[Marxism] The War for the West Rages On

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jan 30 09:38:59 MST 2016

NY Times Op-Ed, Jan. 30 2016
The War for the West Rages On

Bozeman, Mont. — THE armed siege of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, 
which continued Friday even after one of the occupiers was killed in a 
confrontation with authorities, is the latest battle in a Nevada 
family’s war with the federal government.

It shows little sign of abating.

Anger over the federal government’s control of hundreds of millions of 
acres across the West has been smoldering for over a hundred years. The 
takeover was part of a campaign that has its roots in the settlement of 
the West and the desire to transfer control of these lands — the 
national forests, parks, wildlife refuges and rangeland — to the states.

The Oregon confrontation was led by two sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada 
rancher who led an armed standoff of his own against federal authorities 
in 2014 over his illegal grazing on land owned by the Bureau of Land 

Oregon Town Torn Apart by Protest at Wildlife RefugeJAN. 29, 2016
The difference between the Bundys and many other ranchers who rage over 
federal control of land is that they believe God is on their side.

I visited the Bundy family last year on their remote ranch and melon 
farm in southeastern Nevada for research I’m conducting on the history 
of Mormon culture and the use of public land. The Bundys are Mormons and 
interested me because of their extreme position against the government 
and their engagement of militia groups in their cause.

They were welcoming and eager to answer my questions. What emerged in 
our three hours of conversation in the living room of their modest ranch 
house was a passion and a sense of entitlement that they believe is 
anchored in their deep history in the region. They also embrace a 
strange amalgamation of Mormonism, libertarianism and a right-wing 
reading of the Constitution.

The Bundys trace their roots to some of the first Mormons who settled 
along an isolated and rugged stretch of the Virgin River, in a place so 
desolate that it seems impossible to make a living there. But they did, 
and in doing so, they put their stamp on it, in the Bundys’ view.

 From the moment their ancestors’ horses took a sip of water or ate the 
grass, “a beneficial use of a renewable resource” was created, Cliven 
Bundy told me.

“That’s how our rights are created,” he explained. “So now we have 
created them and we use them, make beneficial use of them, and then we 
protect them. And that’s sort of a natural law, and that’s what the 
rancher has done. That’s how he has his rights. And that’s what the 
range war, the Bundy war, is all about right now, it’s really protecting 
those three things: our life, liberty and our property.”

In Mormon doctrine, the American Constitution is a divinely inspired 
text that must be protected. This view goes back to the days of the 
prophet Joseph Smith, who believed the Constitution existed to provide 
religious freedom and agency, the right of people to choose how they lived.

In 1840, Smith warned that “this Nation will be on the very verge of 
crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground when the Constitution is 
upon the brink of ruin; this people will be the Staff upon which the 
Nation shall lean and they shall bear the Constitution away from the 
very verge of destruction.”

The Bundy family sees itself as that Staff. Mr. Bundy carries in his 
pocket a copy of the Constitution, which he believes draws its 
inspiration from the Bible. He told me: “Don’t we believe that Jesus 
Christ is basically the author of the Bible? Well, if the Constitution 
is inspired, who is the author? Wouldn’t that author be Jesus Christ again?”

Mr. Bundy’s reading of the Constitution has been heavily influenced by 
the work of W. Cleon Skousen, a Mormon, fervent anti-Communist and 
right-wing political thinker who believed that most federal landholdings 
are unconstitutional.

The Los Angeles Times reported that many Bundy followers in Oregon 
carried with them a copy of the Constitution annotated by Skousen. 
“That’s where I get most of my information from,” Cliven Bundy told the 

But while Joseph Smith focused on the First Amendment as a bulwark 
against the persecutions of Mormons, the Bundys are focused on the 10th 
Amendment, which they believe severely restricts the federal 
government’s power to possess land. (Leaders of the Church of Jesus 
Christ of Latter-day Saints have condemned the Oregon takeover and said 
in a statement that they were “deeply troubled by the reports that those 
who have seized the facility suggest that they were doing it based on 
scriptural principles.”)

The Bundy worldview aligns closely with the states’ rights movement and 
efforts in the West to transfer federal lands to the states and local 
governments. Just last week, eight ranchers in Utah announced that they 
would stop paying grazing fees to the federal government and put the 
money into escrow until ownership of the federal land they lease is 
resolved. “This is as an act of civil disobedience in response to a long 
trail of abuses,” a lawyer connected to the effort told The Salt Lake 
City Tribune.

Now the Bundy sons are in jail, and one of them, Ammon, in a statement 
issued by his lawyers, urged his followers to go home and hug their 
families. But a subsequent post on the Facebook page of the Bundy Ranch 
that has since been deleted issued this call to arms:

“ALERT! From Ammon’s wife, Lisa: Ammon would not have called for the 
patriots to leave. We have lost a life but we are not backing down. He 
didn’t spill his blood in vain! Hold your ground … Ranchers come and 
stand! … Militia come and stand!”

The war with the federal government over the West seems far from finished.

Betsy Gaines Quammen is a doctoral candidate at Montana State University.

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