February 5

The Bundy Ranch Standoff: A Case Study of Two Americas

The last act of the standoff: unarmed, mounted riders pray together before confronting heavily-armed BLM agents. (New York Times)

The Bundy Ranch standoff that occurred in Bunkerville, NV, in April, 2014 [1] offers a clear view into two very different Americas: the urban liberal reality now experienced by a majority of Americans, and the reality of rural America which has little in common. I offer this case study in the hope that we as a nation can begin to understand that our experience, whether rural or urban, is not the experience of many other people, each of whom makes decisions– including political decisions– based on their own experience of reality. Only when we begin to acknowledge that difference can we possibly bridge the divide that has polarized the nation and brought us to the political state in which we find ourselves.

Rancher Cliven Bundy had been grazing cattle on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for many years, but had not paid his grazing fees.[2] The fees and related fines eventually totaled over a million dollars. After a series of legal battles, heavily-armed BLM agents were dispatched to impound hundreds of Bundy’s cattle. When videos circulated of Bundy family members being physically assaulted by BLM agents, hundreds of supporters streamed to the ranch.[3] These included a few dozen militia members from Idaho, and hundreds of ranchers and other supporters from Nevada, Utah, and other western states.[4]

Ranchers, farmers, and other interested parties supported Bundy because of ongoing, widespread problems with federal land management.[5] It is little recognized outside the West that 81% of the land in Nevada, 67% of Utah, and 62% of Idaho are owned by the federal government—the majority of it managed by the BLM.[6] While these federally-owned lands are seen by many Americans as wilderness to be protected, they are also an important source of livelihood for the people who live in those states.[7] Land use issues affect livelihoods, and therefore survival and identity.

On the final day of the standoff, according to eyewitness Symbria Patterson, 40 unarmed men and women on horseback gathered under a freeway bridge and approached the BLM command post southwest of I-15. “They stopped and said a prayer, and talked about whether they would survive this. Some of them discussed who they wanted their horses to go to if they died,” she told me. As they exited the cover of the bridge, hundreds of protesters on foot streamed across the freeway in support. The BLM sent an agent to negotiate, and the protesters demanded that jurisdiction be turned over to the Clark County Sheriff, where (according to the protesters) it belonged. Sheriff’s deputies took control, the cattle were released from their pens, and the standoff ended.[8] Supporters also documented the BLM’s abusive handling of the impounded cattle.[9]

None of this was reported in the mainstream media, and the narrative of violent uprising continued in coverage of the legal aftermath.[10] Associated Press quoted the prosecutor in the criminal case as saying, “[The Bundys] got what they wanted that day. They got it at the end of a gun.”[11] Meg Dalton writes that Bundy “and an armed militia held off the feds from rounding up his cattle.”[12] To the mainstream media, this incident represented a bizarre confrontation contributing to the belief that rural, white Americans are irrational and violent.[13] The most noteworthy image is that of a militia sniper on a bridge with his rifle aimed at federal agents.[14] (The photo of a BLM sniper posted outside the Bundy ranch before supporters arrived, which inflamed many people in the West, was never seen in the mainstream media.) The land was portrayed as pristine wilderness, the habitat of the desert tortoise.[15] The narrative, for much of the country, was that a racist, domestic terrorist was defying federal jurisdiction—and his supporters were just like him.[16] Yet we can also hear a narrative of structural violence as described by Elaine Enns and Ched Myers: “Criminals or rebels using guns are wrong, but officers or soldiers using the same guns are justified, even heroic.”[17]

The local narrative was much different. A local editorial contrasted this, stating,

Since 9/11, we’ve seen our federal government intensify its focus on national security to the point where it is actively eliminating our freedoms… Whether boarding a plane or purchasing a firearm, the federal government views every citizen as a potential criminal or terrorist until they have submitted to its screening. Its agencies are arming themselves at an unprecedented rate.[18]

