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for people who care about the West

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Since the acquittal of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers in October 2016, HCN Associate Editor Tay Wiles has suggested that extremists on the radical right — bent on privatizing federal lands in the American West — have made great headway in rallying rural Westerners to their cause. “A Separatist State of Mind” (HCN, 1/22/18) argues that right-wing troubadours in “Northstate’s” 23 counties were actively moving to form a separate state, while making only passing reference to the region’s sizable Indian and Latino populations and many others who view such a move as absurd.

In the same issue, Wiles reported the U. S. District Court’s decision in Clark County, Nevada, to dismiss all charges against Cliven Bundy and his armed militia followers for preventing federal agents from rounding up Bundy’s cattle. (Bundy had refused to pay grazing fees for 20 years.) The judge cited willful prosecutorial misconduct. Wiles’ assessments in the Northstate and Bundy commentaries imply that radical cadres in the rural West are knocking at federal and county gates to introduce the sweeping privatization of public lands.

A more measured and rational judgment, however, suggests that the extremists’ histrionics have limited appeal in these regions. The “Wild West” confrontation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was very unpopular among the county’s conservative people. After the arrest of the occupants, a small group of local sympathizers filed a recall petition against principal County Commissioner Steve Grasty for refusing to let the occupiers hold a public meeting at the county fairgrounds. That June, 73.3 percent of Harney citizens voted to retain Grasty in office.

While the Bundy clan and their compatriots are not to be trifled with, neither do they deserve the media’s suggestion that they pose a dire threat to public land in the West. These anti-federal eruptions have occurred in the region since federal lands were withdrawn from settlement in the 1890s.

Bill Robbins
Corvallis, Oregon