Tag Archives: bundy

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This Saturday, two police officers – Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos – were ambushed and murdered in Brooklyn. Their killer, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, had a history of mental illness, at least one past suicide attempt, and an extensive rap sheet. Before killing Liu and Ramos, he shot his ex-girlfriend in Maryland and took a bus to New York, proclaiming on Instagram that “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today They Take 1 Of Ours…… Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice.” After killing Liu and Ramos, Brinsley fled to into a subway station and shot himself.

This June, two police officers – Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo – were ambushed and murdered in Las Vegas. Their killers, Jerad and Amanda Miller, committed these killings as an explicit act of political revolution. Jerad had had his own run-ins with law enforcement and developed a conspiracy-theory-heavy, anti-government ideology that led him to join the militia and “States Rights” activists at Cliven Bundy’s ranch during the rancher’s standoff with law enforcement. Miller was supposedly kicked off the Bundy ranch for encouraging others to shoot Bureau of Land Management personnel. Whatever the case, he and his wife, who both viewed all cops as “pigs” and frequently likened them to Nazis, eventually decided to take violent action on their own. And so they shot Beck and Soldo at point-blank range in a pizza joint and draped their bodies in a Gadsden flag, shouting “This is the start of a revolution!” Jerad’s last post on Social Media the night before read: “The dawn of a new day. May all our coming sacrifices be worth it.” After killing Beck and Soldo, the Millers ended up dead by their own hands in a local Walmart, where they also killed an armed civilian who had attempted to stop them.

What Jerad and Amanda Miller did was terrorism, full stop. It was linked, both in terms of ideological motivation and a history of actual group affiliations to a spectacular incident of armed resistance to law enforcement. But after the Millers killed Beck and Soldo, authorities didn’t descend upon the Bundy ranch, nor did they call for the remaining armed activists there to disband or even disarm. The Las Vegas Police Union and PBA certainly didn’t accuse US Senator Dean Heller, who had previously called those at the Bundy Ranch “patriots,” of “having blood on his hands.”

What Ismaaiyl Brinsley did, on the other hand, is more ambiguous. His multi-state rampage began with a loved one and then ended in killing two cops; his beliefs are only beginning to become clear, and it’s uncertain if he ever participated in any of numerous recent protests against police brutality, whether in Georgia or Maryland or New York or elsewhere. A hallmark of those protests, incidentally, is that they have been overwhelmingly nonviolent and have involved acts of civil disobedience where participants  allowed themselves to be arrested – not faced off cops with their own guns drawn. And yet, after Brinsley tragically murdered these two NYPD officers, not only have the police and media blamed nonviolent protestors and the #BlackLivesMatter movement for those killings, but they’ve pressured New York City’s mayor into asking peaceful protestors – protestors rightly infuriated by police brutality, but who also denounce violence against police – to stop protesting.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Ferguson and Bunkerville

It’s a full day of driving from Ferguson, Missouri, to Bunkerville, Nevada. As the crow flies, it’s just over 1,300 miles. But watching what’s been happening in Missouri these past few days, and comparing it to what happened in Nevada just this past April, suddenly a chasm yawns between them.

In Ferguson, a young man is killed by a cop in unclear circumstances, shot at least six times after fleeing and, according to witnesses, despite raising his hands in the air to surrender. The subsequent protest is met with militarized response. The situation escalates, violence ensues. There is looting. Members of the press are arrested. In some quarters, people insist that the young man deserved to die because he allegedly stole several dollars worth of cigars. Never mind that the footage of the alleged theft was leaked by the local PD against DOJ instructions; never mind that the cop who shot him didn’t know that Brown was a suspect at the time of their confrontation; never mind that Brown apparently only came to his attention because the cop had a problem with him walking in the street.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, Cliven Bundy, a man whom courts have repeatedly convicted of owing over a million dollars in unpaid taxes, calls for an armed insurrection against a government whose authority he refuses to recognize. Armed activists and militia members flock to his side, blockade a Federal Interstate, train their weapons on police, and proudly self-identify as “domestic terrorists.” But instead of cracking down with their stormtrooper jackboots, authorities withdraw. And the man goes free. He is praised by a Senator and lionized by the right wing media. Only after he crosses the bright-line of publicly yearning for the bygone glory days of the antebellum South and sharing his “thoughts about the negro” do some – but not all – of his supporters back off. And to this day, Cliven Bundy walks free and stands tall, pockets full and sidearm at his hip.

