The armed, right-wing militia members who are occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge out in Oregon say they believe in and want to defend the Constitution.
Here, for example, is Ammon Bundy, the leader of the occupation, talking to news reporters about why he decided to take over a public building on public land.
That’s pretty standard right-wing militia-type rhetoric, but the ironic thing is people like Ammon Bundy don’t actually believe in or care about the Constitution.
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They say they do, and can probably quote a few of its most obscure sections to “prove” that the federal government is evil, but when it comes right down to it, they’re a lot more like the people that opposed the Constitution than the people who wrote it.
Yesterday, Twitter user @BillMon1 explained why this is in a brilliant series of tweets:
He wrote, “Funny thing about Bundy types & their pocket Constitutions: They’re in ideological tradition of those who OPPOSED it – Anti-Federalists Fears of a tyrannical central government, exaggerated claims of state sovereignty, localism and suspicion of elite conspiracies are all arguments and emotions that were used to agitate against ratification of the document Cliven Bundy claims to hold so dear.”
But the irony doesn’t stop there.
The Bundy types aren’t just opposed to the spirit of the Constitution. They’re opposed to what it actually says, too.
They don’t want the federal government owning land in the West, but at the time of ratification, one of the major selling points of the Constitution was the fact that it did just that: It put the feds in charge of public land.
And what’s more, as @BillMon1 points out, the Constitution specifically gives the government the power to regulate the lands it manages on behalf of the “We the People.”
Right there in Article 4, Section 3, it says that “Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting Territory or other Property belonging to US.”
In other words, the government owning and protecting a patch of land in the west isn’t tyranny. It’s quite literally what this republic was founded on.
Here, we rather like our Constitution, so either learn to deal with it or get packing.
There’s also a bigger picture issue here that goes beyond Ammon Bundy, the militias and their really bizarre interpretation of the Constitution.
And that’s the whole debate over who should control the commons.
The Bundys and their militia friends might look and sound extreme, but the basic argument driving their occupation – that private forces, not the “We the People” and our elected government should control the commons – is about as Republican as it gets.
It’s the same argument Tea Partiers make when they rant against single-payer health care. It’s the same argument that Republicans make when they scream “socialism” at people who want to make college free for all. It’s the same argument that cable industry shills make when they oppose municipal broadband, and so on and so on.
But the thing is, public ownership of the commons is about as American as it gets, and there’s no better proof of this than the Constitution giving the federal government (and thus “We the People”) control over public lands including those out West.
In other words, what we’re seeing out in Oregon right now isn’t just a fight over federal land; it’s also fight over the fundamental meaning of the Constitution, and Ammon Bundy and his friends are on the wrong side of that fight.
Let’s hope they learn the error of their ways before anyone gets killed.