So what have we learned from the protest and occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County? Among other things, the government is determined to go after people whose objections to federal authority go beyond accepted conventions. It wants to make an example.
The Malheur occupiers are charged with conspiracy to violate a Reconstruction-era law against keeping federal agents from doing their jobs. Since they entered vacant buildings and stayed there, presumably they could also be charged with burglary and trespassing, though perhaps those are not federal offenses.
After the last occupiers gave up Thursday, FBI agent Greg Bretzing issued a statement in which he said the refuge would remain closed for weeks. First it would be checked for bombs and other hazards. Then FBI teams would arrive “and collect evidence related to potential crimes committed during the occupation.” Forensic computer experts would examine various electronic devices. “And it will likely be a number of months before the forensic examiners complete their analysis.”
The late LaVoy Finicum, later killed at a roadblock, had broadcast a video showing some apparent Indian stoneware sitting out in the open. He said this was the condition the government had left them in and the protesters had neither touched nor moved them. But the FBI said specially trained cultural-resource investigations would look for violations of the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, a job that would take weeks.
It’s clear the government will leave no stone unturned to put these protesters away, if it can, for a long time.
The hard-nosed attitude is already evident in the Bundy brothers being denied bail and their father being arrested when he got off a plane in Portland. (What, they couldn’t arrest him in his home state, Nevada?)
The intended lesson for people opposed to federal policies and practices is obvious: Complain all you want, but if you actually do anything drastic or radical, even if you hurt no one, prison is where you’ll probably end up. (hh)