In late-autumn 2015, I received an e-mail from Ammon Bundy, asking if The Intellectual Poverty Law Center, which I head, would represent him if and when he might decide to seize control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
I hesitated. That if and when sounded more definite than hypothetical. Worse, my previous dealings with his father, Cliven Bundy, whom we had represented in his grazing-rights battle with the Feds, and who turned Porterhouse into patties with his mindless rant about African-Americans (what in God’s name do African-Americans have to do with grazing rights?), made me shudder.
However, I considered America’s founding principles, especially our inalienable right to eat free-range beef, and said yes. I prepared and sent to Ammon some observations, intended as a framework for a more formal understanding. I did not hear back from him. Instead, on January 2, 2016, he and a group of followers occupied the Refuge.
As I write this in mid-January, the situation is unresolved. To protect myself should things turn sour, I note here, for the record, my key recommendations:
Your Target: You may not have known that the word, Malheur, in the Refuge’s name, means Tragedy, in French. People might mistakenly conclude you want this to end badly. Why not occupy Friendlys or Village Inn, with their more positive image, free coffee refills, and all-you-can-eat salad bar.
Local Reaction: You are not a native, let alone even a resident, of southern Oregon, whose locals you need on your side. Remember how the Russian people and winter weather treated their so-called liberator, Napoleon (Napoleon was the … oh, never mind …).
The Beard and the Clothes: I know you claim to speak on behalf of all cowboys, but you already have most of them on your side. Your task is to win over the many Americans who aren’t cowboys. A clean shave, complemented by a neutral-color button-down shirt, a pair of clean Dockers, and Nike running shoes (they’re designed in Oregon!) should do the trick.
Your Followers: Same basic idea. A bunch of angry white guys just doesn’t cut it. You need a representative sampling of African-Americans, Latinos, an Asian, and at least a few women. I know I can’t persuade you to include any LGBT’s (LGBT stands for … oh, never mind …), though you’d really profit from their PR savvy. But keep the anger. Anger photographs well.
The Wildlife: You would win big points by not shooting any deer or antelopes. And, for God’s sake, don’t kill any Bald Eagles. That’ll get you more slammer time than shooting a Fed.
The Guns: Although I know you don’t intend violence, the public might misinterpret the guns. Leave them on the rack in your pick-ups. Think of Gandhi and Martin Luther King (they were … oh, never mind …). Anyway, they won what’s called the moral high ground by using non-violent civil disobedience — peaceful protest, maneuvering your opponent into using violence against you, or, at the very least, arresting you, with you going limp and forcing them to drag you away.
To win over the public, the blood shed must be yours, not your opponent’s. It doesn’t have to be buckets; just enough to make them look like monsters on the evening news. If you occupy Friendlys or the Village Inn, use the ketchup. It’s right there on every table, and it’s free!