Left: AP Image, Right: Allie Fredericks
Left: A man stands guard after members of several organizations arrived at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon on January 9, 2016. Right: Following initial arrests in Standing Rock, water protectors and supporters continued to stress respectful relations with North Dakota law enforcement.

‘Patriots’ Acquitted in Malheur As DAPL Water Protectors Get Maced

Steve Russell

“Justice,” according to Justice Felix Frankfurter’s maxim, “must satisfy the appearance of justice.”

Fair-minded people must find that appearance rather ugly if they read about happenings in North Dakota and in Oregon this week, when a favorable verdict for the armed white occupiers in Oregon is a dismaying contrast to the escalating abuse of non-white, un-armed occupiers in North Dakota.

On October 27, The New York Times front-paged the verdict of a federal jury that acquitted seven defendants in Portland, Oregon, in the case of the armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, formerly the Malheur Indian Reservation, led by the sons of the deadbeat Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, who famously refused to pay grazing fees owed to the Bureau of Land Management for 20 years and then called in “patriots” of the militia movement to stop the sale of his cattle to collect those fees.

Some people criticized the government’s decision not to go to war with its own citizens over some grazing fees, and blamed that decision when Ammon and Ryan Bundy brought an armed band of those same “patriots” to Oregon on the pretext of defending Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond, who were scheduled to surrender to U.S. Marshals to serve sentences for arson on federal property.

RELATED: Bundy Militia Musters Again Over Paiute Land

When the Hammonds insisted on complying with the terms of their bonds and promises to the judge, armed defenders of the right of the Hammonds to set fires on land the federal government had no right to control occupied a nearby bird sanctuary that had formerly been a reservation home to the Northern Paiutes.

The Burns Paiute Tribe residing on a small reservation in Burns, Oregon had a history of working out ceremonial access and protection of sacred sites with the park rangers and so had no interest in seeing them evicted at gunpoint. It did not appear that the occupiers had ever considered that if the federal land title was invalid, then the land reverted to the Paiutes rather than to Oregon.

RELATED: The Oregon Standoff and the Cowboy Lawyers

As in Nevada, the feds in Oregon were still unwilling to provoke a firefight—perhaps recalling the deserved public relations baths the government took over the deaths of 82 Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993, or the killing of Randall Weaver’s wife and son during a siege of Weaver’s home in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992.

At Malheur, officers determined to avoid a frontal assault, to watch and wait, allowing media and even the occupiers to pass in and out. On one of these excursions to drum up support, a task force of federal and state law enforcement officers served arrest warrants on the occupiers. All of the leaders gave up their weapons when ordered except for LaVoy Finicum, who was shot dead.

RELATED: Oregon Militia Shootout: Blue-Tarp Man Is Dead

Back at Malheur, the rest of the occupiers surrendered. When allowed in to inspect the aftermath of the 40-day siege, the Paiutes were unhappy with the disregard for their cultural heritage shown by damages inflicted during the occupation. It’s fair to wonder what would have happened if the Paiutes had determined to protect their land with guns?

RELATED: Burns Paiute Make First Visit After Armed Takeover of Malheur Refuge

Google Maps makes it to be 1,246 miles from Burns, Oregon to Cannon Ball, North Dakota—just a tad more than 1,172 miles that will be occupied by an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline, called by its opponents the Black Snake.

The issues provoking gunplay in Oregon were the federal government’s right to operate a bird sanctuary on the surface, and whether the federal government can charge fees for grazing on public lands underneath. The Paiutes—although the rightful owners—were bystanders and unarmed.

In Cannon Ball, North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, other citizens of the Great Sioux Nation, and supporters from most other tribes in the U.S. as well as non-Indian allies are attempting to protect their drinking water and slow climate change. The SRST have made it clear that while they welcome people who want to help, bringing weapons would not be helpful.

Without firearms, the Sioux are attempting to defend the very land they were unable to defend with firearms. The shooting part of the Indian wars ended with the massacre of noncombatants at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. Since then, the rightful owners of the property have appealed to deaf judges and persons whose ears are more attuned to the melody of justice.


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