The Bundys and the Irony of American Vigilantism

Jedediah Purdy in The New Yorker:

Purdy-Bundys-Occupy-Oregon-690x441-1452009174On Saturday, January 2nd, a group of armed men occupied the stone-walled offices of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in Harney County, Oregon. Created by President Theodore Roosevelt, in 1908, to protect egrets and other birds from hunters who sold their plumes to clothing manufacturers, the refuge is centered on wetlands in a region that is mainly high desert. At more than ten thousand square miles, Harney County is bigger than nine states, including Maryland and New Jersey, and about the size of Rwanda or Haiti. About seventy-seven hundred people live there; more than ninety per cent of them are white and the rest are nearly all Native American or Latino. Three-quarters of the county consists of federal land, which is owned and directly administered by the United States government.

Ammon Bundy, leader of the occupying group, and his father, the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, belong to a long-simmering Western populist movement that has never accepted limits on the private exploitation of public lands. Cliven Bundy, the patriarch of the family, first drew attention by refusing to pay fees to graze his cattle on public land. Bundy and his fellow occupiers have said that they came to Harney County to support local ranchers named Dwight and Steven Hammond, who have been in disputes with federal-land managers over grazing for decades, and who, on Monday, went to prison for setting illegal fires on federal land. (The Hammonds have distanced themselves from Bundy’s occupation in public comments.)

More here.