The likelihood of similar situations
only increases as the federal government becomes less and less responsive to the will of the people. The tensions at the Bundy Ranch subsided just before Princeton University released
on the impact the average American voter has in decisions made by the federal government, which concluded
the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
Historically, citizens who have had their will ignored
to the point that they become statistically insignificant take up arms against the government. The federal government continuously tries to cater to its own interests or the interests of special interests groups that have bought lawmakers. The continued domestic spying by the National Security Agency
, the forceful ramming of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
down America’s throat, and yet another attempt to institute a national identification card
are all current examples of the government thumbing its nose at the wishes of the American people.
Given the ultimate peaceful resolution, the incident at the Bundy Ranch could very well be used as an operational template for future instances of mass civil disobedience backed up by the force of arms. An understanding of the dynamics of the situation can provide Americans with a clear understanding of what is to come.
The inciting incident
In this case, the inciting incident was relevant to a very small percentage of the population. The idea that most Americans truly care about grazing rights of ranchers is a little silly. It would be a safe assumption that most Americans, if polled, would declare they were more interested in protecting an endangered species than securing grazing rights for cattle. So despite constant media assertions, this incident was not about cattle or endangered turtles
The federal government’s militaristic operations at the Bundy ranch are what mixed the small flame of resistance with the gasoline of popular opinion. From Ruby Ridge to Waco, the feds have a long and sordid history of improperly using military tactics against rural America. Apparently, rural America has had enough.
Once the threat of militant federal action came out, militias contacted the Bundy Ranch to ask if they needed help. Digital Journal spoke with Jerrry Bruckhart, a co-founder of Operation Mutual Aid
(OMA), about the incident.
We were the ones that first made contact. OMA was the one that contacted the Bundys and asked if they needed support. Ryan Payne [the group's other co-founder] left immediately from Montana when they said they needed support, others followed.
The evolution of the militias
The militias of today differ greatly from those of the 1980s and 1990s. The vast majority of today’s militias
welcome Americans of all races and have active safeguards
in place to weed out those whose interest in the militia is racially motivated. Thirty years ago, many militias were overrun with white supremacists.
The core makeup of the groups today have extensive military training and many have combat experience derived from service in the War on Terror. Those soldiers returned home from the wars and found their country without employment and the freedoms they believed they were fighting for had slowly been stripped away. They found comfort in the open arms of like-minded vets that understood the difficulties of adjusting to a non-combat environment and shared their ideological beliefs.
The type of conflict the militiamen served in while on active duty in the United States has greatly increased the capability of the groups. In the 1980s, most militiamen with combat experience were veterans of conventional wars. That experience did not directly translate to tactical expertise in the type of engagements they believed were coming. Today, those that served in a counter-insurgency role in Afghanistan or Iraq are well-versed in insurgency operations and understand the dynamics of public relations in regards to armed encounters. The skill set they developed overseas provides federal agencies with a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
The ability of the modern movement to coordinate and find like-minded people via social media has greatly increased their recruiting ability.
In a surprising twist, owed largely to the government’s disregard for the wishes of the American people, even some activists on the far-left openly supported the militias’ move, or at least refused to mount a counter-campaign about the endangered reptiles found on the property where the cattle are grazing. This implied consent to the militias’ activities can only be seen as those on the left deciding that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and determining that the greater threat to their cause is not the typically right-wing militias, but the federal government.
The number of people that showed in Nevada to support the rancher was surprising by anyone’s standards. What may have been more surprising was the speed by which they were able to arrive, coordinate, and deploy to assist the embattled rancher. Jerry Bruckhart seemed a little disappointed while discussing his organization’s response time, though most people familiar with military operations were impressed by the quick response by groups that many had no faith in prior to this incident.
Ryan Payne made it about ten hours. Most of our guys had to come from about 2000 miles away. If this had happened east of the Mississippi, we would have been able to field greater numbers of men in a shorter period of time.
