Oregon Standoff: What?

By Spencer Slagowitz, and Ethan Gelfer

As nearly everyone knows, an armed militia, on Saturday, seized a Federal Wildlife Refuge on Oregon because….Government Tyranny. (How DARE the Federal Government protect—gasp! —Wildlife!) Also, a Wildlife Refuge…really? That’s the last place I think of when tyranny comes to mind.

Put into the context of the federal government’s land use policies in Oregon and other states, the selection of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge makes a little bit more sense. But, the selection seems a bit—I don’t know—inconsequential? If someone told me that they were starting an anti-government movement by taking over a Wildlife Refuge, I would be more confused than anything else.

Sanhill-Cranes-Oregon-USFWS
The Face of Pure Evil

What really rubs me the wrong way is the abuse of the constitutional argument advanced by the members of the militia—that federal land use policies are unconstitutional and smack of tyranny. Not only is the very thing they’re protesting perfectly constitutional, but their very means of protest is not protected by the constitution, and furthermore, the seizure of public property with intent to kill or harm anyone near them in order to unilaterally effectuate policy change sounds more like tyranny than any government land use policy.

Firstly, the land use policies of the United States are unambiguously constitutional. Holding lands to preserve nature and protect against, say, strip mining, impacts interstate commerce and falls under numerous legitimate, precedent-grounded interpretations of the broad authority that the statute guarantees. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, which codified the federal government retention of the land in question, was passed by the U.S congress in a manner articulated by the constitution.

The real kicker is the passage in the constitution, which the militia members clearly did not read—or forgot about…conveniently. I’m referring to the part which unequivocally gives the U.S government the power to regulate and administer land—Article 4,  Section 3, Clause 2, which reads: “The Legislature shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.” Looking at the transcript of the constitutional convention, it is clear that the clause is referring to the lands held by the U.S government is the “western lands”.

If that doesn’t satisfy you, just look to the numerous constitutional prerogatives to protect the environment imposed by the numerous treaties we’ve signed. Thanks, Supremacy Clause. Unfortunately, these domestic terrorists seem to be conflating unconstitutionality with things they don’t like. The fact is that, simply because you don’t like a certain policy, that doesn’t make it unconstitutional or government tyranny for that matter.

I guess it’s fun to protest the government. Overturn the establishment, eh? American citizens have the right to assemble, have the freedom to speak, retain the awesome power of standing up to the United States government, pointing a crooked finger and saying, “you are wrong.” Liberal democracy depends on this ingrained capability. Yet for all the world, watching anti-government protests, claims of establishment tyranny, and individuals staking themselves out in federal buildings, I just want to rip my own hair out. I stare at the title on CNN, “Armed Protesters Won’t Leave Federal Building in Oregon.” I think about what it means. Protestors of the Jade Helm 11 Exercises, Cliven Bundy, and now his illustrious son, Ammon, seem to believe that the liberal order is being threatened by either a) its own armed forces, b) grazing fees, and now c) wildlife refuges. Oh yes, the insidious manifestation of government overreach. I can sit back and snicker with a smile reflective of my sense of New York superiority. After all, they’re just ranchers, right? I’m actually really moved by the fact that this protest isn’t just put down immediately. They’re pretty obviously wrong, and the federal distribution of land is very constitutional, but that this protest is still happening is really heartening. What do you say about a government that protects the rights even of those who do everything in their power to try and destroy it? I’d say that’s a damn steadfast government indeed.

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