Late Capitalism in Weimerica Pt. 1: The Bundy Revolt

The Atlantic:

Late capitalism” became a catchall for incidents that capture the tragicomic inanity and inequity of contemporary capitalism. Nordstrom selling jeans with fake mud on them for $425. Prisoners’ phone calls costing $14 a minute. Starbucks forcing baristas to write “Come Together” on cups due to the fiscal-cliff showdown.

This usage captures the resurgent left’s anger over the recovery and the inequality that long preceded it—as well as the rage of millions of less politically engaged Americans who nevertheless feel left out and left behind.

…Finally, “late capitalism” gestures to the potential for revolution, whether because the robots end up taking all the jobs or because the proletariat finally rejects all this nonsense. A “late” period always comes at the end of something, after all. “It has the constant referent to revolution,” Roberts said. “‘Late capitalism’ necessarily says, ‘This is a stage we’re going to come out of at some point, whereas ‘neoliberalism’ doesn’t say that, ‘Shit is fucked up and bullshit’ doesn’t say that. It hints at a sort of optimism amongst a post-Bernie left, the young left online. Something of the revolutionary horizon of classical Marxism.”

“Joshua Sinistar” via National Socialist Worldview:

A lot of Jews are now beginning to realize that Weimarica may go Hitler if their fellow Jews keep doing this. The Germans put up with a lot, too much, but eventually even they had had enough. America is about to fully embrace National Socialism. Michael Weiner can see it and hear it in the Right Wing Circles. I doubt the others will even care. They expect they will escape to their magic homeland if things go badly.

Somewhere, somehow, things came a lot closer to coming to the most dire predictions. The left has started calling this period of history in which we now live, “late capitalism,” and the right, “Weimerica.”  The former is the Marxism both the Trotskyists and the Stalinists pushed for at the end of World War I; the latter is the hope that a Hitler will come back and save reactionary values of the mythical past and win this time.

I had long, with some distance and with a smirk on my lips, shared stories in pubs about Weimar Germany being a romantic place to be.  Drugs, sex, music, and the occasional fascist-bashing as everybody tries to pretend the end of the world isn’t coming after the apocalypse of World War I.  In these hypotheticals, we’d imagine that the People’s Republic of Portland was Red Berlin.  We were, and are, a leftwing citadel, to the point that it is strange to believe that someone that disagrees may be around.  The general agreement gave such conversations the sense our mundane existences would be talked about in the same way we spoke of Red Berlin.

It certainly isn’t a sure thing, but Portland is a lot closer to Red Berlin than it was a year ago.  The drugs, the sex, the people streaming in to live in increasing poverty to join in on the party.  These were trademarks of San Francisco, Soho, Seattle, and other places for a long time.  But now there is political bulk behind the romantic argument for the first time in a generation.

Though the seeds were laid earlier, it started in Oregon with the Bundys.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation was a stupid joke.  The hillbillies from Nevada were hardly the heroes that the right was waiting for.

They had little or no support amongst the rural locals, as they had hoped.

At the last moments of their occupation, perhaps they even knew why they came to Oregon. Maybe they finally saw themselves as Oregon saw them. People, right and left, come to Oregon to get away from people like the Malheur terrorists. We’re all home steaders making our life better without the constraints of people like the Bundys.

In the last days of the protest, David Fry just to get stoned and eat pizza, a luxury his native state wouldn’t have afforded him.

Clive Bundy naively announced coming to Portland. When he got off the plane to find FBI agents waiting for him at the airport, something he assuredly saw as a contamination of land that he considered his, perhaps he understood how Oregon had felt gripped in the hands of terrorists from another state.

Finally Baby Bundy had made the mistake so many had. He mistook Oregon’s aversion to social conflict to mean he was winning. He would learn the same lesson as countless transplants while he watched the people he thought were his friends turn out not to be. He tired to make inroads and parties and events, while also encouraging people from other states to come join the cool new community he was building in Oregon. But we native Oregonians will only be pushed so far. When he changed our landscape and bragged nationally as if he were from here after arriving a few months ago, he showed disregard for us. He arrogantly flaunted the ways he was going to improve us by making us like him.

He was the dick that we all sought to escape, cowboy hat or not. When Baby Bundy was caught, there was relief from our shoulders. Unlike in real life, we thought the end of the occupation was proof that we could resist the change outsiders demanded of us as they came pouring through—that nobody was going to tell us they were more authentic natives than the natives.

That’s the narrative that we wanted to believe, anyway.  But it wasn’t to be.

