If you want to understand the modern American right, just head on out to Bunkerville, Nevada and visit the Bundy Ranch. The mainstream media may have backed off talking about them ever since The New York Times published Cliven Bundy’s racist rant, but, believe it or not, militia groups are still hanging around the Bundy Ranch and they’re really starting to annoy everyone else who lives in the area. It’s gotten so bad that Congressman Steven Horsford, who represents the area around the Bundy Ranch, actually wrote a letter to Clark County’s sheriff complaining that militia members have set up roadblocks and checkpoints on local highways.
For most Americans, the idea of armed gunmen checking drivers’ licenses and blocking off highways conjures up some pretty scary images. After all, this is America, not Somalia, and there’s no reason in a supposedly developed country like ours that anyone should be acting like a warlord. But there’s more to this situation than meets the eye, and if you actually take the time to listen to what militia members are saying about why they’ve decided to take a stand at the Bundy Ranch, you’d be surprised at how similar it sounds to some of the things we talk about on this program.
A few weeks ago, for example, right when this whole controversy started, I had Sheriff Richard Mack of the Oath Keepers on my radio show to talk about why he and his group supported Cliven Bundy. Sheriff Mack believes in some pretty non-mainstream stuff and there are a lot of areas where I disagree with him, but we both agree that corporate interests have taken over our government and that the American people have been sold down the river.
Like so many other Americans these days, Mack and his friends in the militia movement are frustrated, scared, and angry. They’re frustrated that their government cares more about helping big business than everyday people, they’re scared that they have no power, and they’re angry that the economic cards are stacked against them. The fear that drives the militia movement is a very real fear. It’s a fear that anyone who’s been screwed over by 30-plus years of Reaganomics can identify with.
I know this from my own personal experience. I grew up with guys like Sheriff Mack in Michigan, and I still run into guys like him when I go back there to visit my brothers and we go to the shooting range. The Michigan Militia guys are misinformed about a lot of things and have some ugly views, and they can usually repeat the previous days’ Fox programming verbatim, but their anger and frustration with the status quo is real. Tragically, what they don’t realize is that people like the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove and Roger Ailes are just exploiting them.
That’s the ironic thing about the militia movement. Despite all its rage against corrupt government, American decline, and the elites, in the end, the only people who benefit from its fight against “big government” are the same people who are already destroying our country – the billionaires and the oligarchs. To put it bluntly, the militias are the useful idiots of the one percent. The Bundy Ranch standoff is a great example of this. Militia groups think they’re protecting a humble rancher from a government land grab, but they’re actually helping a few robber barons make a land grab of their own.
The Koch Brothers have been trying for years to get their hands on publicly-owned land in the American West, and with the help of ALEC, have pushed for legislation in states like Utah to help them do so. When Cliven Bundy’s tussle with the Feds started to make news, they saw their chance to make their own land grab and started promoting his standoff as an epic fight against tyranny. The Nevada chapter of the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity, for example, sent out photos mocking the Bureau of Land Management for trying to round up Bundy’s cows, and pushed the hashtag “Bundy Battle” on Twitter. The Kochs hoped that by turning Bundy into a folk hero, they could shore up enough popular support for their land grab.
This isn’t to say, of course, that the militia groups who are still hanging around the Bundy Ranch don’t believe in their cause – they do. Anyone who has even a casual conversation with them can see that. But it’s important to remember that their fear and hatred of the federal government is a “useful” anger – an anger that’s there for the taking by any oligarch who wants to manipulate it. And manipulate it they are doing. In the big scheme of things, the rage of Bundy’s militia supporters isn’t all that different from the rage of all the working and middle class Americans who vote Republican in election after election.
Like those millions of Republican supporters, the militia groups occupying the land around the Bundy Ranch want real change in this country and are frustrated with an economy that doesn’t work for them and a government that seems like it only cares about making things easier for the one percent. They’ve just been duped by the wealthy right-wing media and the billionaires into believing that real change will only come about by destroying the federal government and handing federal lands – and pretty much everything else – over to the oligarchs.