Dalton acknowledges that the national media failed to cover this issue well. She quotes Ryan Haas: “To just dismiss [the Bundys] because their trial is over is sticking our heads in the sand about something that is really important to Western people.” And indeed, government officials are quoted as saying, before the standoff, “Mr. Bundy believes the BLM’s actions have nothing to do with cattle or the desert tortoise, but rather that it is an attempt by the federal government to take land from the state and the citizens who live there. This sentiment is held by almost every individual who was interviewed.[19] Symbria Patterson adds, “You should have heard the stories being told around the campfire at night. So many people, especially older people, thought they had a right to land their grandparents had homesteaded.  Then the government took it away. One man in his 70s said he’d been fighting for his land since 1946.”[20]

Two distinct narratives are evident. Outside the intermountain West, the incident at the Bundy ranch was seen as irrational lawlessness or rebellion against federal jurisdiction. The presence of militia members bolstered this perception; the fact that these represented a minority of the participants was not reported.[21] Even the need expressed by the ranchers was in some circles dismissed as unimportant. One man in Los Angeles commented to me, “No one makes a living ranching anymore.”[22]

Those involved saw it quite differently, particularly in Utah where cultural memory includes the so-called Utah War of 1857 between settlers and federal troops.[23] The memory of the intermountain West also includes the Downwinders, tens of thousands of residents in Utah and other western states who were intentionally exposed to radiation from nuclear tests beginning in 1951 to assess the impact of nuclear weapons on civilian populations, and the later Divine Strake bomb test proposed in 2007.[24] Combined with massive federal land ownership and lingering resentment over lost homestead claims, the belief that the federal government stands ready to do violence against them is not difficult to understand.

This narrative informs other social issues as well. For example, ranchers regularly use guns as tools of their trade, protecting livestock from predators. With a narrative of federal animosity, along with incidents like the recorded video of BLM’s manhandling of Bundy’s 57-year-old sister,[25] it should not surprise us that some westerners actually do believe that guns might be necessary to protect themselves against the government. Typically living in states with high gun ownership and low gun violence, the narrative of gun control threatens not only their livelihood but their perception of safety from an institution that appears adversarial to their way of life and even their existence.[26]

It’s easy to paint Cliven Bundy as a fanatic. It is less easy to explain away the broad support he received from across the rural intermountain West, unless we believe that the majority of rural residents are irrational fanatics. It’s not uncommon to see this as an underlying assumption by urban liberals. However, as this analysis shows, there  is another side to the story, as there always is. Human beings are, at the root, rational creatures; there is nearly always a reason for our actions, however invisible that reason may seem. Some of us may not want to hear about the historically-adversarial relationship between government and the rural West. We may not understand how people can cling to what to urban people is an outdated way of life, even dismissed as “cowboy culture.” We may not realize that thousands of Americans still make their living ranching.

We dismiss these realities as fiction at our peril. When we dismiss the experience of a minority– any minority– we drive a wedge that cannot easily be removed. A person whose lament goes unheard may seek to be heard by any means, even destructive means. That their actions may also be self-destructive becomes irrelevant.

Conversely, one of the most radical actions we can take is to listen to the narratives of those who disagree with us. This doesn;t mean to take their sound bites at face value, any more than they take ours at face value. It means, rather, to listen deeply to life experiences, generational histories, and most importantly woundings.

This is not an easy thing to do. It means risking the notion that we may have had some part in those woundings. It means risking our pride and our self-image of righteousness. Yet that is the risk required for healing. And without healing, we face a dark national future.



[1] This analysis is less interested in rancher Cliven Bundy and his interactions with the legal system, and the government’s failure to heed internal advice that might have avoided the standoff, but rather with the standoff itself and the hundreds of supporters who became involved.

