The many hypocrisies of the Oregon standoff

When an environmentalist takes action to defend a forest in the United States, she risks being labeled a “terrorist.” When an armed right-wing militia member commandeers a forest for his personal profit, he is “standing up to tyranny.” The Oregon standoff that began January 2 demonstrates this hypocrisy, and not only that hypocrisy.

Nor is it only law enforcement and the “justice” system that treats a case such as this differently; the corporate media does as well. Start with what the sheriff of Harney County, the remote southeastern Oregon region where the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters is located, said:

“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.”

Let’s set aside the laughable idea that a handful of right-wing freeloaders peddling extremist ideologies could be taken seriously. That they have zero chance of sparking anything resembling a mass movement doesn’t negate the seriousness of the standoff. Imagine that a group of African-Americans took up arms and took over a government facility, with an intention of sparking rebellion. How long do you think they would last before every police force that could squeeze itself into the action would storm them with guns blazing and bombs roaring?

Steens Mountains from the Buena Vista Overlook located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (photo by Oregon Department of Transportation}

Steens Mountains from the Buena Vista Overlook located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (photo by Oregon Department of Transportation}

Remember the Philadelphia police bombing of the MOVE organization in 1985? Eleven people died and 61 homes were destroyed. Or, more recently, Tamir Rice? A 12-year-old waving a toy gun was killed within two seconds of police arriving; police shot him dead without bothering to demand the toy gun be dropped. Tamir was one of 1,134 people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015, tragically illustrating that young Black men are nine times more likely to be shot by police than other United Statesians.

Yet in the Oregon takeover, police seem content to wait. This is not a suggestion to storm the refuge headquarters; a peaceful solution should be found. But the contrast with how a White armed group is treated is sharp.

Convicted of two arsons, but they were “accidents”

The militia members purportedly are “defending” father and son ranchers sentenced for two separate arsons of public lands. The corporate media has been portraying these arsons as some unfortunate accident, when the reality is quite different. The New York Times accepts the ranchers’ explanation as fact, publishing this account on January 4:

“Dwight and Steven [Hammond] were convicted of lighting fires, in 2001 and 2006, that they said were efforts to protect their property from wildfires and invasive plant species. The fire in 2001 accidentally spread to about 140 acres of government land, documents show. In 2006, a burn ban was in effect while firefighters battled blazes started by a lightning storm on a hot day in August. Steven Hammond had started a ‘back burn’ to prevent the blaze from destroying the family’s winter feed for its cattle.”

Oh, gosh, so they were a little overzealous in protecting their ranch, what’s the big deal? So the Times would have us believe. The reality, however, is much more serious, as even a few minutes of investigation reveals. The 2001 fire, a jury found, was set to conceal the illegal slaughter of deer on Bureau of Land Management property. Here is the government account of this incident:

“Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property. Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out ‘Strike Anywhere’ matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to ‘light up the whole country on fire.’ One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson. The fire consumed 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations.  … Dwight and Steven Hammond told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about the fire.”

That relative was the elder Hammond’s grandson, then an adolescent who testified that his uncle gave him matches to start the fire. He found himself surrounded by the fire after being separated from his family, saving himself by sheltering in a creek. In the 2006 fire that also resulted in a conviction for arson, firefighters had to take measures to save themselves from the illegal fires, which were set in defiance of a ban put in place because of the hot and dry weather. The government’s sentencing memorandum gives this account:

“[F]ire fighter Brett Dunten, using a diagram he had drawn, testified that about 10:00 pm on August 22, 2006, there were three spot fires below the rim of Krumbo Butte. The spot fires were 300 to 500 yards from the main fire and more than a mile from the Hammond Ranch property. There were no fires between the main fire and the spot fires.” [citations omitted]

Allegations of child abuse

The grandson, a ThinkProgress article reports, had good reason to “keep his mouth shut” out of fear of his family. He later told a sheriff’s deputy that he had been abused multiple times, being punished by blows, forced to eat cans full of chewing tobacco, being driven 10 miles away and forced to walk home, and after carving two letters into himself with a paper clip having the letters removed with sandpaper.

These are the people that at least some right-wingers are hailing as persecuted heroes and whom the corporate media is sanitizing.

The standoff was prompted, its participants say, by the Hammonds’ imminent return to jail. Although the crimes for which they were convicted require a five-year minimum prison term, a right-wing judge sentenced them to far less. An appeals court overturned the trial judge’s sentence, ordering the Hammonds back to jail to serve out five-year terms. Here again hypocrisy must be noted. Even at five years, for arsons that put other people in jeopardy of their lives, the Hammonds’ sentence contrasts strongly with that of sentences handed down to environmentalists.

