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Utah, the Kochs and Their Malheur Monster

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The armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has me once again feeling compelled to write about how Utah politicians and the Koch machine manipulate the people and debate surrounding federal lands. I promise this might be the last time.

I forward in Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie that it is no surprise the anti-public lands sovereign movement centers in Utah, the State of Deseret, and chronicled the inception of the Western Freedom Festival, a uniquely Utah anti-public lands event. In it, I warned of Malheur takeover member LaVoy Finicum, his friendship with Cliven Bundy, and their mutual appeal to the sovereign movement.

The Party

The Western Freedom Festival describes itself as defending the heritage of the west that include christian values and local lands control. Using tax dollars, Utah County Commissioners and Ivory – in his capacity of head of the American Lands Council – coordinate and pull it off. The call themselves The Posse.

I attended the panel discussions and had second row seats for the concert, next to someone who identified himself as Cliven Bundy’s cousin, and behind Ivory and other Utah County Commissioners.

A panel speaker spoke of the power of the individual with conviction, and if you have public conviction one should expect to be attacked. That, there is virtue when you stand with conviction.

At that very same time Marjorie Haun, a Koch propagandist sitting with Commissioners, was attacking me via Twitter, comparing me to “monkey balls”.

A cursory review of Ms. Haun’s Franklin Center / Watchdog stories and social media reveal a direct connection between she, ALEC and the ALC – including the Festival. Most of her subjects pertain to and support their agendas, including fracking and resource extraction, healthcare, schools and public lands.

The Center for Media and Democracy established a connection between the larger Donor Trust network of which ALEC, the ALC and the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and its sattlite of “journalism” Watchdog.org sites are a part. In effect, Franklin Center propaganda masquerades as nonprofit journalism.

Before the concert, I stood with Southern Utah University student protesters who were objecting to the use of tax dollars for the political event. While walking to the protest, a posse of black hatted cowboys lead by a County Commissioner told this hippie to go home. Later, this same bunch joined other Commissioners, extremist State Representative Mike Noel, and Haun heckling, bullying, and berating those who were protesting. The propagandist Haun monkey-called, for real.

Tellingly, festival organizers were so brazen with public tax dollars that they bought country music performer Darryl Worley twice: once for a private dance in the back room and another for the public show where they gave away 80 percent of the tickets to whomever they wanted. And, they spent 80 percent of their taxpayer-funded budget doing so.

To their credit, they didn’t let LaVoy Finicum attend.

Courting Anarchy

During a conversation with a Commissioner, he let on that LaVoy Finicum asked to promote his cause at the Festival and that they denied his request.

I introduced Finicum in Dixie and warned of his impending fight with the government. I never imagined he would end up in eastern Oregon as the Public Information Officer for those holding the Malheur and he’d be nationally proselytizing his anti-public lands message.

Finicum is a pious man. You can hear it in the way he speaks. He very carefully and passionately expresses the sovereign issues of “natural law,” “prior appropriation” and “county governance.” He describes himself as a principled.

A Youtube video/audio was posted by Finicum in November in which he and Arizona militia organizer Cope Reynolds were recruiting support among southern Utah ranchers to stop paying their grazing fees and accept the assistance of national militias to protect them from the consequences of their actions.

Finicum, accompanied by Reynolds, insisted that the Utah Attorney General send a letter to the Federal government saying the state was taking over federal lands. “Don’t ask their permission! Just act that way! Don’t go through a court, don’t go through a court of law, you’re the State of Utah!” he pleads as the crowd applauded.

Reynolds called out Utah Commissioner and convicted ATV protest rider Phil Lyman as someone who needed to “stand up” so that militias can come and support him. Finicium went so far as to say that he encouraged Lyman to not show up in Federal Court for sentencing.

The telling disagreement came from Finicum with Ivory’s efforts. You see, Finicum doesn’t believe that the ALC is taking the right position regarding public lands, as they start from a position that the Federal government owns lands within states that then, through Congressional and Judicial channels, should be lobbied for their “return.” That’s neither Constitutional nor direct enough for Finicum.

Perhaps one day he will he look back at his so far failed Utah recruitment with some irony, as at one point a rancher says, “I don’t know what we need to do as a group, but the last thing I want to do is have another Bundy deal…and I don’t want to face those guns again.”