Despite claims to the contrary, Oregon is still part of the United States.  And that comes with its own set of problems. Despite pleas from the state that grew increasingly frustrated, the Feds moved reluctantly, the state pleading with them to act.

The Feds are always willing to rant and rave about their wonderful Shining City on a Hill when they’re droning some apartment building because someone your average American can’t name might be in a place no American can pronounce. When blacks protest, they’ll send out dogs and tear gas to suppress the movement.

Some fugly hillbillies come out of the woodwork and actually invade another state and forcibly occupy Federal land, and they trip all over themselves to accommodate the far-right of this country.

Bundy banked on such a reaction:

Bundy seemed confident that the group’s actions wouldn’t result in any immediate response from law enforcement officials, who have remained low-profile and have adopted a “wait-them-out” approach to the situation.

“I don’t think they want to do anything,” Bundy said. “I think there’s a lot of good people in the federal government who feel the same way as us.”

Payne said the militants plan similar actions in the future.

And he was correct. The writing was already on the wall:

Daily Beast:

In 1993, Bundy decided not to renew his permit for cattle grazing in protest of new regulations under the federal Bureau of Land Management, However, Bundy kept grazing his cattle on public lands so that by 2014 Bundy had accrued over $1 million in grazing fees. A judge had first ordered Bundy to remove his cows from public land in 1998 but since Bundy hadn’t done so (after six years!) a judge in 2014 said the federal government could remove Bundy’s cows for him.

After the government rounded up Bundy’s cows, the rancher and some supporters showed up armed. Wrapping up his critique of cattle-grazing policies with a larger anti-government agenda, Bundy himself said at the time, “We’re about ready to take the country over with force!” According to local press, Bundy’s supporters were pointing weapons at the police. The assistant sheriff said Bundy’s supporters “were in my face yelling profanities and pointing weapons.”

And what did the government do? They released Bundy’s cattle and left his armed supporters alone.

According to Bundy as of April 2015, he continued to graze his cattle on federal lands without impediment.

“We’re probably living in the freest place in the whole world,” Bundy bragged, adding, “We have not had any time of government interference.”

And the extreme right had taken notice:


The Patriot movement, which includes the militias that came to Bundy’s defense, has seen an explosive resurgence since President Obama was elected – growing from about 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year. Since 2009, there have been 17 shooting incidents between antigovernment extremists and law enforcement, the report found.

Now, the movement has been emboldened by its initially successful defense of Bundy.

Despite an ongoing FBI investigation into the Bundy incident, several subsequent encounters between the BLM and antigovernment activists have occurred across the West, including incidents in New Mexico, Utah, Texas and Idaho, according to the report.

Two men in Utah, for example, pointed a handgun at a BLM worker in a marked federal vehicle while holding up a sign that said, “You need to die.”

And, as was widely publicized, Jerad and Amanda Miller, a couple who had spent time at the Bundy ranch during the standoff, executed two police officers inside a Las Vegas pizza parlor in early June. Leaving a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, a note saying the revolution had begun and a swastika on the officers’ bodies, the Millers went on to murder another man before dying in a shootout with police. Months earlier, Jerad Miller was photographed with former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack, a prominent antigovernment activist who also visited the Bundy ranch.

The so-called moderate right raced to agree in principle with the terrorists, but not with the action:

Marco Rubio:

And I agree that there is too much federal control over land, especially out in the western part of the United States,” the Florida senator told Iowa radio station KBUR. “There are states, for example, like Nevada that are dominated by the federal government in terms of land holding, and we should fix it, but no one should be doing it in a way that’s outside the law.

Rand Paul:

“I’m sympathetic to the idea that the large collection of federal lands ought to be turned back to the states and the people, but I think the best way to bring about change is through politics,” Paul told The Washington Post. “That’s why I entered the electoral arena. I don’t support any violence or suggestion of violence toward changing policy.”

Ted Cruz:

“Eight-five percent of Nevada is owned and regulated by the federal government,” Cruz says in a new TV ad, with tense, thriller-movie music playing in the background. “And Donald Trump wants to keep big government in charge. That is ridiculous. You, the people of Nevada, not Washington bureaucrats, should be in charge of your own land. If you trust me with your vote, I will fight day and night to return full control of Nevada’s lands to its rightful owners, its citizens. Count on it.” (Watch the ad below.)

