FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Parody of Populism

by

The Sagebrush Rebellion began in Moab, Utah, and created an upheaval in land management policy that is still felt today. Perhaps its most significant outcome can be seen just three hours away in PR Springs, yet hardly anybody knows the place even exists.

It’s an easy, hour-long drive from Moab, up the 191 and then east down Old US Highway 50—75 miles past Arches National Park and curving around the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. A sharp left will send your car on a two-hour drive of just 35 miles; BLM 198, a path into the Uintah Basin and to PR Spring. A fine source of clean ground water, PR Spring lies nearly two miles away from a tar sands test site that would have been impossible without the Sagebrush Rebellion, the Wise Use Movement, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that helped forward the agenda of those two movements in the government.

In 1979, public officials were drawing up a proposal to transform a canyon just outside of Moab and next to Arches National Park, into a protected wilderness area. A massive outcry from the Far Right ensued, astroturfed and supported by the nascent libertarian movement generated by foundations, institutes, and entrepreneurial frontrunners like the Koch Brothers’ Silicon Valley Cato Institute, the Rand Institute, and the early tech industry. It was the dawning of the New Republican Party in the American West, brought into fruition by the rise of the ALEC and Ronald Reagan.

As he was hoisted to power, Reagan declared support for the Sagebrush Rebels, declared their intention to sabotage federal equipment, shoot BLM officials, and run amok over public lands until the “land grab” had ceased. Jean Baudrillard noted the hysterical situation in his book America: “While frequenting the rich ranchers or manufacturers of the West, Reagan has never had the faintest inkling of the poor and their existence, nor the slightest contact with them.” Yet he was able to suture the rising elite of California concentrating itself in the Silicon Valley to what Dave Foreman referred to as “the Bumpkin Proletariat,” forging an alliance between the ranchers, antigovernment libertarians, and social conservatives on one hand, and nanotechnologists, Silicon Valley elites, and venture capitalists on the other.

As the 1980s passed, ALEC made numerous inroads into public lands deregulation throughout the US. Passing model legislation for local and federal politicians, ALEC was able to further the corporatist agenda through Congress under the guise of a polluted Right Wing Populism. The supporters of ALEC were all too thrilled to line up behind Cliven Bundy, a veteran of the Bumpkin Proletariat, and express their dismay about the “heavy handed” response of the BLM. As the Right Wing press hyped the “land grab” in Bunkerville into a Second Sagebrush Rebellion, another important point was lost in the spin. Indeed, it is difficult to even locate PR Springs on the map; after being scraped of its grasslands and brush, it is perhaps not a place anymore, but an end point.

Where Is the Outrage?

The reason you probably haven’t heard of PR Springs is because the mainstream media does not like to talk about it. A huge swath of land in Southern Utah is set to be turned inside out in search of bitumen to process into crude oil. Modeled after the Alberta Tar Sands, the Utah tar sands mine will likely become the most environmentally polluted site in the US, and among the most polluted areas in the entire world.

On Monday morning, a gathering of 80 people walked into the site. Nearly two dozen chained themselves to the fence. The Uintah County Sherriff declared he had all his deputies on site, as the protest shut down work on the first processing plant to be built in this arid land. Thirteen demonstrators were arrested and thrown into police vans. More climbed up to the road where they halted the vans from leaving the site, demanding “Set them free!”
The police used force to separate the protestors, and a canine unit was set loose. Two people sustained injuries, with one being sent immediately to the hospital. Another six were arrested by the police, and then at the jail, two more were arrested for attempting to lend support. Ten sheriffs deputies lined the outside of the jail with bulletproof vests and attack dogs on alert in order to “deter” further demonstrations.

No outrage emerged from the Right Wing media about “heavy handed responses.” Nobody batted an eyelash. If the apocalyptic tar sands are built in Utah, it will not be the end of resistance to the corporate elite; it will be a transformation of resistance, a sharpening.

One thing we can predict—extracted by US Tar Sands, an Alberta-based company, the Utah tar sands oil would almost certainly flow into the Koch Brothers-owned refineries on the Gulf Coast, and be shipped out for export. Meanwhile, the Koch Brothers are on the fundraising circuit to raise money for various think tanks, institutes, and organizations bringing the climate denial message to ordinary voters around the world.

New Republican Revolution

While activists were gearing up for their Monday action, the Koch Brothers’ most were entertaining Silicon Valley’s elite at Reboot 2014, a libertarian conference in San Francisco’s super-gentrified tech district, SOMA. The keynote speakers included heartland populist, Rand Paul, and Nick Gillespie, the editor of long-running libertarian periodical, Reason, which helped to lay the foundations of Silicon Valley libertarianism during the rise of the New Republican Party in the 1970s.

It was Reason’s erstwhile editor, Robert Poole, who worked at General Research Corp, a spinoff of DARPA, and helped cement the intersections of “libertarians, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, software gurus, nanotechnologists, life-extensionists, and civil libertarians.” The diverse assemblage of subject positions calls to mind Baudrillard’s notion of the “world centre of the simulacrum and the inauthentic, as the absolute synthesis of ‘cool’ Stalinism” that lies amidst the “electronic tribalism of Silicon Valley.” It is a group of “insiders” who pretend that there is no “outside;” that they comprise the entire world, and bend it to their will.

An addition to the conference that has perplexed many onlookers was Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State. Journalist Mark Ames with Pando.com remarks on Rodgers’s pedigree from Pensacola Christian College, an unaccredited school that publishes under the imprimatur of A Beka books, a veritable Random House of Right Wing reaction, teaching K-12 kids “that Islam is a ‘false religion,’ Hindus are ‘incapable of writing history,’ Catholicism is ‘a monstrous distortion of Christianity,’ African religions preach ‘false religious beliefs,’ liberals and Democrats are crypto-Marxists, and the United Nations is a ‘collectivist juggernaut that would crush individual freedom and force the will of an elite few on all of humanity.’” It is hard to imagine a Populism such as this—with enemies on all sides, who needs friends?

The addition of Rodgers’s hard-right Republican ideology forms the crux of the “conservitarianism” forwarded by Reboot—a kind of new Republican Revolution, which would galvanize not only the insurgent Bumpkin Proletariat and Silicon Valley elite, but also the rural libertarians of the Pacific Northwest. Already a center for the software industry, Seattle emerges as a kind of “hip” and “cool” new Silicon Valley, while Portland, Oregon, long seen as the up-and-coming capital of US hipsterdom, has only just invited Google to set up shop.

Here we have a kind of broken and deranged Right Wing Populism—part-billionaire industrialist, part-Bumpkin Proletariat, part-tech gentrifier. It is a tripartite parody that the Right hopes will usher the bloated Republican Party into the Presidency in two years. Lucky for them, Hillary Clinton poses no threat whatsoever to the corporatist agenda in 2016.

Alexander Reid Ross is co-moderator of the Earth First! Newswire and editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014). He can be reached at areidross(at)gmail.com

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press 2014) and a contributor to Life During Wartime (AK Press 2013). His most recent book Against the Fascist Creep is forthcoming through AK Press.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail