At least a few residents praised the militia, but as Brown’s quote indicates, local people don’t so much disagree with the Bundy gang’s fundamental point: They, too, have serious objections to the extent of federal land ownership in the area, and to the way the federal government manages the land it owns. Many of these complaints were aired during Monday night’s meeting. But the Bundys have managed to alienate the people who are their natural allies, and whose support they need for political success. In Nevada, Cliven Bundy had the advantage that he was acting in a largely deserted area—just his ranch and open federal land. That’s not true in Oregon, where there’s an existing community. The militia members say they are staging an occupation, but if the local population doesn’t back them, it’s really an invasion.
As The New York Times reported this week, the Bundy gang is the more militant, extreme wing of a movement that is widespread among Western conservatives:
Many conservatives ... criticized Mr. Bundy’s gun-toting tactics, but their grievances and goals are nearly identical. And the outcry has grown amid a dust storm of rural anger at President Obama’s efforts to tighten regulations on fracking, air quality, small streams and other environmental issues that put struggling Western counties at odds with conservation advocates.
Even as the standoff in Oregon was starting, the two men whose case inspired the Bundys, Dwight and Steven Hammond, said that the militia did not speak for them and urged them to go home. But as the standoff has dragged on (it’s now in Day 11), the antipathy seems to be building, which is perhaps unsurprising given the impact it’s having on Harney County residents’ day-to-day lives. Schools reopened Monday for the first time since the standoff began, but many people are still working from home. The militia insists it’s no threat to residents, but the presence of many armed people, to say nothing of the prospect of a pitched gun battle, has residents on edge.
There may be an element of outsider vs. insider, as Dave Brown’s comment about “crazies in the county” suggests. Reporter Amanda Peacher said many attendees at the meeting wanted to make clear that their policy qualms were with the BLM in Washington, not with the agency’s local representatives. (Compounding the outsider problem, The Oregonian reports that armed militiamen are arriving from elsewhere to oppose the occupation, since the only thing worse than a standoff between law enforcement and heavily armed dissidents is a three-way standoff between law enforcement and two separate groups of heavily armed dissidents.)
But a great deal of the objections are about the tactics and the message, whoever is executing them. It’s not enough for the militia to agree that the BLM is heavy-handed if you feel threatened in your daily life. What good is it to challenge tyranny from Washington if it only constricts your freedom on an everyday level? There are plenty of examples from history where an extreme vanguard has been successful in forwarding an agenda, over the objections of gradualist fellow-travelers, but people who agree with the Bundys—even fellow self-styled patriots who stood with them in Nevada—have come to the conclusion that their methods are unhelpful and dangerous.