Cruz’s appeal comes directly from Bundy’s playbook, which presents the U.S. government as the scourge of Western ranchers and a monolithic authority that has no right to the vast lands it controls. Bundy, a Nevada rancher whose sons Ammon and Ryan led the takeover early this year of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, is part of the Sovereign Movement. These militant activists, writes Forbes magazine, consider the U.S. government “an illegitimate sham.” In 2014, during an armed showdown with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights on federal land in Nevada, Bundy claimed to have had “a revelation from God that his supporters are to disarm the BLM and National Park Service, and to tear down the toll booth at Lake Mead.”

Donald Trump:

“I think what I’d do, as president, is I would make a phone call to whoever, to the group,” he said, adding later, “I’d talk to the leader. I would talk to him and I would say, ‘You gotta get out — come see me, but you gotta get out.'”

His campaign:

The head of veterans’ group founded by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign voiced hearty support for the armed militia currently occupying an Oregon wildfire refuge, a fight the billionaire Republican has said has gone on too long.

Jerry DeLemus, co-chair of Veterans for Trump in New Hampshire, said in a Tuesday interview with Reuters that Bundy and his allies have already seen “great success” in their fight against the “thug-like, terroristic” efforts of the federal government to wrest control of public lands from local ranchers.

DeLemus traveled to visit the occupation in Burns, Oregon earlier this month, and concluded the self-styled militia’s cause is “peaceful” and “constitutionally just.” According to Reuters, DeLemus also spent a month in 2014 at the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy, who staged his own armed showdown with the federal government over public grazing lands.

Despite Trump’s earlier remarks that “you have to maintain law and order, no matter what” and “you cannot let people take over federal property,” DeLemus said he wants the GOP frontrunner to know “the whole story.”

“It’s my intention to ensure that he has the whole story,” he said. “I think it’ll really arouse him, and once he understands, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him heading out West.”

This filtered down to other moderates.

Let us pretend that in 1986 the IRA occupied a government facility in rural Britain.  Does anybody suppose that the Tories would rush to defend the idea of a united Ireland, but condemn the tactics used by the IRA?  I certainly think not—but in the United States decades later a terrorist action did exactly what it was intended to do.

By announcing their intentions were to, “kill or be killed,” taking over government property, holding it by force of arms, and demanding that laws be superseded to fit a particular agenda, that prisoners be released, and that federal, state, and local governments capitulate to a fringe ideology being maintained at the barrel of a gun, the extreme right saw that there were no consequences to its actions, and their watered-down parliamentary equivalents lines up to support the goals of the terrorists.

The apparatus that the Republicans themselves built was thrown thoughtlessly down. The threat of terrorism was unofficially re-defined to exclude them. The FBI were reluctant to do anything other than talk, “like acquaintances catching up.” Their authority was publicly challenged by one of the terrorists.  An attempt at a silent judicial coup was attempted, while threats to government employees were justified and followed up. In essence, self-appointed judges that believe the United States Government ceased to exist in the 19th century were brought in to try Federal Employees that had been intimidated to the point of having to go into hiding and were being actively hunted.

This was more than a random occurrence accelerating what was already there.  The terrorists themselves believed in a United States that was completely counter to reality:

The Missoula Independent wrote:

More specifically, he came to believe that slavery never really existed in the United States and that African Americans in the antebellum South “didn’t view themselves as slaves.” He came to believe in “an effort by some Jews to control the world.” He came to believe the founders of the United States intended for the states to act as sovereign countries. He came to believe taxes are a form of “legal plunder.” He came to believe names are spelled in all-caps on driver’s licenses because U.S. citizens are actually “corporate entities.” He came to believe U.S. courts are actually foreign admiralty courts. He came to believe that “in most states you have the lawful authority to kill a police officer that is unlawfully trying to arrest you.” He came to believe when a newborn child’s footprint is made on a birth certificate, that child is effectively entering a life of servitude to the U.S. government, which borrows money from China based on that child’s estimated lifetime earning potential.

The Southern Poverty Law Center had been long been keeping tabs on the progress of such movements, but it was in Oregon that the transition from fringe to mainstream began to occur.

It is, perhaps, no surprise that the end resulted in a conspiracy theory that was equally as divorced from reality and a strange attempt at fictional legal assumptions.

In the end, the few charges that the government went for proved too little to be taken seriously by the jury.  There is still a lot of controversy surrounding this, though it is often said that conservative pressure against the Ninth Circuit made the judge unwilling to give an inch to the prosecution.  For instance, the prosecution was forced to argue that government employees were intimidated without using government employees being allowed to say they were intimidated.

Regardless as to why, the action in Oregon was found to be more or less legal, at a time when Black Lives Matter protests were being shrilly condemned.

It was after the Bundy verdict that I knew Trump was going to be president.

Part 2.

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