'Up in Arms': New Book Explores the Bundys, Militias and the Battle Over Public Lands
By Tara Lohan
When armed militants with a grudge against the federal government seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon back in the winter of 2016, I remember avoiding the news coverage. Part of me wanted to know what was happening, but each report I read — as the occupation stretched from days to weeks and the destruction grew — made me so angry it was hard to keep reading.
That's why I picked up John Temple's new book Up in Arms: How the Bundy Family Hijacked Public Lands, Outfoxed the Federal Government, and Ignited America's Patriot Militia Movement.
I wanted to see what I'd missed. And I wanted to understand the extremist ideologies that continue to dominate many discussions in the American West.
Temple, an author and journalism professor at West Virginia University's Reed College of Media, provides a page-turning account of both the 2014 standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada, that launched scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy and his family into the national spotlight and the 2016 occupation of Malheur, led by Bundy's sons Ammon and Ryan.
"It's obviously an exciting story with cowboys and guns and takeovers and standoffs," Temple told me about the book. "But it sheds light on public lands issues, environmental issues, on questions about how the government should handle these situations and the urban-rural divide in this country."
The book also delves into the history of the Sagebrush Rebellion, a western U.S. movement against federal ownership of public lands that ignited in the late 1970s and has continued to smolder in the decades since.
The Bundys, who still subscribe to this line of thinking, refused to recognize the Bureau of Land Management's authority over the public land where they graze their cattle (or the federal government in general). That ultimately led — after 20 years of federal agencies looking the other way — to an armed standoff in which the FBI attempted to seize the rancher's cattle after years of unpaid grazing fees and mounting fines.
Spoiler alert: It didn't end well for the government.
Temple then chronicles the play's second act, during which the Bundy sons engineered the takeover of the federally run Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for more than a month. The pretense was defending local Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were sentenced to jail for federal land arson, but who actually eschewed the Bundys' help. The occupation turned out to be more of a publicity stunt than anything — one that ended in spectacular failure (although the Bundys insist it was a success). In the process they also trashed the refuge headquarters and racked up a $9 million tab for taxpayers.
While Up in Arms gives a detailed view of the ideology that motivates the Bundys, the story is much bigger than them. It's also an exploration of the motivations of some of the most hardline anti-federal militants in the country — not just the Bundys, but the ragbag collection of so-called Patriot movement followers that flocked to their ranch, even when most of them lacked understanding of public-lands issues and the cause they were backing.
In fact, Temple said, he first came to the story of the Bundys researching an unrelated project about militias. As a result there's not much in the book about the underlying environmental issues at the heart of the Bundy actions, including the impact of renegade ranching on public lands.
But Temple writes about the personal histories of many of the supporters who turned up for the initial showdown in Bunkerville and others who joined the occupation at Malheur. He reveals the power dynamics among different Patriot militia groups as they jockeyed for media attention and acolytes.
While the Bundys honed their talking points in scores of interviews about their anti-government rhetoric and their calling from God to act on it, Temple said that most of the other Bundy supporters didn't have much political inspiration or well-formed ideologies.
"I think some of these folks were motivated on a very personal level where they have trouble with authority and that kind of thing," he said. "Every individual seemed to have a different set of grievances or issues that were driving them, but it coalesced around a few things: Distrust of the federal government and the feeling that the federal government was overreaching in its authority, and the Second Amendment."
What could go wrong?
As Temple writes, a lot went wrong on both sides of the confrontation between the government and the militias. This was on full view when the Bundys and their compatriots eventually faced their day in court.
If you've ever wondered, as I did, how the leaders of an armed insurrection that occupied federal property, degraded public lands, and terrorized government workers escaped punishment, it's explained here in great detail. Temple writes about not just the court proceedings that followed the standoffs but the main players on the federal government's team, including FBI leadership involved in Bunkerville. A series of bumbles and missteps ultimately led to the prosecution's ultimate failure.
There's no happy ending, unless you believe divine providence is shining down on the Bundy clan. But Temple's book paints a useful picture of the simmering, ongoing range war in the West and the havoc an unlikely alliance of right-wing groups can wreak when they converge.
That's the most sobering part of the book: It's likely a preview of things to come.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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