Understanding The Oregon Militia
Above: Urban uprisings against neglect and police violence and the uprising in the West over federal land management have more in common than many realize; they also share common features with protests against fracking and carbon infrastructure. At their root is a deaf government that does not hear the people and when out of frustration some act to be heard, the government abuses its power. Once again activists need to see how the frustrations of the people are interconnected.
Note: When I listened to the speech by Rep. Greg Walden (R) which highlighted the frustration of people in Oregon who are not heard by their government, it reminded me of people in Baltimore who have lived with injustice and abuse and are never heard by their government; and it reminded me of people living with fracking and its infrastructure who are abused by government agencies and are also not heard. When he described the abusive mandatory minimum sentence handed down against ranchers, it reminded me of an uncountable number of mandatory minimum sentences handed down against drug offenders. Injustice and fraudulent democracy seem to be commonalities from which many people of the United States suffer.
We have not published much about the Oregon militia takeover of a federal building (see here and here) because we could not find someone who explained the situation well. Rep. Greg Walden has represented the congressional district where Harney County is located for 17 years. He has worked with the ranchers who live there, including the Hammonds, who now sit in jail, and understands their frustrations. You can feel how deeply he is frustrated with a federal government that fails to hear local concerns and fails to understand the people of his congressional district. If you want to begin to understand what is happening in Oregon, this is a speech you must listen to.
Keep in mind that his is one viewpoint and that the Department of Justice provides another viewpoint regarding the Hammond’s actions.
Walden discusses many issues, especially the challenge of dealing with massive fires which take hundreds of thousands of acres and create very dangerous situations for firefighters and residents. The Hammond case is rooted in this issue as they claim they were creating fires to protect their property from invasive species. Their case represents the overreach of federal prosecutors who took a terrorism statute and misused it for something that was clearly not terrorism. The unjust mandatory sentence that a senior federal judge was forced to put in place is one example of federal overreach. The judge described the sentence he was forced to mete out as one that shocked his conscience and was disproportionate to the crime. We hope President Obama has the courage to use his clemency powers to undo this injustice. Sadly, the militia takeover of a federal building probably makes this less likely.
Walden goes on to describe the constant overreach by federal agencies in how they manage federal lands, how they conflict with local people and refuse to listen to their concerns. He proudly points to a bill he authored in 1999 that created a mechanism for cooperative management of the land between federal authorities and the people who live in the area, but how the federal agencies undermined the law, did the opposite of what the law was intended and ran roughshod over the people. Even when hundreds showed up at public meetings in these low population areas, their views were ignored.
Walden does not condone the armed takeover of a federal building. He urges that protest to end. He does not see anything good coming out of it and believes the tactics will do more harm than good for their cause. It reminds me of the reaction to the brief moment of property damage, which some called a riot, that occurred during the Baltimore uprising after the death of Freddie Gray. Officials criticized the burning of cars and destruction of business property, but when that occurred, the media showed up and a conversation about decades of neglect and police abuse in poor communities began to come out. Would their cause otherwise been ignored?
There are many commonalities between communities dealing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that has approved fracking infrastructure, pipelines, compressor stations and gas export terminals despite widespread community opposition. FERC does not listen to communities impacted by fracking and the infrastructure needed for the business interests who they put ahead of local communities. Just as those communities are not heard, neither are the western communities. In both situations the claim that the US is a representative democracy is seen as a sham because the people’s views are not represented by federal agencies that put other interests before the people. Uprisings are understandable when the people cannot be heard in any other way.
One major difference that we have covered but cannot be left unmentioned is the very different treatment of Black Lives Matter peaceful protesters and armed white protesters by law enforcement and the media. As illustrated in the photo above, peaceful black protesters are surrounded by highly militarized police, subjected to abuse with tear gas and rubber bullets, arrested without cause and ignored while armed white ranchers are treated with kid glove de-escalation tactics, listening and negotiation. This is a whole other reality that should be exposed and explored.