[2] A reasonably fair analysis of the events leading up to the standoff can be found at Leah Sotille, “Report: FBI suggested waiving fees for Cliven Bundy before ranch standoff, did not consider him a threat,” Washington Post Dec 8, 2018 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/fbi-suggested-waiving-fees-for-cliven-bundy-before-ranch-standoff-deemed-him-not-a-threat/2018/12/08/f64cbf48-d630-11e8-aeb7-ddcad4a0a54e_story.html, accessed October 31, 2018). For a history of the conflict see Jaime Fuller, “The long fight between the Bundys and the federal government, from 1989 to today,” Washington Post, Jan 4, 2016 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/04/15/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-long-fight-between-cliven-bundy-and-the-federal-government/, accessed October 31, 2019).

[3] “Defense in Bundy Ranch Case: ‘Videos Don’t Lie,’” Associated Press, Nov 14, 2017 (https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-investigations/2017/11/14/cliven-bundy-ranch-standoff-trial-test-american-land-policies-las-vegas/862322001/, accessed October 31, 2019).

[4] When I visited the site of the standoff on April 11, 2014, a participant who identified himself as a rancher from Utah told me, “They [the militia members] keep to themselves… They’re a little scary; we don’t mind that they stay away from us.”

[5] See, for example, Max Roth, “Piute County Sheriff threatens arrest of Forest Service personnel,” Fox 13, Feb 23, 2016 (https://fox13now.com/2016/02/23/piute-county-sheriff-threatens-arrest-of-forest-service-personnel/, accessed October 31, 2019); “Tension grows between ranchers, mustang backers,” Associated Press, Apr 6, 2014 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/04/06/tension-growing-between-ranchers-mustang-backers/7380255/, accessed October 31, 2019). It is difficult to determine exactly how many cattle ranchers there are in the west because the USDA does not distinguish between feedlots, farms, and ranches. However, of the 700,000 beef production operations, 80% are small, family owned, and produce about 20% of America’s beef. 2017 Cattleman’s Stewardship Review, National Cattleman’s Beef Association (https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/Media/BIWFD/Docs/beef-csr-report-2017-final.pdf, accessed October 31, 2019), 10. Note that westerners continue to voice concerns about both constitutionality of federal land ownership (see Constitution of the United States of America I.8.17), jurisdiction of the BLM, and BLM’s status as a police agency.

[6] Andrew Prokop, “The 2014 controversy over Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, explained,” Vox, May 14, 2015 (https://www.vox.com/2014/8/14/18080508/nevada-rancher-cliven-bundy-explained, accessed October 31, 2019). For comparison, the federal government owns slightly less than 10% of the land in Virginia. Public Land Ownership by State, National Resources Council of Maine (https://www.nrcm.org/documents/publiclandownership.pdf, accessed November 3, 2019).

[7] On outside attitudes toward these lands, see for example, Cassidy Randall, “Trump condemned over plans to allow drilling near national parks,” Guardian, Sep 14, 2018 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/14/conservatives-democrats-trump-drilling-national-parks, accessed October 31, 2019). Note that these leases are not in the national parks; there are surely issues to be confronted here, but I would venture to suggest that the majority of Americans who unilaterally oppose commercial use of these lands have never been to them.

[8] Symbria Patterson and Sara Patterson, personal interview, April 17, 2014, documented by D. J. Mitchell, “Portrait of a Protester: Not What You’d Expect,” Notes from D.J., Apr 18, 2014 (http://djmitchellauthor.com/portait-of-a-protester-not-what-youd-expect/, accessed November 3, 2019). Patterson and her daughter, Sara, then age 19, are organic farmers in Cedar City, UT.

[9] According to Sara Patterson, who was also present, agents had destroyed waterholes in the desert to encourage cows into corrals. “The conditions in the corrals were disgusting. There was no water.  There were dozens of dogie calves separated from their mothers.  The cows were all full of milk because they had been separated from the calves.  Two cows had died, and two more had been crippled and had to be killed.” Bulls had been shot rather than impounded. Patterson.

[10] Bundy himself alludes to it in Sotille. No other report I have seen mentions the conclusion of the standoff.

[11] Associated Press (op. cit.).

[12] Meg Dalton, “With Bundy story, the national media slowly learns how to cover the American West,” Columbia Journalism Review, Jun 7, 2018 (https://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/bundyville-podcast-ranch-rights.php, accessed October 31, 2019).

