The Bundy Standoff is a Sign of Things to Come

The acquittal of Ammon Bundy and other militia members who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last January leaves our public lands and the people who steward them in a vulnerable position. Indeed, it puts a target on their backs.

The Bundy family has said as much. “The government should be scared,” Ryan Bundy asserted to the Washington Post less than a week after their acquittal. “They are in the wrong. The land does not belong to the government. The land belongs to the people of Clark County, not to the people of the United States.” When asked whether he and fellow militiamen had the right to take up arms to assert their control of the public land, Bundy declared: “Ask George Washington.”

This brazen and unapologetic rhetoric is a striking contrast to the Oregon jury’s carefully tailored language about their decision to free those men who bore arms against the federal government. As one juror told the Portland Oregonian in response to the post-verdict uproar: “Don’t they know that ‘not guilty’ does not mean innocent?”

The SPLC’s Intelligence Project, drives the point home: “This is a growing movement that is probably going to grow more due to this verdict because they have shown they can use armed interventions and not be punished for them.”

One of the Bundy jurors even anticipated this dire possibility: “It was not lost on us that our verdict(s) might inspire future actions that are regrettable, but that sort of thinking was not permitted when considering the charges before us.”

Fair enough. But whatever regrettable “future actions” occur, it will not be the jurors who will endure them but the dedicated men and women stewarding our public lands, our most treasured terrain. Who will step up and protect them?

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