Freemen and Cattle

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Thu Apr 11 17:47:41 MDT 1996


Reading a little further into the Cockburn column on cattle that I
posted from last night, I discover the following, "The destruction of
Mexico's agricultural economy helped produce the Zapatistas, who
rose up in Chiapas at the start of 1994. The economics of cattle may
have also helped engender the Freemen of Montana." It looks like
Alex and I share more than a cutting sense of humor. We seem to be
on the same track as far as this cattle question is concerned. I plan to
discuss the role of cattle ranching in the emergence of the Wise Use
movement and as a cause of the Central American campesino
rebellions of the 1980s.

Not too long ago, we were having an exchange on the list about the
militias. Rakesh claimed that the militias, the white supremacists,
survivalists, etc. were all fascist, while Doug Henwood, Sally Ryan and I
were arguing for a more nuanced and cautious approach. We stated
that it was a mistake to label every outbreak of inchoate anti-
government militancy in the rural west as right-wing in character.

The FBI-Freeman confrontation certainly confirms a cautious
approach. At first blush, this seems like a replay of Waco and Randy
Weaver. The FBI is confronting armed white "militia types" or cultists in
a compound in rural America once again. However, there is another aspect to
this confrontation that has eluded the media, and much of the left I would
gather. Cockburn states:

"My colleague Scott Handleman spoke to John Smillie of the Western
Organization of Resource Councils in Billings. Smillie says many of
the Freemen are former cattle and wheat producers. During the height
of the farm crisis, when 600 farms a week were going broke nationally,
twenty farms a week were going broke in Montana. The root of the farm
crisis, Smilie says, lies in the domination of agribusiness by a handful of
corporations, which drove down the prices paid for agricultural commodities.
Some of the Freemen borrowed to buy ranch land in eastern Montana and
ultimately refused to pay their government-financed debts."

Now this is exactly the kind of analysis that has to be done in order to
understand outbursts such as these. What are the objective conditions
driving people to such desperation? This form of behavior does not
come from reading Soldier of Fortune magazines.

The Freemen have defrauded banks, wealthy corporations and
government agencies. Their beliefs are based on the Old Testament,
common law and the constitutions of the US and the state of Montana.
These beliefs are nowhere near as important as their willingness to
bond together and resist a common enemy: corporate America.

I have a couple of books I plan to be looking at over the next week or
so in order to prepare some extended remarks on the Wise Use
movement. One is a collection of essays by environmentalists and
Wise Use supporters titled "Let the People Judge." The other is an up-
front Wise Use manifesto called "War on the West" by William Perry
Pendley, whose publisher, Regnery Publishing, is a long-time rightwing
outlet.


Louis Proyect


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