[13] Ibid.: “The majority of Bundy supporters aren’t ranchers or farmers or cowboys, but militiamen, anti-government agitators, and white supremacists—the kind of people who flocked to Charlottesville last summer.”

[14] See Sotille; this is the first image shown in her article. See also Matt Ford, “The Irony of Cliven Bundy’s Unconstitutional Stand,” Atlantic, Apr 14, 2014 (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/04/the-irony-of-cliven-bundys-unconstitutional-stand/360587/, accessed October 31, 2014).

[15] Prokop.

[16] To be fair, Cliven Bundy has been in the spotlight for making remarks considered racist. Brett LoGuirato, “Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy Makes Ridiculously Racist Comments, Says Blacks Might Have Been ‘Better Off’ As Slaves,” Business Insider, Apr 24, 2014 (https://www.businessinsider.com/cliven-bundy-racist-comments-slaves-ranch-2014-4, accessed November 1, 2019). The standoff had nothing to do with racial issues, and to extend Bundy’s personal belief on an unrelated issue to all those who supported his protest against federal land use policies represents a guilt-by-association fallacy. While most ranchers are white—and indeed the majority of non-reservation residents of the rural, intermountain West are white—there are many exceptions, including my former neighbor, cattle rancher Reyes Carballo who, like his neighbors, grazes his cattle on federal lands each summer. But compare Bundy’s criticism of the effect of the Welfare State on Blacks, though worded inappropriately, to comments made by Haitian farmers with respect to subsidized rice imports from the U.S. that were supposed to help their economy but instead put local farmers out of work. Michael Matheson Miller, “Poverty Inc.,” Acton Institute, (2014).

[17] Elaine Enns and Ched Myers, Ambassadors of Reconciliation: Diverse Christian Practices of Restorative Justice and Peacemaking Vol II (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009), 8.

[18] Bryan Hyde, “Perspectives: Does government see us as the enemy?” St. George News, Apr 10, 2014 (https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2014/04/10/perspectives-government-see-us-enemy/#.Xb7BKppKjIW, accessed November 3, 2019). On federal agencies arming themselves, see Sean Kennedy, “Why did the USDA buy submachine guns?” CNN, Sep 29, 2014 (https://www.cnn.com/2014/09/23/politics/auditors-guns/, accessed November 3, 2019); Robert W. Wood, “IRS has 4,500 guns, 5 million rounds ammunition: Paying taxes?” Forbes, Jan 14, 2019 (https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2019/01/14/irs-has-4500-guns-5-million-rounds-ammunition-paying-taxes/#12cc3b6a1f9e, accessed November 3, 2019).

[19] Sotille. Emphasis added.

[20] Symbria Patterson.

[21] The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks militias as hate groups. “Armed far-right militia groups in the US entangles in legal troubles,” TRT World, Sep 3, 2019 (https://www.trtworld.com/americas/armed-far-right-militia-groups-in-the-us-entangled-in-legal-troubles-29491, accessed November 3, 2019).

[22] This comment was made on a FaceBook post in 2014. I am unable to locate it. But note the statistics on small cattle producers cited above—many people do make a living ranching, though most of the beef we eat does come from large, factory “farms.”

[23] History.net describes this intervention as “a collision of territorial self-determination against [the] federal government…” The primary issue appears to have been the Mormon practice of polygamy in violation of federal law. Donna G. Ramos, “Utah War: U.S. Government Versus Mormon Settlers,” History.net (https://www.historynet.com/utah-war-us-government-versus-mormon-settlers.htm, accessed November 3, 2019).