Due Process

Unlike their 2014 support for Cliven Bundy, this time the Oath Keepers and Richard Mack of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association are not acting in a seditious manner. Both have not come to the aid of Finicum and those engaged in the Mahleur standoff.

Mack was present and spoke at the January 2 Hammond rally in Burns and we haven’t heard from him since Harney County Sheriff Mark Ward has asked the occupiers to leave – as is Ward’s right according to the principles of the CSPOA.

The Oath Keepers have officially stayed out of the Burns event entirely, creating a rift within the larger militia movement. “I think the gun issue is a far, far stronger one to focus on at this time, when it comes to hard stands,” said Stewart Rhodes.

The Idaho and Oregon Three Percent officials who did attend the rally in Burns were astonished and later admonished the Malheur event participants and their actions, stating, “They do not mirror our vision, mission statement, or views in regards to upholding the Constitution, The Rule of Law, or Due Process.”

It seems many are not willing to send the guns in to support anti-public lands ranchers.

Jon Ritzheimer and Blaine Cooper are much more rhetorically and physically violent than the LDS contingent has ever been. The LDS crowd present would never burn Korans and wear shirts that say, “Fuck Islam”.

Thankfully and even after months of anti-Islam rhetoric within the militia movement, I am pleased that the Mahluer militants and their pleas appear to have not resulted in much action. Perhaps some agree with the Oath Keepers and III% while for others eastern Oregon in January is unappealing.

The Malheur standoff suggests there now is a schism within the militia movement, perhaps three factions: The sovereign public lands theologians, the second amendment militia, and the I don’t give a rats ass, let’s get this party started crew.

For everyone’s sake, let’s hope Ritzheimer and Cooper have been converted by the Bundy’s and Finicum.

Malheur Demands

In late October and just after the execution of the Western Freedom Festival, the Los Angeles Times ran a piece titled, “Control of federal lands emerges as an issue in the GOP presidential race,” an expose on Ken Ivory and the American Lands Council. Shortly thereafter in November, the American Lands Council engaged in a well funded media blitz promoting the Disposal and Taxation of Public Lands Act ALEC legislative model to “return” all federal lands to states.

Then, in November, this concerted Koch network effort began been preying on the fears of the 2015 western wildfires with pictures of burned animals as justifications to increase logging and grazing – something that they say states would better allow.

At exactly the same time, Utah Congressman Bob Bishop made headlines with his refusal to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a pot of money derived from oil and gas revenues designed to acquire sensitive environmental or otherwise “island” properties – on a willing seller / willing buyer basis. The LWCF is, in part, what driving those at Malheur to act.

In December, Lyman was sentenced to 10 days in jail, sparking media interest regarding potential injustice compared to environmental activist Tim DeChristopher who was sentenced for 24 months in prison for his own crimes of disrupting an oil and gas sale. Utah State BLM Director Pat Shea who defended DeChristopher, described the inequity this way, “If you are a part of the good old boy network, then you’re taken care of”.

Finally, Ivory, along with extremist student bully and former BLM employee Rep. Mike Noel, successfully gained Legislative approval for the Utah Attorney General to sue the Federal Government for the “return” of public lands in Federal Court – to the tune of $14 million in taxpayer dollars.

Now we are in January with the Malheur occupation, whose members say their only demand is a “return” of federal lands to states.

Frankenstein

Many have written of how the Koch Americans for Prosperity created the Frankenstein Tea Party movement that manifests in support for Trump. I say they have done the same with their anti-federal lands efforts, and that the anti-public lands racket squarely deserves bearing some responsibility for the Malheur action.

Like the Tea Party, the activists the Kochs and their network promoted regarding public lands have escaped and discredit them, jeopardizing their investment and resultant expected financial returns through an increase in resource extraction activities on what would formerly be public lands.

The blowback extends to the the militia and sovereign movements, as only a small group decided to act upon that message in an unsupported militant fashion. Because of this, schisms now exist in both the anti-public lands and sovereign/milita movements.

One of the best ways to discredit a movement is to publically shame it. When you oppose a movement, it is even better when that movement implodes and shames itself.

More articles by:

Chris Zinda is an activist and writer living in Oregon.

CounterPunch Magazine

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