Waiting, tonight, for news from Ferguson, the contrasts sicken me. Of the many ironies, I cannot but think that this is one of the most hideous: last April, Bundy and his ilk curried paranoid fantasies of suffering from the militarized oppression that happens daily in this country to the African-Americans they not-so-secretly despise. Yet it’s Ferguson that burns; Bunkerville hosted a barbecue.

Cliven Bundy makes off with over a million dollars, threatens law enforcement, calls for violent uprising, and is praised as a patriot.

Michael Brown surrenders to a cop, is shot dead, and then is written off as deserving of death for allegedly stealing a pack of smokes.

It’s dark where I’m writing now, in Philadelphia. In twenty minutes, the sun will set over Ferguson. About an hour and a half after that, two time zones west, the sun will go down over Bunkerville, Nevada. What tonight will bring in Ferguson, or the night after, I do not know. I have hopes for peace, for quiet, and, ultimately, for some measure of justice. But while I wouldn’t bet on any of these things for Ferguson, I can guarantee you there’s peace and quiet tonight out there in Bunkerville, and there will be for the foreseeable future. And that fact alone says as much about the realities of American justice as what’s been happening in Ferguson and whatever is to come.

It’s the same sun setting on both places, in the same country, but they might as well be different worlds.

Wolves Run in Packs

On Sunday, a pair of Las Vegas police officers was shot to death while eating lunch at a local CiCi’s Pizza. The two shooters then proceeded to a nearby Walmart, where they murdered another person before killing themselves in an apparent suicide pact.

Many details are still sketchy – there are reports, for example, that the shooters exchanged gunfire with a civilian who was carrying a concealed weapon – but one thing is clear even from the early coverage: this was an act of political violence. After stripping the murdered cops of their weapons, the shooters draped their bodies in a Gadsden flag. They reportedly shouted “This is a revolution!” during their rampage; authorities are investigating anti-government literature and paraphernalia including swastikas found in their home.

Early reporting from the Las Vegas Review Journal also indicates that the attackers bragged about participating in the recent standoff between Cliven Bundy and Bureau of Land Management representatives in Bunkerville, Nevada. It’s unclear in what capacity they participated and under what circumstances they left; one allegedly told a neighbor that he had been “kicked off.” When reached for comment, Bundy’s wife Carol told the Review Journal: “I have not seen or heard anything from the militia and others who have came to our ranch that would, in any way, make me think they had an intent to kill or harm anyone.”

It’s easy to call out the ludicrousness of Carol Bundy’s statement by observing that, during the standoff, militia pointed their weapons at Federal Agents, blockaded an interstate, set up armed checkpoints, and announced that they were “willing to do whatever it takes,” which included dying in a gunfight with the Feds. The manifestly threatening dimensions of what happened at Bunkerville are clear, and were clear from the start.

It’s also not hard to imagine what the response to this most recent incident will be, particularly on the right. The undeniable political dimensions of the killers’ terrorism will be discounted – it will become a singular incident, the isolated act of a pair of lone wolves. Then their personalities will come under the microscope, and their connections to others downplayed: They were just a pair of crazy tweakers, totally deluded. And finally we’ll throw our hands up in the air and lament the senselessness, the incoherence of it all, consigning Sunday’s killings to the remote abstraction of an act of nature. What a tragedy. Nothing to see here; move along.

Tim McVeigh in Waco, TX, 1993

Tim McVeigh in Waco, TX, 1993

Over twenty years ago, another standoff between a group of zealots and Federal authorities drew a similar gaggle of militia-minded supporters. They stuck to the sidelines, didn’t draw their weapons on anyone, didn’t kill any cops. But they were there, they watched, they waited, and they planned. You’ve probably heard of this standoff, and of one of the folks who watched from the sidelines. It was at Waco, Texas, and that person was named Timothy McVeigh. He even gave an interview to a reporter while he was there.

“The government is afraid of the guns people have because they have to have control of the people at all times. Once you take away the guns, you can do anything to the people. You give them an inch and they take a mile. I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government…The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful, and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.” McVeigh went on to quote “the U.S. Constitution and said U.S. armed forces should not be used against civilians, yet they were used against Koresh and his followers…[he said that] the Koresh standoff is only the beginning and that people should watch the government’s role and heed any warning signs.”

