masters of their own domain. They lived in shacks, battled fierce winters and even fiercer natives to live truly free.

In a nation where capital is king, claims are everything and we hold our forefathers in the deepest respect, it’s easy to understand why the Bundys and people like them are upset. They were there first. They made it so that we can drive our cars through Yellowstone, ski Park City, go to a Portland Trailblazers game and stay at a four-star-hotel perched on the cliffs of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. They moved as far as they could into the middle of nowhere and now they’re being told where they can run their cattle and dig for whatever resources might put food on their family’s plates. They’re being told animals are more important than their families’ livelihoods.

Take wolves, for example. Wolves were decimated to the brink of extinction; recently they were returned to the wild and now you can see the majesty of a pack running free. But a rancher sees thousands of dollars of livestock destroyed, that money coming out of his pocket. Why not reintroduce the wolves to their ancestral homes on the East Coast? Imagine if an endangered bird was found to have made a nest in your yard, your yard where three or four generations of your family had lived before you, and because of said bird the US Government said you couldn’t build that pool you’ve dreamed of because it might disturb the bird. And you certainly wouldn’t be allowed to get a cat.

The Devil’s Game

When you try to control the land from a four-, five-hour flight away, the people always screw up.” — Utah Congressman Rob Bishop

That’s the problem with conservation today. How do you balance the wants and needs of outdoor enthusiasts and nature-lovers (including the very real necessity for the preservation of species diversity and majestic natural formations)(and often tourists or scientists who call more urban areas home) with the wants and needs of the people who live there? Their family likely has been living there for over a century and they simply want to live their lives too, whether that be continuing the family ranching business or selling some land nobody’s “using” to pay for better public schools for their kids.

That was what this whole Malheur business was all about. The Hammond family had been running cattle in the area since the 1870s, including through land that was later deemed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge due to the birds and carp that call the place home. In 1994 the US Government told the Hammonds their right to graze on the refuge lands was revoked and a fence was built to keep them out of land their family had used for over 120 years. Then a spark – actually a series of arsons — conflagrated in 2001. The Hammond were suspected of setting refuge land on fire to hide a deer poaching; in 2006 they backburned some grass during a wildfire to keep it from spreading to their own feed supplies. This was a standard act of self-preservation, but it was done on federal lands. Dwight and son Steven Hammond were sentenced to 3 months and a year and a day, respectively, in 2012; yet in 2015 a new judge decided that sentence violated the mandatory minimum of 5 years the prosecution had been seeking and ordered the Hammonds to return to jail for half a decade each. That was when Bundy’s Citizens for Constitutional Freedom sprung into action. This is a classic case of federal land managers deciding that some animals and habitats are more important than some people’s rights to continue living their lives the way they had for decades. And when you look at it from that perspective, as any person trying to support his or her family while holding onto their ancestral traditions will see, it becomes a little tougher. Still,

And Then There Are The Indians

Armed protesters don’t belong here.  By their actions, they are endangering one of our sacred sites.” — Paiute tribal Chair Charlotte Roderique.

For example, you have Wyoming claiming portions of the Wind River Reservation that our nation’s top coal-provider thinks might hold natural gas reserves but the Wind River Tribe say it’s their land and they’ll be damned if they give land up to the white man again. And the US government, in a great turn of events, is backing them. If anything this is what turns the whole Malheur standoff on its head. Because Jake Ryan dug latrines for the militia with heavy machinery. And they were dug through grounds considered sacred by the Paiutes. And then filled with redneck rot. Hard to be taken seriously about land rights when you’re literally shitting on the land rights of the people who were there long before you.

Because despite all claims of generations of ranchers reaching back hundreds of years, the fact is they stole the land from the tribes who were there before them. And were in fact aided by the US military in a lot of that. So any claims of federal overreach are tinged by a heap of hypocrisy.

Why does this matter? Because the GOP Supports What the Bundy Gang Is Fighting For

If you trust me with your vote, I will fight day and night to return full control of Nevada’s lands to its rightful owners, its citizens.” — Ted Cruz Nevada primary ad

A vote for Trump and certainly a vote for Cruz is a vote against federal lands.

The co-chair of New Hampshire Veterans for Donald Trump is a man named Jerry DeLemus. He helped Trump win NH. DeLemus was recently indicted as part of the standoff militia.  And it makes sense. The cornerstone of Trump’s campaign has been a populist movement aimed at the disaffected, the rural, the white, the folks tired of being told by the government they have to be politically correct and listen to rules about right and wrong coming down from some ivory tower in some city on the other side of the world. If the two main messages of the GOP are that government should be limited and everything Obama does is wrong, what ideology better supports that then the Bundys’ movement?

