‘Sovereign Citizens’ and the Oregon Standoff

Oregon Standoff


For background on the Oregon standoff, I invite everyone to re-watch Rachel Maddow’s exposé on Cliven Bundy, which traces the threads of this political movement back to Reconstruction Era legislation and the ideals of William Potter Gale. Gale, a colonel who served under General MacArthur in WWII, fused white supremacist theology (which came to be euphemistically known as “Christian identity,” or CI) with a belief in posse comitatus (Latin for “power of the community”), which denies federal sovereignty in all forms and asserts instead a “sovereign citizen” doctrine that purports to answer only to the local sheriff.

Read that last line again for emphasis. This twinship of crackpottery was picked up by Bundy and his ideological descendants, many of whom, led by Cliven’s son, now occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.



Interestingly enough, the Bundy clan met with Harney County sheriff David Ward prior to commencing their occupational protest, enjoining him to intervene on Dwight and Steven Hammonds’ (the convicted’s) behalf. Ward declined participation in their requests, for which he received a number of death threats. In a statement released yesterday, Ward called out the militia group for what he sees as a broader crusade to overthrow the government: “These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.” Ostensibly, the sheriff isn’t too interested in posse comitatus.

The group’s larger motives become easier to unpack once you consider that not even the ranchers themselves support the Bundy siege. Both Hammonds have explicitly disavowed any affiliation with the Bundy cause and wish to serve out their sentence without armed intervention or a sought conflict with federal officials. The takeover would likely have proceeded with or without the Hammonds in custody, however, as Ammon Bundy has acknowledged to reporters that their operation had been planned for some time, and that he had even tried to recruit local residents, though unsuccessfully. The organizers appear to be using this latest re-sentencing as a springboard for their harebrained insurgency.

In terms of media coverage of this story, within a week we will see which press outlets carry on with open disregard for history and make common cause with the occupiers. We will remember that Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity and, yes, even Rand Paul, all defended Cliven Bundy in his fiasco prior to his obscenely racist remarks, despite all of the many, and obvious, warning signs leading up to that point which apparently went ignored. Claiming that there isn’t such a thing as the federal government, as Cliven did on multiple occasions, would seem to constitute one such red flag. And during last year’s protest, Ammon Bundy, Cliven’s son and ringleader of the current occupation, was “tased by officers after he soullessly kicked a government dog.” It isn’t difficult to divine a warped sense of reality when people wear it proudly on their sleeve.

I really hope, this time, Republicans and conservative media see this for what it is such that history does not repeat itself, lest they mainstream yet another fringe group. As Maddow notes, we find “all of those old threads still knotted together.” Indeed.


Further reading:

— What You Need to Know About the Current Militia Standoff In Oregon

— Who the Hell Is Ammon Bundy, the Oregon Militia Ringleader?