Take the notorious case of Jeff “Free” Luers, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison for setting fire to three light trucks at an Oregon automobile dealer. Unlike the Hammonds, Mr. Luers took care to commit his arson at a time and in a manner that would cause no physical harm to anyone. Two of the three vehicles were so lightly damaged that they were eventually able to be sold by the dealership. But Mr. Luers committed his 2001 arson for political reasons: To bring attention to global warming, then an issue not so much in the public eye.

It was a poor idea and bad tactics, yes. But it nonetheless was much less severe than what the Hammonds did, yet he received a stiffer punishment, ultimately serving 10 years after an appeals court reduced his sentence. As his lawyer, Lauren Regan, told Democracy Now after he was freed:

“[The sentence] was clearly imposed to send a message. And as Jeff mentioned, even in the federal system, the crime of arson normally carries about a two-year prison sentence. So the fact that this particular act of economic sabotage created very little monetary damage, but yet he, you know, got over ten times what someone who would have committed an arson for a greed purpose would have received, definitely drew the attention of the global community. … [I]t really is sort of a war of ideology in a lot of ways. If the government wants to brand you as a terrorist based on your beliefs or based on your ethical principles, there’s really no way for you to defend yourself of that. And it definitely — you know, from the beginning of the Green Scare, the government has really taken this campaign to the media.”

Corporate origins of environmentalism as “terrorism”

The term “eco-terrorist” was invented by a corporate lobbyist who advocates opening millions of acres of federal land to commercial development and logging. Kyle J. Bohrer of Beloit College, in his paper “ ‘Ecoterrorism’ in the United States: Industry Involvement in Group Prosecution,” elaborates on that, writing:

“Although radical environmentalists engage in illegal activity, they have never killed anyone or specifically targeted individuals with intent to physically harm them. Yet, radical right-wing organizations that have systematically killed doctors that perform abortions have never been labeled as terroristic.”

Now let us look at the ideology animating the militia members’ takeover. The Guardian, quoting Ammon Bundy (son of the infamous Nevada free-riding rancher Clive Bundy, to whom we will return), provided this account:

“ ‘This will become a base place for patriots from all over the country,’ [Bundy] said, inviting like-minded people to bring their weapons and join up. ‘We’re the point of the spear that’s going to bring confidence and strength to the rest of the people.’ He and [Blaine] Cooper blamed the government for the steady decline of family ranching — a slow fall driven by drought, industrial cattle farms, the rise of synthetic textiles and myriad other forces. They also blamed government for the general malaise of many working class Americans, especially in rural areas where coal, oil, manufacturing and agriculture jobs have disappeared over the last 30 years.

‘The government has beat us and oppressed us and took everything from us,’ Cooper told reporters.”

The Guardian report later added this droll observation:

“[Bundy’s] assertion that ‘this refuge rightfully belongs to the people.’ although ripped from conservative rhetoric, is vague enough that it could mean almost anything. Open rights to graze, mine and log the refuge — whether for Harney County residents or every American taxpayer —could mean either a communist utopia of shared wilderness or a free-for-all of capitalist consumption.”

One strongly doubts that the militia members had in mind a communist utopia, or any desire to share the land with others. What seems to have escaped their attention is that it is private corporations, not the government, that have been cutting jobs and shipping jobs overseas. Although it is true that “free trade” agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are making it easier for multi-national capital to move production, governments are doing so at the behest of the corporations that dominate capitalist societies. Governments are reduced to granting ever more subsidies and giveaways to keep jobs from being moved, and thus are at the mercy themselves of capitalists.

Energy companies are eyeing public lands

The rhetoric that these militia members spout is no different, even if delivered in a different manner, than corporate ideology that seeks the sale of public lands on the cheap. As just one example, a Koch brothers-backed outfit calling itself the Property and Environment Research Center is advocating selling national parks. The group argues that restrictions on timber and energy development should be removed to make public lands more profitable before being sold. They are far from alone in such unpopular advocacy.

What those who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge advocate is not an abstract “freedom” from “government tyranny” but a concrete desire to use public lands for their own profit without paying for the privilege. Clive Bundy is the rancher who was involved in an armed standoff with federal agents in 2014 after the agents attempted to seize some of his cattle for not paying grazing fees. Bundy owes $1.2 million in penalties for ignoring fines and court orders after grazing his cattle on public land for more than two decades.

What we have here is the petit bourgeois version of capitalist ideology, wanting to take from everybody else while paying as little as possible. Freeloading ranchers like Bundy are no different, except in scale, from corporations that don’t pay taxes and demand subsidies.