[24] Janet Barton Seegmiller, “Nuclear Testing and the Downwinders,” History to Go, Utah.gov (https://historytogo.utah.gov/downwinders/, accessed November 3, 2019); Benjamin Wood, “‘They said it was safe when they knew it wasn’t’: Utah downwinders archive scrutinizes fallout from nuclear testing,” Tribune (Salt Lake City), Oct 3, 2016 (https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=4427087&itype=CMSID, accessed November 3, 2019). Divine Strake was to be a massive conventional bomb test at the Nevada Test Site, which locals feared would distribute radioactive soil across the intermountain West. Ted Robbins, “Planned Divine Strake Bomb Test Incenses Locals,” NPR, Jan 18 2007 (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6906851, accessed November 3, 2019).

[25] Associated Press.

[26] The issue of rates of gun ownership versus gun violence has been clouded recently by a tendency to include suicide in gun “crime” rates. German Lopez notes, “Most gun deaths are suicides,” and states with lower gun ownership rates tend to have lower gun suicide rates. German Lopez, “America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 16 maps and charts,” Vox, Aug 13, 2019 (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/2/16399418/us-gun-violence-statistics-maps-charts, accessed November 3, 2019). However, according to FBI statistics CO, ID, MT, ND, SD, WY, and UT all rank in the lowest 20 states for rate of gun murder; UT ranks 5th lowest in the nation. “Table 20: Murder by State, Types of Weapons,” Federal Bureau of Investigation (https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/tables/table-20, accessed November 3, 2019). These states do rank higher in suicide rates. For comparison, CA, which ranks 34th lowest in gun murder, ranks 7th lowest in overall gun mortality when suicides are included. But note that nationally only 51% of suicides are committed with a firearm, and there are also questions of contributing factors such as the generally-higher rates of poverty in the intermountain west and other rural states, suggesting that combining suicide with gun crime obscures the causes of divergent problems in favor of a symptom-oriented approach, namely regulating guns.

August 21

Violence Left and Right– Or, Why I Quit Facebook

I’m tired of violence. I’m tired of hate speech. And I’m especially tired of it from people who deny they’re doing it.

Let me start with a proposition: When American young people spat on soldiers returning from Vietnam, that was an act of violent hatred. It didn’t physically injure them. But as we now know, some of the worst wounds a person can endure are not physical. Denying a person their self-respect and pride is an act of violence.

Let’s fast forward this principle to today, in which we look back at those veterans as men and women who did their best in a war that never should have happened and was poorly managed by our government. If I might be so bold, the U.S. fought on the wrong side, and lost. Yet the veterans who answered the call of their government deserve their pride, and they definitely should not be denied self-respect.

As we acknowledge this fact, there’s a movement afoot to take away the pride and self-respect of the descendants of those who fought in another war 150 years ago. That, too, was a war that didn’t need to happen. They fought on the wrong side, and they lost. Their leader, Jefferson Davis, was imprisoned for two years, until northern liberals posted his bail and he was eventually pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, along with all others who supported the Confederacy.

It should be noted that there were no trials for treason, in part because there was no judicial precedent that secession was in fact treason– that wouldn’t come until 1869. So some folks now look back and judge the Confederates as treasonous based on law that hadn’t been written at the time of the war.

This has become a pattern for us here in America. Slavery was legal throughout the colonies, with the exception of the Republic of Vermont which joined the Union as the first free state in 1777. Massachusetts became the first state to ban slavery in 1783. It wasn’t banned throughout the northern states until 1820, just 40 years before the war. And the general consensus among northern liberals–including Abraham Lincoln– was that slaves should be freed and shipped back to Africa. Here’s a quote from Lincoln:

“I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, I as much as any man am in favor of the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Do we really want to judge the South or the North at the time of the Civil War by our current, post-modern standards?

But that’s not the point. The Civil War was rooted in complex causes, like any war. One of those was the economic impact of abolition on the South, especially in the face of lopsided industrialization favoring the North. Yet this was but one facet of how far the federal government could intrude on states’ rights– a battle still being fought today. And at the time, there was nothing in the Constitution that had definitively prohibited secession. That was the ultimate issue on which the South stood: the right to remove themselves from the Union.

They lost. We know this. And they paid. Their leaders were jailed and barred from holding elected office.

