Notes of a Buffalo Campaigner

Editor’s Note: Long-time buffalo activist Dan Brister was subject to a controversial arrest on May 9, 2007 that left him bloodied and needing staples in his head. His crime, he asked the Montana Highway Patrol to close the road while buffalo were being hazed across U.S. Highway 191 in Montana. He felt it was a safety issue for motorists. He was filming hazing activities at the time.

I am reminded of Seattle in 1999, wherein the scope of what I am going to talk about here may seem smaller (in reality, the issue of the Yellowstone bison affects far more than any linear thinker will ever entertain) but the dynamic is the same. As you may recall, at the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization that year, mind boggling amounts of people swarmed the streets. Teamsters walked side by side with environmental “wackos.” The people were rising and it was looking to be a beautiful thing. Many of us had hope for the first time. As I type, I feel a warm tingle in remembrance.

As far as the established powers and the elements that serve that juggernaut of economic power were concerned, something had to be done. It’s easy when a bunch of protesters start throwing rocks at cops or breaking things to crash in and start cracking heads. It’s a lot harder when hundreds of thousands speak peacefully, forcefully. Then, you have to provoke.

That’s what they did in Seattle. Police officers railed that they had felt really threatened by the “mobs” and that, as a result, some officers may have resorted to force a little early. Then the photos came out. Detailed, unambiguous images of police standing calmly over SEATED sit-ins and firing teargas canisters into the people from a distance of about five feet destroyed that illusion for any that got to actually see them.

And that is where I draw the analogy. The police involved in the arrests of two Buffalo Field Campaign volunteers may never have their actual actions brought to light, at least as far as the general public is concerned. Cameras and film were confiscated and though the cameras will come back soon, and the film later, because of how media works in relation to the public mind, it will no longer be a pertinent issue, as thousands or perhaps more will tune in to new, more novel topics, having made their minds up already.

Absent from any coverage of this event, aside from the BFC’s own, is mention oreven hint of how the arresting and TACKLING officer had, a week earlier, hurled profane insults at people that were not only violating no norm, law, or lawful order BUT WERE ON PUBLIC PROPERTY DOCUMENTING THE ACTIVITIES OF PUBLIC AGENCIES AND OFFICIALS.

Absent of any coverage of this event, aside from the BFC’s own, is mention or even hint of how agents, in recent days, had been seen hurling rocks at buffalo.

Absent is any awareness of how BFC volunteers had been pushed off the road by Montana Department of Livestock agents. Had we not driven off the road in our low, rickety station wagon, we would have been hit.

Absent is any knowledge or consideration that there are other factors involved, like the fact that two days after being nudged off the road, a Forest Service LEO (law enforcement officer) cut myself and ANOTHER volunteer off by turning sharply to the right in front of us, with no warning, and nearly hitting us. The officer was later questioned by my patrol partner on his actions and he said, “Oh well.”

Absent from any of this is information on how involved agencies position us, for our own “safety,” completely away from any even distant vantage point that might afford footage of just what they are doing to pregnant females and newborn calves, some days old and I have noticed that whenever these agents think they are not being seen or filmed, they literally delight (smiles accompanied by vicious laughter do not lie) in moving these several day old calves as fast as they possibly can, forcing them to gallop up to ten miles on their brand new legs. Close footage can be vital in getting out to the public just exactly what kind of individuals we are dealing with. When BFC is clearly visible to these people, they never do such things and this speaks for itself. These men are afraid of what might be thought should people see such footage. Of course, occasionally, we are in position for such.

They hate that.

I laugh, then check myself, sadly, when I hear the Bozeman Chronicle’s Scott McMillion state that my friend and dedicated activist “was assisted to the ground…” Yeah, he was assisted in his endeavor to have staples put in his head. Sure.

Absent, as well, is any admittance that these are rogue agencies, bound to no law but their own, as they try hard to maintain their vision of the American ‘way of life.’ Unfortunately for us, that way of life means cow-decimated lands out west, huge tax subsidies for a livestock industry that is a money LOSER, and cracked heads for whoever stands in the way.

To think that I overheard a Department of Livestock agent utter into his radio, “The BFC is really stressing them out (the buffalo). I don’t think they really care about the buffalo.”

They transmit on FM frequencies. They know they are being listened to. It is a very poor PR stunt. Whatever side of the fence you stand on regarding this issue, I seriously doubt that there is a soul in this region that doesn’t know that it is the BFC and our supporters and not these violent, cold-hearted men that really care about the buffalo. Invariably, our detractors argue against us saying, not that we don’t care, but that we care too much. I love it when I hear that they were put here to be dominated by humans or that they have no souls.

These are perverted, violent, deceitful men. I have never been so sure, in ten years of activism, that what I was up against was a foe worthy of my attention, and ire. I have never been so sure that I was on the right side of an issue.

ERIC STEWART is a volunteer for the Buffalo Field Campaign