Opinion » Note

It's Because of the Idiots

A look under the trappings of a 'patriotic uprising'

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In a moment of especial extremis, one of the lead characters in the surprisingly well-crafted Old West/cannibal horror film Bone Tomahawk remarks, "This is why frontier life is so difficult. It's not because of the indians or the elements, but because of the idiots."

It's true. The "frontier," or as we in the 21st century call it, "home," has always attracted a special kind of person: stubborn, independent, a little wild and brutal. Also, too often, idiotic.

Witness the armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon. Over the New Year's holiday weekend, a gang of gun-toting, camo-clad, so-called "militia" members jumped in their pickups and descended on Burns, Ore., from parts as far flung as Nevada, Wyoming and North Dakota. Flying their upside-down United States flags, they hijacked another also wrongheaded protest and stormed an unoccupied, federally owned building about 30 miles out of town. There, they think they'll make a stand against a government that has stripped them of their rights.

It has the trappings and rhetoric of a patriotic uprising, but it's as intellectually dishonest as it is deficient.

Led by Ammon Bundy (whose name rings close to "mammon"), the son of famous tax-dodging Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy (whose name is too close to "craven" for comfort), these latter-day sagebrush rebels aren't so lofty as land reformers. They're playing soldier in service to some atavistic vision of a Wild West where they can appropriate land to build miniature fiefdoms beholden to no law but their batty religious convictions.

It's a vision that rejects the fundamental reality of the West: All the land has already been stolen. The challenge now, as it has been for more than a century, is to retain a balance between use and misuse of its resources. That balance is rooted in process, and the process—if you believe in our republican form of government—comes from the ballot box, not a bunch of good old boys camped out at a bird sanctuary.

Many observers have called the Bundy clan and its attendant country thugs "terrorists." They're not, insofar as they don't elicit terror. They're greedy, spoiled and entitled, which makes their patriotic posturing an embarrassment rather than an insurrection.