Remarkable floor speech last night by Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon. Dramatic, heart felt on occupation, rural issues. https://t.co/EFjy7UhZTW
— Les Zaitz (@LesZaitz) January 6, 2016
The tweet above links to the full speech of Rep. Greg Walden which we urge readers to watch in full if they want to understand the frustration that has led to the militia takeover of a federal building in Oregon. KZ
Rep. Walden uncorks years of frustrations in speech going viral
Greg Walden took to the floor of the U.S. House on Tuesday night, prepared to give a five-minute address about the occupation in Oregon.
Standing at the lectern, the Oregon congressman looked at the speech his staff wrote for him.
“I threw it aside,” Walden said, and launched into an unscripted speech remarkable for its emotion and blunt clubbing of federal agencies, and as a paean to the Western lifestyle.
His went on for nearly a half hour. In days, the official Youtube video of the speech logged 100,000 views. Walden normally logs no more than 2,000 views of floor speeches.
“As I walked off the floor, I was completely drained. It was a shock,” Walden said. “I have never had a speech that left me drained like that.”
Walden in the early days of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge kept his counsel, not wanting to cause problems in an uncertain situation. He had been in Oregon the day militants led by Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy took over. He was in the air back to Washington, D.C., as the nation awoke to the news of the latest militia-generated crisis.
He monitored news accounts while participating in a two-day retreat outside Washington, where House Republican leaders planned the year’s agenda for the caucus. Walden, elected to the House in 1998, is in leadership circles as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Walden said he called his wife Mylene back at their Hood River home as he drove back to Washington Tuesday from the treat. They talked over the Harney County occupation. Walden said he was still hesitant to say anything publicly. He recounted part of the conversation:
“You’ve got to give voice to the people,” Mylene Walden said.
“I’m trying not to inflame the situation,” Walden said.
“No, you really need to do this,” his wife responded.
Walden said he pulled his staff together that afternoon, asked for the draft of a speech, and for arrangements to be made for floor time to give the talk.
He walked to the House floor that evening, given time during “special orders” at the end of the daily session. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert had already reserved the hour, but yielded to Walden’s request for five minutes. Walden said Gohmert told him to take all the time he needed.
He intended, he said, to quickly make points about grazing permits, the proposal for a 2.5 million acre national monument in Malheur County and other Western issues. He started talking at 7:25 p.m. Eastern time to a nearly-empty chamber.
“I got up there and 17 years of working with farmers and ranchers and folks in eastern Oregon just poured out,” Walden said. He described it as an “artesian well of emotion.”
He educated viewers about the size of Harney County: “Just this one county is 10 times the size of Rhode Island. It is larger than the state of Maryland.”
He talked of knowing the Hammond ranching family of Diamond for nearly two decades. The patriarch, Dwight Hammond Jr., and his son Steven went to prison the day before Walden’s speech. They were convicted on arson charges for burning federal land – a case that triggered the militia to rally in Burns.
He recounted episode after episode of what he said was arrogant federal bureaucracies hampering rural Oregon.
“Do you understand how frustrated I am at this? Can you imagine how the people on the ground feel?”
Walden, who owned radio stations in the Columbia Gorge and spent time on air, said he thought to himself as he spoke, “How am I going to end this?”
He said he told himself he had made the points he wanted and “it was time” to stop.
The speech meant to last five minutes and cover 1,000 words lasted nearly five times that. His unscripted remarks ran to 3,411 words.
The next day, in a Republican caucus, other congressmen kidded him about the standoff. He quickly quieted them down, ticking off details of how serious was the situation out in Oregon.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” Walden said. “They never stop talking.”
In the days that followed, he said, his office handled a “stunningly positive reaction” from across Oregon and the country. A colleague from New Jersey showed him a note from a constituent asking why he couldn’t be more like Greg Walden.
He said the speech had the impact he most wanted: increasing attention from his colleagues for Western issues.
He said they are coming to him and other Western congressmen with one question: “How can we help you guys?”