Having covered the 2014 Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada — and the federal land issues at the heart of it — I was searching for a succinct way to help explain the Bundys' latest show of resistance in Oregon. This time, an armed group that includes members of the family has taken over a building at a national wildlife refuge and vowed to stay for years.
And then one of Bundy's sons, Ammon Bundy, did it for me.
He told CNN this:
I want to emphasis that the American people are wondering why they can't seem to get ahead or why everything is costing more and you are getting less, and that is because the federal government is taking and using the land and resources.
Even shorter: This takeover of a federal outpost in rural eastern Oregon is about sticking it to The Man, who they feel is responsible for their economic misfortune. It's a sentiment people following the outsider-driven 2016 presidential election should be familiar with.
Tensions between the federal government, which owns large tracts of land out West, and ranchers have existed for more than a century — basically since the government stopped giving away land and started actively preserving some of it.
In the Bundy case, government officials were trying to round up the family's cattle in the spring of 2014 in response to years of federal land grazing fees that went unpaid by the Bundy family. But things suddenly turned toward violent. Armed protesters that caught government officials off guard tried to prevent the cattle round up, resulting in a tense days-long standoff and the government's eventual release of the cattle. The government has yet to press charges of any kind on Bundy or try again to collect the cattle or grazing fees, and a report says the standoff has invigorated anti-government groups.
Familiar faces among Oregon’s armed occupiers: The notorious Bundy family
Back in Oregon, The Post's Peter Holley notes this particular wildlife refuge is one of the nation's premier for bird migration and was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
The tug-and-pull of land ownership appears to be what motivated the larger group of an estimated 300 protesters in Burns, Ore., who protested peacefully Saturday against what they saw was unfair treatment of two ranchers facing prison time after being convicted of arson.
(The father-and-son duo say they were burning the land in 2001 to try to knock off an invasive species on about 130 acres of leased federal land; prosecutors argued that they were trying to conceal poaching.)
But based on Ammon Bundy's comments, the splinter group that broke off from the protest and drove 30 miles across the snowy desert basin to take over a federal building appears to be motivated by something much more emotional: frustration about things — the economy, their land, politics, any number of issues — not going their way.
Less important to this group of hard-line occupiers is the actual dispute, whether it is ranchers being jailed in Oregon or the government rounding up the Bundy family's cattle in Nevada. More pertinent to them is the opportunity to take a stand against the federal government, which they perceive as taking advantage of the little guy.
We should pause to note that ranchers who flout the law as egregiously as some in this group have are rare. Even the Bundy family patriarch, Cliven Bundy, who welcomed sympathizers from across the country to his ranch in April 2014 and allowed them to point guns at federal officials, seemed surprised at two of his sons' undertaking in Oregon.
"That's not exactly what I thought should happen, but I didn't know what to do," the elder Bundy told the Associated Press.
But lots of Americans probably agree with the younger Bundy's assertion that they can't get ahead thanks to government, which is either hamstringing them and/or abandoning them (depending on their political views).
The large majority of Americans who want to express those grievances politically can be found at rallies for GOP front-runner Donald Trump or Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.). The popularity of these two politically polarizing presidential candidates is still being dissected, but most political analysts seem to agree that it stems in part from people feeling that the nation has left them behind.
I'd argue there are similar sentiments playing out in Oregon right now. The difference is that out West, where ownership of land is a major issue, this hard-line group of people and ranchers manifest their fears in a potentially much more dangerous way — by trying to physically take land from the federal government using a tool long forgotten by most Americans: a group of armed men.