But what do we make of the soldiers who fought for them? Does winning or losing change the dedication, the sacrifice, or the amount of blood spilled?

It didn’t to the people of the United States when they dedicated the Eternal Light Peace Memorial 75 years after the war.

But that was a different time, when there was still some level of cooperation between disagreeing perspectives. We no longer live in that America. These days, it’s “We won, so you can suck an egg.” I’m not speaking of just Donald Trump. The same attitude accompanied Barrack Obama and George W. Bush to the White House. Maybe it began under Clinton, when conservatives basically declared all-out war on his presidency. Maybe its roots go back further, to Nixon, when the government was considered by some liberals to be the enemy.

In any case, we’ve become a nation of violence– violent speech and violent action. It’s most obvious among conservatives because they don’t try to hide it. But the not-so-subtle images put forward by too many liberals about gun-toting, ignorant, racist rednecks is equally violent. As I’ve posted before, there are reasons people voted for Trump, and they have nothing to do with race. Just as there are reasons people voted for Clinton, and they have little to do with LGBTQ issues.

But I digress. We have a movement to take away the pride of a group of states. The proponents may see it as a way to address racism, but that’s not how the recipients view it. And if you tell someone that their great-grandfather was a racist piece of trash, how do you think they’re going to react? Are you making friends? Convincing people of your message? If anything, you’re pushing them to the other side.

Enter the white supremacists. They’ve now been given a platform for their own brand of violent speech that they think will gain them sympathy. “Y’all have been told that your ancestors were racist trash!” And maybe they do gain some sympathy. But obviously not among the proponents of removing the symbols of Southern history.

The proponents show up and counter-demonstrate, shouting slogans to drown out the slogans of the white supremacists. Now we have a news event! And the temptation to violence is never far away. Let’s be clear about this: shouting slogans is not a conversation, it’s a battle. Demonstrators and counter-demonstrators were already engaged in violence. Mick Jagger was right: bloodshed is just a shot away.

But that’s what our culture has become. We don’t really care about solutions. We say we do, but our actions say something different. We care about winning; we care about being right. No matter what. And if we inflame our enemies in the process, so much the better– we get to shout that much louder.

Here’s a hint: You don’t end a conflict by engaging in or inflaming the conflict. You end a conflict by finding out what the other side really wants, and you won’t learn that in a soundbite, a slogan, or a protest sign. Nor will you convince them of your position with a soundbite, a slogan, or a protest sign. You don’t get your point across by calling someone an idiot. Does being called an idiot make you want to improve yourself–or lash out at the person who said it? You won’t win friends with insults or attacks on their long-established culture. You win friends by sitting down and talking, even sharing a meal together.

One of my most meaningful friendships is with a couple who are very conservative. They call me a liberal, which I’m not (as my liberal friends will attest), but I don’t hold that against them. Yet we are able to sit and have long, meaningful discussions about politics and other matters. I remember the day I told the gentleman that George W. Bush spent money like a drunken Democrat. His face turned red for a moment. Then he thought about it and said, “You know, if Teddy Kennedy stood up and said that on the floor of the Senate, I’d respect him for it.”

Which brings me to why I quit Facebook. I’ve always struggled with the false sense of community it creates. It doesn’t encourage truthful, meaningful interaction. It encourages soundbites, slogans, and trolls. Over the years, I’ve done my best to be a voice of moderation and reconciliation. But let’s face it: Facebook is a venue for speaking, not listening. Few people bold enough to post a political opinion on Facebook are interested in reconciliation. In that sense, Facebook itself is a medium for violence.

I’ve sought reconciliation for almost all of my adult life. I helped bring about a cease-fire in a civil war. I know a little about bringing people together. But that doesn’t happen on Facebook. It doesn’t happen nearly enough in society at large.

My friend and fellow peace-worker, Shariff Abdullah, predicts that we’re on the verge of a civil war. He may be right. But I think we’re already at war, we just haven’t started shooting yet.

