Once again, members of Nevada's Bundy clan have illegally seized public property and dared federal agencies and law enforcement to do anything about it. As we write, Ammon Bundy, one of the sons of the self-professed constitutional scholar and rancher Cliven Bundy, and a band of anti-government "delusionistas" occupy a cottage on the 188,000-acre Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, a small town in southeastern Oregon.
The armed occupying force of a dozen or so say they plan to stay until the federal government cedes the reservation to local ranchers and residents, Ammon Bundy said. As with the protest organized in support of Cliven Bundy, who owes taxpayers more than $1 million in grazing fee payments, supporters intimate that any attempt to remove them might lead to violence. That 2013 protest against federal land ownership drew a reported dozen armed supporters from New Hampshire.
The constitutional interpretations of the Bundys and their supporters are self-serving and childish. The protests themselves are so cartoon-like that their true leader might as well be Al Bundy, the much-suffering shoe salesman in the comedy series Married With Children. It was Al Bundy who said things like, "The brain doesn't need blood; it just needs to be kept wet."
In an irony apparently lost on the Bundys and their ilk, the federal land they want turned over to loggers and ranchers was — like most public and privately owned land in the United States — stolen, bought cheap or swindled from its original owners, Native Americans. In the case of the Malheur Refuge, that's the local tribe of Paiute Indians. The refuge and its nearby marshes and lakes are perhaps the most important way station on the avian migration route known as the Pacific Flyway. Commercial use, farming and development of the region would do incalculable damage to Western bird populations.
Once again, the federal government has wisely decided to let boredom, household economics and separation from families do the work of bullets and federal marshals. Though the protesters deserve whatever fate befalls them, martyrdom would inspire only more anti-government actions by people who fail to understand the Constitution, government and the word "public."
The management policies of the 30 percent of the nation under federal ownership is a legitimate subject of debate; ceding that land to abutters or to state and local governments is not. The property occupied by the Oregon protesters, like the land Cliven Bundy has illegally used to pasture his cattle, is owned by the American people, who should speak out against its exploitation or expropriation.
Federal authorities should bar access to the refuge's complex of buildings to prevent resupply or reinforcements, cut power to the site and let winter do its work. Then, when the protesters leave, they should be arrested, prosecuted, jailed and fined to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of dealing with what for now is a nuisance, not a tragedy. What the federal government should not do is nothing.
Cliven Bundy still hasn't paid his bill for using public land for private profit, and his property has not been seized. The protesters who supported him in 2013, including the New Hampshire contingent, have not been punished. That was a mistake. Unless misguided thieves and lawbreakers suffer the consequences of their actions, the protests and seizure of public lands will continue.