The speed by which the various militias were able to deploy is in large part due to the organizations embracing new technologies and studying how these technologies were deployed during the Arab spring. The militias ran multiple and redundant lines of communications using new technologies such as Twitter and Facebook for open communications. More secure communications were conducted using disposable prepaid phones, Ultra High Frequency radios, and Extremely Low Frequency radios. Compiling intelligence reports from different militias was handled via closed conference calls.
During a conference call hosted by a different but allied militia organization, those en route to the ranch were advised to travel separately if possible and to arrive in civilian clothing as a peaceful protester. Any weapons were to be secured in the trunk of the vehicles in accordance with local law. Without openly displaying firearms or military equipment in the vehicles, law enforcement was unable to gain probable cause to search vehicles, though reports of searches happening anyway are prevalent. This complicated federal efforts to determine how many of the protesters were armed and made accurately gauging the amount of armed opposition they faced impossible. This tactic of traveling separately has been employed by United States special operations units since the 1980s, and displays a counter-intelligence capability far beyond what was expected of the militias.
Using the examples set by the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of the militias deployed using the uniform of the man on the street or the farmer in the field. Making themselves virtually indistinguishable from unarmed protesters placed federal forces in the unenviable position of not knowing which participants were combatants and which were civilians. This uncertainty would lead even the best trained agents to hesitate before firing into the crowd. That hesitation would have provided the militia forces with a brief but critical window of opportunity had the confrontation turned violent.
While many of the militias deployed their troops in concealed positions, some of the visible deployments demonstrated they maintained tactical supremacy over the federal forces. In most cases, when federal agents would deploy snipers, militia counter-sniper teams could be seen almost immediately. In the instances where the teams were not visible, it is more than likely a safe assumption that they existed but were concealed from view.
Obedience of the enforcement class
Throughout the confrontation federal agents repeatedly claimed that had been authorized to use deadly force
. Deadly force was never used, and demonstrates an unwillingness of federal forces to engage U.S. citizens. This sends a clear message to government officials in Washington, DC.
Much to the chagrin of those in the capital, it doesn’t seem likely that federal agents will blindly follow orders. Whether this lack of desire resulted from a moral decision to not fire on one’s countrymen, or the agents were simply unwilling to engage a militia force that displayed a tactical superiority is irrelevant. The outcome was the same and the lesson learned by the activist community was that civil disobedience backed up by force of arms seems to be a formula that will force an otherwise unresponsive federal government to reconsider their actions and bring about a peaceful resolution to a situation where the government elected to use force.
Additionally, the lack of escalation between the militia forces and the the forces of the government shows clearly that while the militias were undoubtedly prepared to use violence, they were not seeking an engagement. Militia forces could have triggered a firefight at any time. Likewise, the government's men did not fire first or use any small altercation to push towards violence. Undoubtedly, if shooting had broken out, the federal report would state that the militias fired first, whether that was true or not.
There are several unresolved questions from the Bundy Ranch, such as the unconfirmed reports
that some of the cattle were mistreated and possibly died in BLM custody, and there is still the chance that federal forces will move in on the ranch. However, the lessons learned from this encounter are already part of activists’ memory.
This type of action will occur again, and it will continue to occur until either the government becomes more responsive to the grievances of its people, or a future incident escalates to violence. Historically these types of engagements only work for so long before a government overreaction or a simple mistake takes the incident to a higher level of confrontation. These forms of protest were common in Ireland in the 1970s until one day fourteen innocent civilians
were killed by the hands of British troops.
While those in activist circles may celebrate the discovery of a workable tactic to gain government concessions, it must be noted that this level of civil disobedience takes protesting to a much higher level of risk. The actions that occurred at a small ranch in Nevada will shape the strategy of dissenters in the United States for quite some time. Whether the American people are prepared to deal with the inevitable outcome of repeated use of this tactic is a moot point because Pandora’s box has been opened and what has emerged cannot be simply stuffed back inside and forgotten about.