Neoliberalism equates “freedom” with individualism, but as a specific form of individualism that is shorn of responsibility. “Freedom” for industrialists and financiers is freedom to rule over, control and exploit others; “justice” is the unfettered ability to enjoy this freedom, a justice reflected in legal structures. Working people are “free” to compete in a race to the bottom set up by capitalists. This is the freedom loftily extolled by the corporate media, and this is the basis of the freedom right-wing militias and their supporters say they want.

Once again, can it be imagined if a Person of Color instigated an armed standoff with police that the result would be, “Oh well, he doesn’t want to pay, let’s go home then.” By refusing to enforce the law against people like Bundy, these militias with their demented phantasmagorical delusions have only been encouraged. The continual shrieking that the government and corporate media is somehow a left-wing cabal can only bring an amused smile to our faces.

Finally, it should be noted that forests in southeast Oregon are in strong need of protection. Most people’s perception of Oregon is of a lush, green land amply watered, but that is only true along the Pacific coast and in the Cascades. The southeast of Oregon is actually a desert, and forests are widely dispersed in highland clusters. For those who enjoy desert scenery, the region has its own beauty. I once spent a night in Burns, the Harney County seat and the area’s main town. In my experience, Burns is one of the friendliest towns I have ever been in, and the townspeople shouldn’t be tarred with the actions of a handful of fanatics who are mostly from out of the state.

On arriving in Burns, on my way to Seattle, I talked to the waiter in a restaurant, and mentioned that I had driven up via Route 395. She winced a bit, saying gently that I “didn’t see us at our nicest.” I replied that, on the contrary, I had really enjoyed the desert scenery and that it was just what I hoping to see, causing her to reply in turn that “I guess you don’t know what you have.” What also stuck in my memory is that she mentioned, in the same tone someone in a city might use to note a two-block walk to the grocery, that her son had been driving that day to Bend, the nearest city, to do his shopping — a four-hour round trip. We are talking remote here, and I suspect many in Burns are not happy that a militia takeover is what is giving the town its 15 minutes of fame.

The rest of us ought not to be happy at yet another expression of greed, especially one not only armed but wrapped in multiple layers of corporate-inspired hypocrisy.

40 comments on “The many hypocrisies of the Oregon standoff

  1. fridihem says:

    And to Think only 3 Days into 2016, and 97 Americans already killed by guns

  2. tomhuckin says:

    Excellent insights, Pete — as usual!

  3. Alcuin says:

    “What seems to have escaped their attention is that it is private corporations, not the government, that have been cutting jobs and shipping jobs overseas.”

    Alas, this lack of attention is not confined to right-wing groups – it is equally prevalent everywhere else. In a conversation with a friend who had recently returned from Norway and Holland, I said that this country is a country of “I”, while Europe is much more a country of “We.” Every single event in this country is twisted by this emphasis on “I” and it is so absolutely “normal” that no one can conceive of any alternative. The right-wingers scream about government interference in their God-given right to do as they please with no concern for others and the left-wingers are all over the place bemoaning racial killings, global warming, TPP and everything in-between without looking at the fundamental root-cause of it all: unrestrained individualism at the expense of community. The left-wingers scream about the effects of capitalism but when asked to give up their Starbucks lattes, wi-fi, or their iPhones, scream, No!!” Long ago, my favorite writer, Henry David Thoreau, wrote, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” So true. This country is profoundly and critically ill. All we who have removed our rose-colored glasses can do is watch, like we watch alcoholics kill themselves. Shades of Bruce Alexander.

    • Alcuin, your point on the lack of looking at the root is quite true. Although I think the behavior you are referring to is more indicative of liberals rather than those of us on the Left. It’s the same fundamental reason why liberals/social democrats like to claim there will be no cost to retooling industry and energy to combat global warming, and that green capitalism will keep the party going indefinitely. Thoreau was right, and he’d be even more right if he were alive today.

      I only became aware of Bruce Alexander’s writings thanks to you, and I continue to recommend his work on locating the roots of addiction in capitalist displacement, on which I have written.

      • Alcuin says:

        All well and good regarding the distinction between ‘liberals’ and ‘left’, but how many people have a clue as to the difference? For those who don’t, I’d suggest reading Chet Bowers’ essay on the misuse of political language. For those who get lost in reading the essay, here is the difference: Conservatives (Bowers calls them ‘faux-conservatives’ elsewhere) are hard-core capitalists and Liberals (Bowers terms them ‘market-liberals’) believe in green capitalism. Both believe in the free market. If by ‘left’, you mean ‘anti-capitalist’, I’m with you. But ‘left’ has a plethora of definitions, too, most of which tilt at the windmills of capitalism. I’ve not seen a leftist yet who has a workable solution to the problem of capitalism. I don’t either. I wish I did.