P.S. My posts will still be automatically posted to Facebook, as they are to Twitter and Goodreads, but I’ve stopped checking my Facebook page. If you want to contact me, comment or use the contact form on my blog page.

April 20

The Ludlow Massacre

Striking miners at Ludlow, CO.

Today is the 103rd anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. On April 20, 1914, private security guards and Colorado National Guard troops attacked a tent city occupied by 1,200 striking miners. Twenty-six  men, women, and children, were killed.

My family has a personal interest in the massacre. My wife’s great-great grandfather was one of the union organizers, and was present for the massacre. He and his family survived, but the family memory is still strong.

Giuseppe DiGiovanni was born in Italy and emigrated to the U.S. He moved to Colorado, where he worked as a coal miner. According to one source, “In 1912, the death rate in Colorado’s mines was 7.055 per 1,000 employees, compared to a national rate of 3.15.” They were also forced to live in “company towns,”in which all stores were controlled by the mining company– the background to the song “Sixteen Tons.” Appalled by the conditions the miners had to endure, Giuseppe became an organizer for the United Mine Workers of America. Banned for his organizing activities, he changed his name twice in order to get work, first to Joe White, and then to Joseph DiJohn.

Joe DiJohn, later in life (seated).

The union presented demands to the three major coal companies, which included safety protocols, limits on hours worked, and pay for non-producing activities like laying track and setting braces. Miners at the time were paid only by the ton produced. In September, 1913, the companies rejected these demands, and the miners went on strike.

The companies responded by hiring a private security firm to bring in strike breakers. These were supported by the Colorado National Guard, which was also strongly pro-company. Their union-busting activities included “unofficial martial law includ[ing] the suspension of habeas corpus, mass jailings of strikers in ‘bullpens,’ a cavalry charge on a demonstration of miners’ wives and children, the torture and beating of prisoners, and the demolition of a striker tent colony at Forbes.” However, the state was nearly bankrupt, and most of the National Guard units were disbanded.

On April 20, 1914, the day after the camp celebrated Orthodox Easter, private security and the remaining National Guard troops surrounded the damp at Ludlow. The miners, as shown in the photos, had some bolt-action rifles. Their opponents had machine guns, including at least one Browning M1895. One of their more frightening weapons was an armored car with a machine gun mounted in the back, which the miners called the “Death Special.”

The “Death Special.”

The attack began about 9:00 am and went on for ten hours. The miners and their families were trapped, until dusk when a passing freight train blocked the attack from one side and allowed them to escape. By 7:00 pm, the camp was razed and burning. The camp leader, Louis Tikas, was captured and executed.

The aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre

News of the massacre spread quickly, and resulted in the Ten Day War, in which miners all over Colorado attacked mine sites and destroyed mining equipment. This continued until President Woodrow Wilson sent in federal troops, which disarmed both sides.

In the aftermath, over 400 miners were arrested, and over 300 charged with murder. Only one was convicted, strike leader John Lawson, and his conviction was later overturned by the State Supreme Court. Of the National Guard troops, ten were charged but only one was convicted– the man who executed Louis Tikas– though he only received a slap on the wrist. None of the security guards were ever charged.

The UMWA failed to gain recognition, but John D. Rockefeller did implement reforms and allowed the miners to form a “company union.” The clash represents one of the deadliest conflicts in American labor relations, and in the aftermath, Congress imposed new labor laws, including restrictions on child labor.

While I have issues with the role of unions in our post-modern economy, I remain very much aware of the work they have done and the lives they have lost to change working conditions across the country. The Ludlow Massacre was a tragedy, but it also was a turning point. These brave miners, most of the immigrants, gave their lives to ensure that American workers would have a better future.

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January 21

Time to Plan

I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, “We’re gonna vent our frustration
If we don’t we’re gonna blow a 50-amp fuse.”

(The Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”)

My friend Kim flew across the country to attend the Women’s March in Washington DC today. I applaud her commitment to voice her dissatisfaction with the way things are, and the way things might change for the worse in the near future. But the question remains: now what? Will a demonstration of a hundred thousand or a million or even a billion people change anything? How does that translate into political power? The government regularly takes actions that most of its citizens oppose. Unless there’s a lever to translate that opposition into consequences, they do it anyway.