Sound familiar?

Back in 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on domestic terrorism threats from right-wing extremists, the blowback was intense. John Boehner labeled the report “outrageous” and “offensive,” and demanded “an explanation for why [Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano] has abandoned using the term ‘terrorist’ to describe those, such as al Qaeda, who are plotting overseas to kill innocent Americans, while her own Department is using the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.” In response to that backlash, the DHS withdrew the report, and Napolitano was forced to apologize.

Five years later, folks at the Bundy ranch proudly wore outfits identifying themselves as “Domestic Terrorists.” And now two people who were there have committed an act of political violence in a Las Vegas strip mall.

Sure, the affair in Bunkerville may have attracted a lot of different people, many of whom Bundy and some of his erstwhile high-profile supporters might not like to be associated with – especially since some of the latter have now distanced themselves from Bundy himself. Maybe even some of those people were downright crazy, and got kicked off (although watching this and this, it’s clear that bar would have to be set pretty high.) But let’s not kid ourselves. This wasn’t an isolated incident. Wolves roam in packs.

Update: 6/9, 1PM The shooters have been identified as Jerad and Amanda Miller. Jerad Miller’s Facebook page is still up. It includes the following posts:

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 1.35.31 PM


Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 1.38.46 PMAnd, finally, on Saturday:

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 1.38.59 PM


Let’s Talk About Guntrolling

Yesterday, Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials backed down from an ongoing standoff with supporters of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who allegedly owes more than a $1 million for allowing his cattle to graze on publicly owned-land. The impetus for this de-escalation is not breaking legal developments – courts have already authorized seizure of Bundy’s cattle, which have in fact been returned to him – but rather the increasing likelihood of violence between law enforcement and the hundreds of “States Rights advocates” who have flocked to Bundy’s ranch in his support. These supporters include numerous self-appointed militia, many in full tactical gear and open-carrying assault rifles, men like Jim Lardy of “Operation Mutual Aid” in Montana, who commented to reporters that “We need guns to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government.” Bundy, for his part, says he “doesn’t recognize the United States Federal Government as even existing.”

Clearly, the specter of a Waco or Ruby Ridge-style siege is horrifying and unthinkable, and the BLM’s move towards de-escalation seems entirely appropriate and sane. But let’s pause for a moment and consider the double standards at play here. Heavily armed private actors, many from out of state, come to the brink of pitched battle with government agents over a white rancher’s million-dollar-plus tax bill, and the government backs down. And not just that. Despite the fact that Bundy’s status as a States-Rights poster-child claims fly in the face of Nevada’s own state constitution, and despite the fact that his supporters have already blockaded a Federal interstate and vowed to resist BLM intervention by “doing whatever it takes,” his cause is hyped in certain segments of right-wing media and lionized by GOP political figures including Mike Huckabee.

Now imagine if the scenario were a little different. What would be the law enforcement and GOP response if instead of drawing upon his ancestral claim as the descendant of 1880s Mormon settlers (Nevada gained statehood in ’64, BTW), Cliven were a Native American, say, a Tuscarora Iroquois, contesting a Federal claim of eminent domain on his tribal land? What if instead of being a white rancher who owed the Feds over a million dollars for use of vast tracts of public land, he were a 76 year-old African American Vietnam Veteran who forgot to pay $134 in property taxes on his Washington DC home? And what if in each instance militant supporters of similar complexions and dubious political affiliations were to gather en masse in the name of “Freedom,” toting sniper rifles and assault weapons, standing off with police, shutting down roads, and vowing to “pull the trigger if fired upon”?

Clearly, in our democracy, different folks are allowed to stand up for freedom … differently. And one of the ways you know that some Americans are apparently uniquely privileged when it comes to such expressions of freedom is that when they open-carry military-style weapons in public – in high-tension confrontations with police, even – they can do so with impunity. They’re not threatening you – in fact, it’s you who’s threatening them by questioning the appropriateness and prudence of their doing so. And if you do feel threatened, well, it’s your problem, not theirs. It’s guntrolling, pure and simple. And while the situation in Nevada may appear farcical, now of all times – in a week already marred by a horrifying act of violence perpetrated by a racist paramilitary – we would do well to consider how far our tolerance of trolling, and our own double standards, extend.