  4. Sally G says:

    I am not a fan of these folks, but questioning the phrasing here: “Governments are reduced to granting ever more subsidies and giveaways to keep jobs from being moved, and thus are at the mercy themselves of capitalists.”
    This is a choice made, not a given. Challenge the corporations; stop letting them pit one state against the other for the best PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) deal, and take the argument to the public. Easy? As lucrative as accepting corporate dollars? Certainly not. But I suspect most of the public has had enough. I know that there is broad support for stopping corporate tax evasion by keeping money in foreign countries; deals such as Prudential’s to move from one building in Newark to another deserve more questioning. We are seeing some of that in New Jersey, and I think that the time is ripe for much more.
    (And yes, the difference in reaction to those arson cases speaks volumes. On the other hand, we do not need the feds to repeat MOVE, Ruby Ridge, or Waco—if they learned the meaning of “siege”, that benefits us all.)

    • Sally, thanks as always for your thoughts. Government capitulation to corporations is a choice, and it is not a choice. What I think is important to remember is that the relentless competition of capitalism mandates that corporations act as they do, and when they are hesitant to do so, the whip of the financial industry is there to enforce the mandates of competition. If your competitor gains from an innovation (and lowering wage costs is just that), then you are forced to do the same or you will go out of business.

      Also, the financial industry mandates that profits rise. Buying stock at bottom is a bet on future profits; if profits are flat then the stock price is flat, too, and after too much of that, financial speculators will sell off the stock, forcing the price down until management buckles under the pressure. Thus capital insists on being mobile, and that insistence is driving the movements of production. So if you are a politician, and the head of the big factory in your town comes to you and demands tax cuts and giveaways or the plant will be shut down, you have pressure to capitulate because your constituents will mad at you for allowing the factory to shut down.

      This does reach unconscionable heights, in the Newark/Prudential case you mention or companies getting big subsidies to move from one Manhattan neighborhood to another. Yes, it would be far better for political office holders to stand up to corporate carpet-bagging. But it would take all of them working in unison, with nobody giving in, and that seems unlikely as people are desperate for jobs. Localities compete with neighboring localities because they are forced into this capitalist competition. And if New Jersey and New York stopping raiding one another, or the South stops luring Midwest corporations, that would be good, but nothing would stop them from moving to China or Vietnam or whatever country offered the lowest wage.

      If we don’t want capitalist competition, then we’ll have to do away with capitalism. I’m all for the type of reforms you are advocating. But if we got them, they’d be temporary; reforms under capitalism are taken away in time, as our neoliberal era has amply demonstrated.

      • Eduardo Cruz says:

        Why didn’t you touch her comment on MOVE, Waco , Ruby Ridge? It didn’t quite help you make your previous point on why LE was waiting Oregon out?
        Hypocrite, aren’t you?
        As much as I despise the yahoos in Oregon, I think I feel the same for lefties that are also blind to their own blindness. There is no need to hurt anyone else to right a wrong, but we do.

        • If you had read through my post, you would have noticed I made it clear that I opposed any violent outcome. I still do. I ordinarily don’t feel the need to reiterate points made in a post in comments underneath, and so directed my comments to a different question that had not been discussed. What part of “This is not a suggestion to storm the refuge headquarters; a peaceful solution should be found” is not clear to you?

  5. dylanfreak says:

    Nice work, Pete. I shared it on my Facebook page. JDB

  6. troutsky says:

    As someone who lives in the heart of right-wing militia country, I think we have to understand the “ideological rubble” these guys are buried in on a larger continuum than just the contradictions of liberal democratic capitalism. These politics of nostalgic resentment, like the mythology of the Frontier West, are bound up in psychological reactions to a modernity which has outstripped their ability (cultural cognition) to understand. To paraphrase Marx , all that seemed solid has melted into air for these romantics. They are acting out against feminism, genders they can’t understand, technologies they can’t understand, a sped up existence they can’t keep up with. In this sense, the Constitution and the Bible are their only references, as immutable Truth. Something inalienable to the severe, terrifying alienation they feel. And I think Lacan would have lots to say about castration but I’ll hold off on that one.

    So in one sense I actually admire the fact they are willing to stand up for things (however tragically misunderstood) they believe in, to assert their agency. Unlike so many apathetic droids staring at their smartphones and faking existence.

    • You have put it summarized the militia men’s psychology in excellent fashion. And I would have to agree that, in spite of profound disagreement with what they are fighting for, they do deserve acknowledgment for taking action instead of simply existing, as most people do.

      The belief systems of these people shade into that of tea party followers, and so although those holed up in Oregon are not reachable, some of the tea partiers must be. I confess here I don’t have a good idea of how to do that, beyond explaining things to as many people as possible in accessible language.

