What was the difference? They had ‘guns’


(A version of this column appeared in the April 10 edition of “Firearms News,” formerly “Shotgun News.”)

The federal government is trying to push productive, hard-working rural people off the land. The national media serves as a rah-rah chorus for these efforts.

Why such one-sided cheerleading? Ignoring the fact it was government agencies -– not “militia types” -– who closed the schools and turned the town of Burns, Oregon into a virtual military encampment this winter (with most of those troopers curiously unwilling to display shoulder patches or any other identifying insignia), the urban-based media did all their shrieking about the peaceful occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, who never hurt anyone. Why? Because they were “civilians” exercising their dreaded Second Amendment rights, of course. They had . . . guns.

One of the main points Ammon Bundy and the other protesters at Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge were trying to make is that the ruthless ongoing campaign to push out of business the Hammonds and the other cattle-ranching families around that particular “refuge” (which is increasingly barren of wildlife since the federals fenced out the fertilizing cattle -– a familiar trend) is just the tip of the iceberg.

Federal regulators who control most of the land (despite their inability to show how or when they ever bought it from the state, as required by the Constitution) — ludicrously claiming to be “protecting wilderness” and “saving endangered species” — have changed Harney County in mere decades from the most prosperous to the poorest county in Oregon by progressively shutting down logging, sawmills, mines, and ranches.

(See www.rangemagazine.com/features/fall-15/1602-hammond-fight_for_justice.pdf , or www.rangemagazine.com/features/fall-15/range-hammond-su14-government_tyranny.pdf , and www.eenews.net/stories/1060031154 .)

Tim Findley, former chief investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and assistant editor for Rolling Stone, who died five years ago at the age of 67, had been working for Range magazine, covering government attempts to push out Nevada ranchers, for more than a year when I spoke to him in 2001.

He told me the struggle between ranchers like Cliff Gardner and Cliven Bundy on one side -— federal regulators and “land managers” on the other -— amounts to a war of religions.


Both Bundy and Gardner are Mormons, Findley pointed out. They believe that taming the wilderness is a noble cause, and raising their children close to the land has been good for their families and their society.

“On the other side we have the arrogant practitioners of an environmental religion,” Findley said, “endeavoring to use federal force -— in blatant violation of the First Amendment — to ‘establish’ and impose across the West the religion of environmentalism, which holds that cattle -— and lumbering and mining, for that matter -— are unnatural desecrations of nature’s temple, a wilderness from which all human activity must be banished so that the lands can be held in permanent trust in their wild splendor.”

I mentioned to Findley that the ranchers argue the lands are in better shape where they’ve been grazed by cattle then where they’ve been fenced off for years as sterile “wilderness.”

“Cliff (Gardner) has more than anecdotal evidence for his claims,” Findley responded. “He’s been out there taking pictures for more than 20 years and he had built a very convincing case. Cliff contends these forage plants evolved to need large ungulates to graze them, whether that be cattle or some other animal, and the cattle are a vital part of the ecosystem. They can demonstrate that. Where the cattle graze you see an enormous beneficial growth of the game species, the deer herds and so forth. Where they fence the cattle off the land you see the land go to waste; you see a build-up in fuel so you get more and harsher range fires.”

Findley, the transplanted Californian who had covered the Indian takeover of Alcatraz Island, had been in Nevada for 10 years. He told me: “Ranchers like Cliff remind me a lot more of the Black Panthers. Those were also people who tried to stand up for their rights but they were pushed around because they were minorities. I try to explain to my friends (back in California) that these ranchers are now being pushed around and terrorized and threatened with jail and the loss of their livelihoods for standing up for their rights in exactly the same way the Black Panthers were; I don’t see any conflict between what we used to write about back then and what I’m doing now.

“What drew the Black Panthers to public attention is one day they went to Sacramento to the state capitol and walked around carrying shotguns, which it was perfectly legal for them to do. . . . But because they were all black and all dressed the same the police then started to terrorize them -— they were all arrested, and the state terrorism against them began.

“The Black Panthers were never charged with robbing banks or anything like that. They said ‘We have these rights,’ and the state said, ‘Not to exercise them when you’re all black and you all dress the same, not to exercise them in this militaristic fashion.’ So the police terrorized them. If you start with people like Cliff Gardner becoming political prisoners then that’s when you’re going to see more resistance and more real tragedy. They’re saying we have constitutional rights and the government is saying well, you have to give up your livelihoods if you try to exercise those rights. . . .”


But getting back to the way the G-men treated the protesters at the Malheur Refuge this winter -– and how it differs from the way other “occupiers” of federal property are treated — Todd MacFarlane, attorney for LaVoy Finicum’s family, wrote in early February of this year at www.boilingfrogspost.com/2016/02/04/view-from-the-trenches-from-my-perspective-by-todd-macfarlane/ :

“In . . . the aftermath of LaVoy Finicum’s death, there is something I do have to get off my chest, and it has to do with the hypocrisy and discrimination involved in our Governments’ approach to the Malheur Occupation.”


