Wednesday, January 06, 2016

making history

Perhaps there should be a curriculum of study required for would-be insurrectionists.

That would have been a help to Ammon Bundy and the other members of the "Citizens for National Wildlife," the radicalized militia that made the news this weekend for taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. According to reports in the press, the militia believe that by seizing control of a birding outpost nobody has heard of, they can force the U.S. government to accede to vague demands about restoring freedom to ranchers in the Northwest.

You see, that's the problem with radicalized militias these days. They know how they want history to turn out; but they don't know how to articulate it, and they have no idea how to get there.

Changing the world takes more than a lofty ambition. You also need specific goals, and you need to take bold steps to reach them. If you want to become princeps of Rome, then you have to cross the Rubicon. Want to overthrow the monarchy, then you have to storm the Bastille. If no one fires at Fort Sumter, then there's no Civil War; and World War I can't happen if no one shoots the archduke of Sarajevo.

This is what it takes to make history and change the world. But while the Caesars and the Generals Beauregard are dropping mighty boulders that shift history from its river banks, Bundy and his fellow militants are setting up camp illegally at an unoccupied visitor's center at a bird refuge, and asking for friends to send them snacks in the mail.

Like many other Americans, when I heard Saturday that a coterie of militants was planning sedition in the Northwest and asking other right-wingers to join them, my initial reaction was disbelief at how gently they were being handled. An Ohio grand jury had just decided not to indict a police officer for killing a 12-year-old boy, and the past year has been full of reports of the National Guard deployment and heavy-handed police tactics against protesters upset by the oppression of black people. These yahoos plot insurrection, and nothing happens.

These are the same yahoos who 18 months ago, as FOX News cheered, expressed contempt for the law of the land and attempted with other militants to provoke federal officers into an armed firefight. These are the same nutjobs who threatened armed insurrection over Clive Bundy's supposed right not to pay fees to graze his cattle on land he did not own.

Walter Scott gets shot in the back by police for running away during a traffic stop, Eric Garner gets choked to death by a cop for selling loose cigarettes, and George Zimmerman gets off scott-free after hounding and murdering Trayvon Martin; and there is zero response to a radicalized militia that seizes a federal building and promises bloodshed if federal troops approach?

A few days later, though, and I have to concede the wisdom in the federal nonresponse. I'm old enough to remember what happened a year after the siege at Waco, Texas, ended. That's when American terrorist Timothy McVeigh – like the Bundys, also a radicalized rightwing militant – blew up a federal building in Oklahoma in what remains the worst incident of domestic terror in U.S. history.

I remain critical of news outlets like the Washington Post, however. The Post has insisted on calling the Bundys and their band of radicalized militants "activists," as though the militia has been going door to door and asking people to sign a petition.

There have been reports that officials plan to cut power to the Malheur building where the militants are holed up, to let them feel the "flat ass cold" of the winter in Oregon. That sounds like a good approach. Cut the power, and cut off their cell phones. Set up a fence a safe perimeter around the building so that no one can get in or out, and wait them out. From all reports, the militants brought enough food for a couple weeks at best, and while they might be able to hunt a little, that's going to take time, energy and patience.

When they surrender, I'm tempted to say that they should have the book thrown at them for sedition. But I also like the idea of charging them with as simple a crime as breaking and entering, destroying government property and any other low-level offenses that may apply. Something that will net them fines, community service and enough jail time that they lose the right to own firearms.

Because in the end, these men aren't the epic heroes they imagined themselves to be, and they don't deserve to be remembered as villains either.

They're little nobody thugs, and that's how history will remember them.

Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission. Hat tip to Jeff Holton for the inspiration.

Tale of the Town Crier

I heard the story once of a small city that employed the services of a town crier. It was this fellow's duty to walk around the city, calling out important news and announcements of interest both general and particular.

​"Quarantine lifted in Ditko Village!"

"Fire in Kirby Square!"

"Traders from Romita Valley arrive tomorrow at the South Gate!"

People didn't always stop what they were doing; but they heard, and they listened, and so important news spread, and everyone praised the wisdom of the king in appointing the crier, so that everyone knew what was going on at all times.

Now the city had enemies to the north, in the Steranko Mountains. Every winter, when the snows fell and the crops died, and food grew scarce, bandits would sweep down from the mountains and roam the plains, attacking settlements and raiding the people's stores. Sometimes, when the bandit hordes were large enough and daring enough, the wealth of the city would call to them, and they would attack it under the cover of darkness.

The city was protected on all sides by stone walls nine feet high and so wide that guards could walk two abreast on them. When the guards spotted bandits on the approach, they would alert the crier and he would raise the alarm. The men of the city would rise from their beds, seize whatever weapon they could, and they would drive the enemy away.

One year this did not happen. Perhaps the town crier was asleep himself, or perhaps he did not hear the guards call him to alert the townfolk, or perhaps the guards themselves failed to tell him. No one really knew, but no one blamed him either. What they did know is that the bandits scaled the walls of the city, slew the soldiers who stood watch. and for three terrible days the brigands ran wild through the streets of the city, looting and killing at will until they finally returned to the Steranko Mountains, their horses laden with all the plunder they had seized.

The survivors left the old crier to his task, because the king had appointed him to that task, and what had happened was not his fault. But he had gone mad. Often he did his job as well as ever, and the city was kept safe by his warnings; but other times, he threw it into needless panic. He would shout that the library was on fire, and men would rush to the scene, buckets in tow, only to find scribes quietly reading and copying the scrolls in peace and safety. Other times he would say nothing, and so a dozen people would die by drinking from a poisoned well for want of a warning that it was no longer safe.

He's still mad to this day, and it's still the devil's game to understand when to trust him and when he should be ignored.

The crier's name was Conscience.

Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.