  7. plages says:

    Just give some thought at what could have or might have happened if 20 first people or 20 African or Asian Americans had invaded Oregon with assault weapons! Would there now be a hole in the ground?

  8. dmorista says:

    First let me say I liked this essay and agree with most of it, learned a couple of things I did not know, and will follow-up on a couple of your links. Your analysis of the corporate/capitalist role, the origin of the popagandistic “ecoterrorism” concept, and in particular the information about the trial and what the Hammonds actually did were all excellent. Where I will make a critical comment, is the issue where almost the entire U.S. left seems intellectually bankrupt, that of facing our, fairly grim, current reality. That is the whole issue of race, how U.S. society reacts to our racial and ethnic divides, the real class and political realities, and the fact that rural Whites, a key component of the progressive New Deal coalition, now have at least a strong orientation towards reactionary/fascitic outlooks.

    To start with you made some comparisons between events and responses, that I feel are not valid. The MOVE events took place in Philaelphia when Frank Rizzo, the former police chief and an extremely racist and reactionary figure, was intimately involved in the vicious and over the top response. That is, it was a highly politicized local government response, in a major city near the tipping point, when African-Americans were about to become the majority and displace Whites in the governmental structure (I am now 65 and grew up in Detroit and thereby understand those dynamics quite well). Better comparisons would be to look at Ruby Ridge and the Mt. Carmel events at Waco – or some other Federal agencies’ response to an armed or unarmed political challenge by “common people” (the events at Wounded Knee, or the occupation of Alcatraz would be a couple of other pertinent examples). The domestic Federal agencies do not want to be involved in any more major slaughters (for both PR and ethical reasons). That is actually a good thing, what was missing from the Federal response to the first Bundy event, in Nevada, was a follow-up after the immediate glare of publicity had died down, and the vigilantes Cliven Bundy rallied to his cause had gone home, to hunt down, arrest, and prosecute the main actors in that event, including Bundy and those of the armed “militia” members who could be indentified. Another issue is the statement, after mentioning the Tamir Rice killing (again a local police event) “…one of 1,134 people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015, tragically illustrating that young Black men are nine times more likely to be shot by police than other United Statesians.” In fact, nationwide about twice as many Whites are killed by police as African-Americans, and they are killed at a rate approximately ½ as high. Now if we compare young working class African-American men to some group, it would be appropriate to compare that rate to that for young working class White men, not to the overall population. I don’t know exactly what the two rates would be, but I know it would be significantly less than 9 to 1.

    We face an extremely serious situation here in the U.S. Our political process and socioeconomic milieu seems to be moving towards an overtly fascist situation. Leftist and progressive writers often decry the fact that working class and lower middle class Whites often vote against their “economic interests”. Why does a large segment of the White population do this, and what can be done about it? Working class Whites are just as marginalized as working class non-whites; it is true they are not quite as likely to be targeted for harrassment, but at the same time they have not developed any sort of organized progressive response to their oppression by the enforcment arms of the state, as non-whites have. This leaves a major opening for reactionary and other far-right operatives to manipulate the White population. We also see that a large and increasing portion of our professional class is now composed of Asian, Latin American, and African immigrants and their first-generation children. I cannot imagine more fertile ground for fascist organizers and operatives. The social and physical infrastructure of the U.S. is crumbling and in great need of renewal, the working class, both White and non-white desperately needs work, here is an obvious fit. The progressive forces of the U.S. need to push for a massive publicly funded socioeconomic and physical renewal program, funded by the same money creation operations that were used to save the Banks and derivatives operators, and by a major reduction in arms spending (I support Ralph Nader’s program of reducing military expenditures to ¼ of the present level over three years, and Webster Tarpley’s point that the industrial capacity of the arms industry be realigned to providing the needed technological production, Tarpley also proposes that the Federal Reserve issue 100 year zero percent infrastructure bonds to fund such an endeavor).

    These armed vigilante groups are the American equivalent of the Freikorps in Weimar Germany. They cannot be passively tolerated and ignored, but the response must be both proactive (infrastructure renewal) and reactive (arrest and trial of such actors). Are there racial differences in how people are treated in the U.S., certainly there are, but class differences are more important. And, in reality, the biggest single factor is the fact that class standing in the U.S. is very closely associated with racial identity. Asians and Jews have the highest economic standing, Whites are next but with large and growing numbers of poor, Hispanics and African-Americans have the largest proportion of poor among their populations. All the poor and working class people in the U.S. are exploited and treated extremely shabbily regardless of the racial identity. If we could help these different racial and ethnic, poor and working class groups, find a way to see each other as allies rather than enemies that would be a major achievement.

