There are powerful economic interests behind militia occupation of the center at the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve in eastern Oregon. It all starts with federal (that is, public) ownership of land. Look at the map and the table. You can see that such ownership in the West is massive – over 630 million acres in the West. The cattle industry has used much of this land for grazing their cattle. They got a cut rate deal back in 1978, “designed to guarantee ranchers a profit even as grazing costs taxpayers more than $100 million per year.” In some
cases, like that of Cliven Bundy, ranchers have even refused to pay the paltry sums that they negotiated those 35 years ago.
In effect, the cattle industry is an extractive industry, and they are aligned with other extractive industries – mining and oil – in trying to get their hands on more federal land. Two major capitalists are leading this push:
- One is the Koch Brothers. As journalist Chris Zinda explains “the Koch foundation of course is interested in public lands because they wish to extract anything they can from it…. Koch Industries’ agricultural holdings are among the largest in the nation. Their Matador Cattle Company that operates adjacent to Yellowstone National Park is #7 in the country and they also own large ranches in both Kansas and Texas. Their holdings also include the timber giant Georgia-Pacific.”
- The other capitalist enterprise is the Mormon church (Latter Day Saints or LDS). The
LDS, for example, owns Deseret Management Corporation (DMC) and AgReserves. Their ranches include a 288,000 spread in Nebraska. DMC reportedly has up to 3,000 employees and has an annual revenue of about $1.2 billion.
These two forces, one of which ran a candidate for US president four years ago (Mit Romney), have collaborated closely. They jointly organized and ran the far right wing John Birch Society. Koch is the main funder for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and through ALEC as well as through the Koch Brothers’ American for Prosperity they support the American Lands Council. One article in Counterpunch explains that the Mormons and the Koch brothers “have shared common economic and political ideologies for decades.” It is no accident that Cliven and Ammon Bundy are Mormons.
The leader of the American Land Council is Utah State Representative Ken Ivory. He has traveled throughout the country, advocating that federal land should revert back to the states, knowing full well that many Western states, where most federal land lies, are controlled by the Mormons (Utah) or ranching and mining/oil interests. He is not alone. “Nearly every Western state has someone carrying the banner for the transfer movement. In Montana, it’s state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, backed in part by oil and gas interests. In Arizona, Republican state Sen. Al Melvin has been loudest. Nationally, it’s getting noticed. In March, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sponsored a budget amendment, which sailed through the Senate, that supported the idea of moving federal lands to the states.”
These land grabbers are tied in with different militia groups, many of whom are openly racist. The most openly racist of them is the Council of Conservative Citizens, which is considered to be a “white supremacist group, which was cited by the racist terrorist Dylan Roof. Then there is the Militia of Montana, founded by another white supremacist, John Trochmann. Trochmann has commented that “we (MOM) have a little organization called the Sanders Natural Resource Council,” which is focused on privatizing public land. (See this article.) The Mormon Church, of course, has a long history of racism, going all the way back to when they settled Nevada and sought to build their own independent state – “Deseret” – which was to be a slave state.
The links are clear between far right, openly white supremacist groups and the upper echelons of the Republican Party. However, the entire Republicrat cabal is involved. One of the Tea Party luminaries who is also involved in this drive to privatize public land is Utah’s junior Senator Mike Lee. Through his general counsel, John Huntsman, Lee is linked with the liberal Brookings Institute. Huntsman was also a former member of the Obama administration. Lee is also linked with the Sidley Austin LLP, which is a lobbying group that represents such companies as Herbalife, the National thoroughbred Racing Ass’n., Pfizer, General Motors, Fireman’s Fund Insurance, and the liberal Democratic non-profit ACORN.
In general, both capitalist parties support privatization. That is one reason why the Obama administration has not moved decisively against these land occupying thugs. (The other reason is that they are all white.) The Obama administration’s inaction in the Cliven Bundy showdown has encouraged these thugs even further.
Despite that, the drive to privatize federal land is not getting very far. One main reason for this is the low price of oil and other raw materials. This will not last forever, and when those prices rise – if not before – this drive will roar through our precious publicly owned land like one of the wildfires that have burned out of control in recent years. Meanwhile, the federal inaction in prosecuting the thugs at the Cliven Bundy ranch are encouraging more such actions. That’s what we are seeing now at the Malheur National Bird Sanctuary.