By Bob Ferris
|Ammon Bundy surrounding himself with women and children at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge|
|Ryan Bundy Destroying Fence on Malheur National Wildlife Refuge|
Folks concerned about this episode identified a number of what they felt were legal violations ranging from criminal trespass and willful destruction of federal property in excess of $100 to unlawful use of federal vehicles and suppositions about charges relating to computer access and the unauthorized accessing of federal files along with the personal files or property of refuge employees. There were more charges out there mentioned like breaking and entering and threats against federal employees, but they were mentioned less frequently than the other four. It was also noted that the seriousness or the penalties associated with many of these straight-forward legal transgressions seemed to magnify when firearms, inter-state travel, and planning or coordination were involved and they appreciated that.
Another strong theme in the comments was one of felonies. Respondents thought that it was important that these lawless and armed individuals were convicted of at least one felony as their hope was that would legally prevent them from owning or purchasing firearms in the future. This option was also favored as it would require some jail time which the respondents strongly desired.
It is really hard to assess what the financial impacts are from this illegal action, but they are certainly not trivial. One local judge pegged it at $70,000 a day just for Harney County and then you add in the federal costs and this goes much, much higher. If the Judge is correct and there is no reason to believe he isn’t, then Ammon and Ryan are quickly accumulating a government debt equal to that of their father Cliven Bundy with his fines and unpaid grazing leases.
While I think that financial awards from legal proceedings are wonderful things, the large ones are generally not collectible because assets can be protected (Cliven Bundy’s ranch is held in trust) or be insufficient to cover the obligation (my sense is that Ammon may have some assets, but Ryan probably not so much). But for the Bundys at least there is one asset that hangs out there relatively unprotected. That is the roughly 1,000 head of cattle that the Bundy family is still illegally grazing in on public lands in Nevada. A good guess of their wholesale value would be in the $1.2 million range.
So what if the financial settlement to this were couched as a choice between 1) having liens attached to properties, business and other assets held by the Bundys and their inner circle or 2) having them all voluntarily round up the fugitive Bundy cattle on public lands and sell them in full or partial satisfaction of this debt? My sense is that 70% of the proceeds should go to the federal government towards what all the Bundys owe them with the remaining 30% split between Harney County in Oregon and Clark County in Nevada to take some of the sting out of the expenses for the two stand-offs. I think this latter solution would be true justice and go a long ways towards bringing closure to this on a lot of levels.
Insults to America and Americans
Though hard to quantify, the impact of the Bundy gang’s actions have had a profound effect on America. It has made many alternatively mad or sad and also empowered the uneducated and gullible to take actions they otherwise would not. These two brothers and their followers have compromised our sense of safety, worked to corrupt and confuse the meaning of our US Constitution, and have shaken public confidence in public officials and agencies. The event they precipitated has needlessly caused pain and suffering that in some manner needs to be redressed. My sense is that this influences both how we deal with the legal and financial issues as well as the 800-pound gorilla in the room: The Question of Sedition.
Many commenters talked about domestic terrorism or sedition charges in connection with the Bundys and their inner circle both in arguing for the fullest prosecution making an example of them and also in granting them a “pass” because they were stupid and duped by folks preying on the impressionable and naive. There was not a clear consensus on this matter as both sides of this debate had strong arguments for throwing the book at them or holding back either by going for the five-year sentence rather than the 20-year option or simply by focusing on the bluntly criminal actions they had taken mentioned above. Here, maybe, our end-game should be determined by their end-game because how they extricate themselves from this debacle they created will say as much about them as Americans as our selection of punishment says about us.
Circles of Guilt
In a very real and consequential sense all who participated in this including those who created the seeds of false thought that acted as a catalyst to the occupiers, the core occupiers themselves, and those who piled on are guilty of something relative to this action.
The Bundys and their inner core need to be punished within the parameters described above which include felony-style jail time, substantial financial penalties and the confiscation of their weapons as well as the future right to own same. These are minimums and anything less would be a disservice to the American public.
Those who came latter and armed like the III Percenters or members of the Pacific Patriots Network need to read history—particular parts about Shay’s Rebellion and other similar events—so that they understand that the Second Amendment that they so embrace was written not for them but to protect the rest of us from them. How they are dealt with should depend on what they actually did, but at a minimum it makes sense for them to be fined and put on a watch list that prevents them from purchasing firearms in the future as they have demonstrated a decided lack of judgment which should be require for firearm ownership. They also need to stop pretending they are members of a law enforcement entity because they are not.
The last group—those who falsely sowed the seeds of this rebellion of a sort—are the most difficult to deal with but are perhaps the most important. We seem at times unwilling or unable to deal with those who tell obvious lies and then walk away when others buy their nonsense and pay the consequence. Those like David Barton who are called "patriots" for miss-characterizing the history of this country and the ideas of our Founding Fathers or KrisAnne Hall who uses her training as an attorney as a credential to spread her own twisted read on the US Constitution need to pay some price for their actions (see here). Nevada’s Michele Fiore, Utah’s Ken Ivory (see above video) and others forwarding the taking our public lands belong on this list too for pushing this idea that the Enclave Clause applies to all federal lands when that has been tested repeatedly in the courts (see end of this piece).
What to do with those who directly participated in this Harney County dust-up is tough, tricky and necessary, but while we are doing that we also need to think about how to deal with these others who may be an even bigger threat as their acts light fires of unjustifiable descent wherever they find audiences who accept something that sounds right rather than demanding that what is right.