    • You make several good points. One of those is where you ask why a large segment of the White population votes against their own economic interests, and what can be done about it? I think any answer to this core question has to include the capitulation of the main left-of-center parties in the advanced capitalist countries, certainly including the U.S. Democrats, to neoliberal ideology.

      If the Democrats don’t offer an economic program substantially different than the Republicans, then the primary reason for White working class voters to continue to vote for them is eliminated. The field became open for Republicans to grab these votes, starting with Ronald Reagan, by inciting fears and playing up “culture wars,” which became more effective as liberals shrank from defending their positions and ceded ground and, crucially, language to the right.

      Fear is the principal motivating force for conservatives, and fear can only be reinforced when immense social forces, acting on a global scale, are changing their world irrevocably and appear to be leaving them behind. Capitalism, and the particularly intense individualist ideology that accompanies capitalism in the U.S., is all they know; given their fear of being left behind all the more do they cling to what they know.

      More broadly, I do believe that this fear is a crucial glue that holds together capitalism, even if this fear is less intense and less located in specific individualist belief systems on the part of most people. For the most part, people across many U.S. communities still believe there is no alternative to capitalism; that however much they are struggling, anything else will be worse. That is why alternative examples of organization such as cooperatives must be created and nurtured.

      Are, as you state, armed U.S. vigilante groups are the equivalent of the Freikorps in Weimar Germany? That is, and is not, a valid comparison. The Freikorps were the nucleus of the Nazi stormstroopers; they were used to forceably stamp out not only revolution but any substantial change to Germany’s top-down economic and political institutions immediately following World War I. They then morphed into stormtroop units and of course Hitler could not have taken power without them. The stormtroops were done away with once Hitler had consolidated power and no longer needed them.

      Could the right-wing militias that continue to percolate across the U.S. fill such a role? It has to be said that is possible. But the Freikorps were always state-sanctioned, army-directed and coordinated with industrialists’ interests. Thus they were positioned from the start to become the shock troops of fascism. The militias of the U.S. are, as far as can be seen, completely outside the corporate apparatus and, for now, the corporate rulers of the U.S. have no need for such people to stay in the saddle of power.

      If the temptation to use extracurricular force does arise, then these militias would be the logical pool to tap. They would be fools being manipulated by far larger forces in such a case, just as the Freikorps rank-and-file and the Nazi stormtroops were in Weimar Germany. All the more is it critical for us to explain the reality of why the economy has become so shaky. As I said in an earlier response, the militia men are not reachable, but many others are and we had better get to it. We need to learn to use everyday language grounded in the everyday experiences of ordinary working people — the Left has, let us be honest, been a failure here.

      • troutsky says:

        Exactly to your point, the Wise Use/Property Rights movement (of which this is just a militant faction) has a large contingent of intellectual workers, media and public speakers who do amazing propaganda work. They have applied the union motto; educate, agitate, organize, which the unions singularly failed to do. To be fair, as a stalking horse for corporate agendas they also access funding the Left cannot find. But again, we misunderstand them to the degree we simplify their motives to “greed” . You have to delve into the symbolic meanings of property and see that they, like us, are struggling over the meaning of signifiers such as “liberty” and “justice”, using a Constitutional framework. The same liberal democratic capitalist Constitution Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio defend, right?

        • Alcuin says:

          If I may enter the fray, here …

          “The same liberal democratic capitalist Constitution Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio defend, right?”

          Exactly. And that is why we need to move beyond capitalism. Market Liberals and Conservatives both share a common belief in the sacredness of the free market, where individuals pursue their own self-interest at the expense of the commons. Liberals think they can put lipstick on the pig of capitalism while conservatives think the pig is gorgeous, as is. Until the balance swings back in the direction of the value of the greater good, this country will continue to go down the tubes. The militia movement is but one tiny manifestation of the evil that is capitalism. We are plagued by the festering disease that is capitalism – until it is eradicated, all of the manifestations of it will continue to appear, like acne on the skin of a teenager. Marx was right, again, when he wrote of the relationship between the base and the superstructure.

        • I don’t see anybody here reducing motivations to simply “greed,” so I am unsure of what you are referencing there. That the more militant types such as those involved in the Oregon takeover or the Wise Use movement have different concepts of “liberty” than many others would I have no doubt; the same is surely the case for people in towns like Burns who might share some anti-government critiques of the militias while disassociating themselves from such armed actions and seeing the takeover as counter-productive.

          Incidentally, I do have experience with Wise Use. Many years ago I was the managing editor of a newspaper in Northern New Jersey. One of the local towns is Ringwood, a middle class suburban town where much of the land is taken up by state and county parks, the state botanical garden and a large reservoir; most of Ringwood’s land is government-protected land. Immediately to the north is another large tract of forested land that, at the time owned by an insurance company that wanted to build large developments.