For years, a group of hippies known as the Rainbow Family has been engaging in large annual occupations of BLM and Forest Service-managed lands in the West, attorney Macfarlane notes. “A Rainbow Family gathering is what you could legitimately call an ‘occupation.’ They come in droves -– thousands, even tens of thousands. And from the beginning to the end, they probably physically occupy the spot they choose -– on BLM or Forest Service land — for at least 60 days. They don’t get any permits. They don’t ask anyone’s permission. They just do it. It’s ‘public’ land. They are members of the public, and they believe they have a right to be there. . . .

“But to my knowledge, no one has ever made the kind of fuss about Rainbow Family gatherings as has been made about the occupation at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge,” Mr. Macfarlane notes. “Why?

“The only real difference that I can think of boils down to one word: ‘guns.’ The Rainbow Family are known to be pacifists who loathe guns and firearms. . . .


“Although plenty of long hair, tattoos, body piercings, nudity, contraband, and other such perceived ‘craziness’ abounds in a Rainbow situation, . . . I had no fear or concern for my own personal safety when I visited the Rainbow scout encampment; but neither did I have any fear when I visited the occupied Malheur Wildlife Refuge.”

Although Harney County locals may have been apprehensive at first about visiting the refuge and its occupants, once they went and saw what was going on they seemed to lose all fear and concern about safety and security, attorney Macfarlane reports.

“Local rancher Rodney Johnson stated on several occasions that when he learned that the schools were going to be closed for a week, he told his wife to take their children on a field trip to the refuge. And why weren’t the kids in school? The school district announced that the schools would be closed for the whole week out of concern for public safety.


“The minute I heard that I knew something was fishy,” Macfarlane writes. “The wildlife refuge was out in the middle of nowhere, at least 30 miles from town. When I learned that the FBI wanted to use the Jr. High School as a command center, it all made sense. Now that is truly an armed occupation.”

So why, Macfarlane asks, was Oregon Governor Kate Brown “completely freaking out about what was going on at Malheur? . . . Why was she treating this situation differently than a Rainbow Family Gathering that in almost every case is much bigger, more intrusive, and more ‘impeding’ than anything that has happened at Malheur? . . .

“There is no question that full responsibility for the over-the-top -– and ultimately violent -– reaction rests entirely with the government, including . . . the State of Oregon, with Governor Brown issuing the orders to shoot on sight, sooner rather than later.”

But the media has also played a role, attorney Macfarlane notes. “They were chomping at the bit for a REAL story. They knew the news cycle only lasts about two weeks, so they hoped to see it all wrapped up in about that amount of time, and they put a lot of pressure on Governor Brown to see if she could help make that happen, and help deliver a real story, so the whole thing would not end up fizzling out with an anti-climactic ending. . . .

“There is no question, the biggest difference in the whole equation is that word ‘guns.’ Because this group of people at the wildlife refuge were known to be exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms, they were discriminated against six ways from Sunday. . . . They have been labeled by the mainstream media as armed militants and terrorists. Their defensive sidearms are portrayed as the root of all evil, while the governments’ Bearcats and .50 caliber machine guns are completely ignored.”

This despite the fact, Macfarlane notes, that in such so-called “armed standoffs,” not a single one of the thousands of “so-called redneck militia” has ever actually “pulled” a gun on anyone, “let alone killed anyone, while law enforcement has now apparently fired hundreds of shots for the express purpose of terrorizing Americans.”

Vin Suprynowicz was for 20 years an award-winning columnist and editorial writer for the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal. He is the author of the essay collection “Send in the Waco Killers” and two new novels about the War on Drugs, “The Testament of James” and “The Miskatonic Manuscript.” He blogs at www.vinsuprynowicz.com .

2 Comments to “What was the difference? They had ‘guns’”

  1. MamaLiberty Says:

    It would be tragic if anyone decided that committing aggression was somehow necessary to gain liberty, but I truly believe that serious defensive action is necessary.

    Someone, preferably lots of someones, will have to start shooting the bastards who are attacking. Not from ambush, and not even with any hope of surviving the encounter, perhaps… but it’s long PAST time.

    Shooting back will absolutely ring the bell, and may (hopefully will) bring down the whole house of cards. Many will suffer and die, obviously, but I don’t think that can be avoided. And the longer people think that it can be avoided with these “protests,” armed or otherwise, the more suffering and death there will be in the long run – in my not so humble opinion.

    Remember Stalin, Pot Pol, etc. Why in heaven’s name would we wait until we were disarmed?

  2. MamaLiberty Says:

    Also, remember that the folks murdered at Waco, TX had guns. Didn’t make much difference to them, especially since nobody backed them up… just watched while they burned. Nobody is going to be able to do this on their own.