Which is why Ted Cruz’s Nevada ads were all about how the federal government’s ownership of western lands should be curbed or rescinded altogether. And in 2014 Ted Cruz presented legislation to auction off the US government’s western lands, claiming it would benefit sportsmen.  Never mind the fact that most hunters can enjoy untrammeled hunting grounds specifically because the forests and mountains that serve as wildlife refuges and corridors are publicly owned.

Then Trump penned an Op-Ed (who knew the man knew how to read, much less write?)  decrying the BLM and Obama’s western “land grab” (Obama has created and expanded more public lands than any US president, even Ol’ Bull Moose Roosevelt himself ). Of course this was in response to a Ted Cruz attack ad accusing Trump of wanting to leave the land in US government hands.

This issue has been brushed aside now that the candidates are on to Wisconsin where social conservatives find the multi-divorced rich playboy’s lack of religion and morals abhorrent, and where the Republican establishment has decided to come together to support Cruz because a Trump nomination could very well mean the end of the GOP. Where Trump has to threaten to arrest abortion doctors and recipients (no, wait, he rescinded that second part when he saw it didn’t get as good a reaction) to convince the religious wackjobs that he’d be their errand boy too, despite his godless track record.

But a Trump presidency will likely mean a serious re-evaluation of public land stewardship and environmental protections, if for no other reason than because he’s going to have to answer to all the Cliven Bundys who are tired of having Washington in their backyard, who want to be able to ride their dirtbikes where they want and pull every last fossil and semi-precious rock out of the ground and who ESPECIALLY hate the idea of those liberal tree-hugging hippies who flock to these lands to hike and camp and eat something called GORP.

Meanwhile a Cruz presidency will mean a rollback of as many federal protections as he can get away with — drill baby drill on crack, what between his heavy oil connections and his campaign promises of giving federal lands back to states. And the rollback of these federal protections is low-hanging fruit compared to other promises of destroying Obamacare and denying gay marriage and outlawing abortion and spying on Muslim neighborhoods and deporting every Mexican without a green card.

Why should this matter to you? Because our social issues are important but mostly ruled over by a court which, despite its prejudices, has always (eventually) ruled in favor of equal rights, justice for all; but our environment is something which, once destroyed, is damn-near-impossible to return. And is mostly an abstract thing to Washington solons. The states claim they can manage the lands better than D.C. but they won’t be able to afford it, putting these expanses on the market for the anti-environmental organizations that support Cruz or wealthy developer industrialists like, well, Donald Trump. So returning the lands to states will likely not benefit the everyday westerner. It’ll just usher in Manifest Destiny 2k17. And the westerners decrying federal protections will find themselves bamboozled by a new overlord who lives closer and has less interest in preserving land beyond the edge of their foreseeable future.

The Bundy gang is posing under a populist banner for limited government but what it stands for is the destruction of the protections that promise our children and grandchildren will have open lands full of wonder despite the greed and shortsighted self-interest known to plague humanity and especially oft-cash-strapped western states. And the irony is that even after standoffs and shootouts with federal agents, the Bundys mission has been espoused by the GOP’s top candidates. It’s not THEIR federal government the Bundys were railing against, after all; it’s Obama’s. Since apparently America is no longer just one country?

So as we await (or not; doubtless many people in the east don’t even know this manhunt is going) the arrest of Ryan, the last big player in the Bundy gang still at large, know that everything this group of bigoted, treasonous, wannabe-separatists stand for has been espoused by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. And if we don’t watch out, while we’re looking at foreign trade and religious prejudice, women’s rights and corporate croneyism, this nation’s most limited resource, the very land that is among America’s greatest duties to preserve for future generations, may be raffled off to the highest bidder to whore out and, once drained of every bit of life and beauty, leave for dead in a political ditch somewhere. Make America Great Again indeed.

UPDATE: Ryan was eventually caught 5 days after this post, found in a stranger’s shed with a loaded .45 and a collection of knives.



Ryan Ariano

Born and raised in Baltimore, Ryan has been kicking around the west since the first Clinton White House. Having worked all over SoCal in the surf industry, Hollywood, marketing, journalism and finance, he now hangs his hat just outside Jackson Hole where he can fulfill an addiction to ascending and descending mountains.

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