          There was much controversy going on around these issues, and the Wise Use people had a foothold on the borough council (the town’s governing body). There was a small group of local environmentalists who called themselves “Clean” (I don’t recall what the acronym stood for). The Wise Use people would put out fliers referring to the environmentalists as “Ku Klux Clean” and demanding they “pick one lie and stick to it.” Truly vicious people, and very out of character in a place where local politics is generally gentile.

          Whether smear tactics of that type or armed takeovers such as the Oregon standoff, the fact is that such people are trying to grab public lands for their own personal use and profit (or are stalking horses for those trying to grab lands), and need to use intimidation to get their way. As Alcuin points out, these attitudes are part of a continuum of capitalist, individualist ideology. To further illustrate this, an article by Jeffrey St. Clair and James Ridgeway, written in 1995 and re-published on CounterPunch on January 5, provides a rundown of the exploits of the Hammonds, who have a long history of taking public land for their own use and repeatedly threatening the wildlife workers who sought to protect the land. These are not people who merit sympathy.

  9. tubularsock says:

    SD >>>>>>>> RIGHT ON!

  10. irawoodward says:

    Yeah but these militia people are willing to take personal risks for their cause that most leftists wouldn’t even dream of. Which earns my respect.

    • Organizations like the Black Panthers took far greater risks than these right-wing militias ever will. And the militias’ cause? Taking public land for their personal use and threatening anybody who gets in their way isn’t exactly a “cause” to rally around.

      • irawoodward says:

        I agree about the selfishness of the militia; I also deplore their use of inimidation. As far as greater risk– I didn’t see this post until just now (not on wordpress super-often.) But as you probably know law enforcement shot and killed one of the militiamen.

        • I am aware; I am continuing to follow the standoff closely. I watched the video statement of the driver of one of the two cars; this militia follower stated clearly that the man shot charged the police. I also understand they had been attempting to force their way past a roadblock.

          Let me be clear I am against any violent denouement here, and do not wish to see anybody shot, but the man shot had also said he would rather die than spend any time in jail. The Oregonian today is reporting there are five holdouts left in the refuge, four of whom apparently are free to go and one who faces federal charges. Let us hope the negotiations now going on lead to a peaceful resolution — and that there will be no more of these armed takeovers.

  11. Alcuin says:

    Just a thought — is this how the Commons were dismantled in England starting in the 14th century? By psychological ancestors of these selfish individuals? Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is, after all, a Common. It would be interesting to draw the parallels between the two eras.

    • That would be a very interesting comparison, Alcuin. There are differences — the commons began to be enclosed by elites, the aristocracy acting in concert with state support, while in this case a portion of a middle strata (land-owning ranchers) are lashing out against the state although it is agribusiness that is likely the source of much of their difficulties.

      Nonetheless, a similar selfish impulse that a valuable resource should be taken by one family, for their personal profit, and everybody else who previously enjoyed reasonable usage be kicked out pervades both. Capitalist greed (in formation in medieval England and highly developed in the late-capitalist United States), backed by force, have distinct commonalities.

  12. Alcuin says:

    After reading of the latest development in the stand-off between the militia and the federal government in Oregon, I did a little research into Ryan Payne, one of those arrested. As I read this article, it occurred to me that these militia types are mostly poorly educated but well intentioned people, for the most part. Dismissing them as crack-pots really doesn’t further our understanding of them. Their inability to dig deeper into the sources of their discontent makes them dangerous and fool-hardy. The score now reads: Federal Government: 3; Militia: 0. The idea that anyone could go up against the federal government with hand weapons is just insanity. But an awful lot of people are insane. They see the same things that we on the anti-capitalist left see, but they aim their ire at the wrong actors. They get lost in complex conspiracy theories when they should be reading Marx. It’s so easy to blame “Jewish Bankers” and so difficult to read Marx. After all, Marx was a communist, right? And communists are evil, right? Brainwashing is so effective ….

    • Ryan Payne, based on the portrait painted of him in the article to which you linked, certainly sounds sincere, however misplaced his anger might be. The trigger for him appears to be a mission he went on while a soldier in Iraq where his expected air cover did not arrive. The conclusion he chose to draw was that there is a conspiracy going on.

      Like you said, Alcuin, conspiracy theories are easy and studying to learn how the world actually works is much harder. Thus the popularity of conspiracy theories.

  13. Marcy Fleming says:

    The Tenth trillion episode of why capitalism is doomed. Could have been written in 1880, 1935, 1969, etc., etc., but no one except a few M-L Cultists believe it. The last depression like all the others was caused by the Fed and government intervention into the society and economy. All forms of statism everywhere have failed, it’s all a reactionary ideology to take us back to the pre-Industrial Revolution Dark Ages. The Sanders votes are not pro-Socialist votes but anti-Hillary votes.
    See Economic Controversies by Murray Rothbard and Human Action by Ludwig Von Mises.
    Capitalism created the middle class and extended New Dealism has destroyed it.

    • Thanks for giving us a laugh this morning.

    • Alcuin says:

      You wouldn’t happen to be a Rothbard-Mises (R-M) cultist, now, would you? You are so amusing, thinking that your comment will gain any traction here. And yes, the Sanders votes are anti-Hillary votes. Hillary is a tool of Wall Street, populated largely by R-M cultists.

  14. Alton C. Thompson says:

    Our real problem is that we live in a Deep State (, which is “capitalistic” in name own, whose “leaders” (rulers is a more apt term!) are clueless about human impacts on Earth System, and therefore leading our species to extinction (by 2040, per Arctic climate scientist John Davies, for example).

    • Whatever we want to call our economic system (but, really, capitalism is the term most people would agree on), that we are headed to environmental disaster can’t be denied if we are paying attention. The impossibility of reversing global warming or to make the health of the environment a leading concern under our present system is an ongoing topic of discussion on this blog.

      See, among other many articles, “Business as usual at Paris summit won’t stop global warming,” “We may have already committed ourselves to 6-meter sea-level rise” and “Staying in the environmental frying pan only gets us hotter.”

      Bill Moyers, in the article to which you linked writes: “My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day.” That it very important for all us to keep in mind: The workings of the system, controlled by an economic elite (or class) for its benefit, is there for us to see if we are willing to observe and analyze, rather than take the easy way out through fanciful constructs like a cabal of secret bankers pulling strings behind a curtain. Bill Moyers does much good work.

      • Alton C. Thompson says:

        What is implicit, I believe, in my comment is that (a) since it is apparently INEVITABLE that our species is on the road to extinction, (b) this “fact” should cause us to orient our lives with that “fact” in mind. Guy McPherson has advocated pursuing a life of excellence; I agree, but would add: “Give ‘excellence’ a meaning that YOU can live with.”

    • Alcuin says:

      The article you linked to, by Mike Lofgren, was posted on Bill Moyers’ site. Mike, according to the footer, is “… a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His book about Congress, The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, appeared in paperback on August 27, 2013. When he writes about the “Deep State”, he seems to be following the lead of G. William Domhoff, who wrote a series of books that share the theme about the cause of our predicament.

      Here are some interesting snippets from the long article:

      “… they almost invariably believe in the “Washington Consensus”: financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation and the commodifying of labor.”

      “The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction.”

      “Living upon its principal,” in this case, means that the Deep State has been extracting value from the American people in vampire-like fashion.”

      “High tech corporations and governments alike seek dominance over people though collection of personal data, but the corporations are jumping ship now that adverse public reaction to the NSA scandals threatens their profits.”

      The operative words from the quotes are: financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation, commodifying of labor, deindustrialization, extracting value, threatens their profits.

      If you will take the trouble to read Systemic Disorder’s past posts on this blog, you will find that they all address one or more of these key words. Every word is a core “value” of a capitalist economic system. Until we give up the idea that we can all be millionaires by exploiting our fellow humans, animals and the environment (the core truth of capitalism), we will remain stuck in our present predicament. We are looking at a train wreck in not-so-slow motion and when panic sets in, we are going to be in deep, deep trouble. A modicum of panic has already set in – that explains the intense support of Trump by right-wing populists and of left-wing populists for Sanders. But make no mistake – neither of these men has a clue. Both are capitalists to the core and will not address the changes that need to be made if homo sapiens is to survive.

      I’m afraid that talking about a “Deep State” is a way to absolve ones’ self from addressing what really needs to be addressed: capitalism. Capitalism is a dynamic economic system that has brought a lot of benefits, but virtually no one looks at the severe harms caused by the system and links those losses to capitalism. This is the only blog that I know of that does so. Unfortunately, far too many people insist on green- or white-washing capitalism. It will be the death of us all, but life will go on. Nature bats last.

      • Alton C. Thompson says:

        In your Reply you say: “Until we give up the idea that we can all be millionaires by exploiting our fellow humans, animals and the environment (the core truth of capitalism), we will remain stuck in our present predicament.” But your final sentence is “Nature bats last”–which comes from Guy McPherson’s web site (although you may not know that). Guy has believed, since 2002, that our species is on the road to extinction (by 2030, he has stated). I would not put a date on our extinction, except to say that it will be “soon.” Given that, I agree that we “will remain stuck in our present predicament,” but this “stuckness” will go on for only a few decades, at most.

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