First the obvious bad news: Trump will be our president for the next four years. This would seem to be bad news for much of the country, which currently gives him a favorable rating of 37%. And if you look at who his policies are likely to hurt the most, the people who currently support him are probably (as H.L. Mencken put it) going to get it good and hard. But it could be worse. If Trump steps down, we get President Mike Pence, and not many people want that. I’m reminded of the 1973 movie, “The President’s Plane is Missing,” in which the best guarantee of the President’s safety was that the VP was an idiot, and not even our enemies wanted to see him in office. (Naturally the President’s plane goes down and the VP becomes president just as we are having a crisis with China…)

But maybe this isn’t all bad news. People need motivation to consider change, and perhaps time will motivate us.

Put another way, there’s a need for change and an approaching window of opportunity.

It’s time to plan.

As it happens, I have some experience with this sort of planning. For nine years, I worked on peace strategy in Sri Lanka. My team helped bring about a six-year cease-fire.

For the purpose of this brief discussion, the planning process can be oversimplified into three steps:

  1. Identify goals
  2. Humanize and build bridges
  3. Apply political pressure

This is where it gets tough. Because the first question is the hardest: what do we want? Vague ideas of equality aren’t going to cut it. We’re facing a system that promotes the status quo at best. It divides us, the electorate, roughly along urban/rural lines. And it’s supported by a media system that pits intellectual elites against the working class, dividing us further. And when you look at who does get what they want, it appears to serve corporations and the financial elite, not any of the divisions of the broader electorate.

This shouldn’t surprise us. The first principle of a sub-group trying to rule a majority is distraction. The most common means is to identify an outside enemy, while dividing any possible resistance from within.

The point is, we need to know what we want to change. Corporate influence on politics? The dualistic two-party system? Centralization of power that insists there is one solution for the entire country? D. All of the above? A constitutional convention implementing a parliamentary system? Dissolution of the Union? Some or all of these will appeal to people in different situations. It’s important to know what we want before we move forward.

We need a vision.

Then comes humanization and bridge building. We’ve been divided. We’ve been taught that “the other side” is the enemy. That’s a deception. They aren’t. We have to make the effort to reach out to them and try to understand why they see things the way they do. Urban voters are unlikely to understand why a militarized Bureau of Land Management is such a big issue for rural voters. And rural voters can’t really understand what infrastructure means in an urban setting. We’re going to have to sit down with each other and talk it through. Spend a week on a farm, or (for farmers) with a family in the city. We’ve got to bridge the divide if we hope to accomplish anything.

There will be resistance. Those who divided us in the first place don’t want us to humanize the other side. It suits them for liberals to believe that all Trump voters are racists, and for conservatives to believe that Hillary voters are gay socialist devil-worshipers.

But the alternative is continuing the slide, or dissolution, or civil war.

Only when we have identified a vision and built bridges can we consider applying political pressure. Otherwise, it’s just partisan politics as usual. Or it will become partisan politics as usual, as soon as the two parties get involved.

Which means we need to start now. Plan now. Build bridges now.

There will come a window of opportunity when everyone is fed up. Will we be ready?

November 9

Reflection on the Election

At bedtime, Hillary was expected to win the election. The website 538, which uses statistical analysis models, gave her a 75% chance to win. I don’t support Hillary. I think she’s a warmonger and a corporatist with little respect for the rule of law as it applies to herself. But Trump’s rhetoric of hatred scares me. That doesn’t mean I voted for either one. I (and my wife also) struggled to the last minute about whether to cast a vote for Stein on principle, even though we don’t really think she’s the right choice either, or to simply not vote. We both chose the latter.

For months, I’ve expected a Clinton presidency and a new war within 18 months of her taking office. I went to bed believing that would be the case.

I woke about 1:00 am with a feeling of unease and anxiety, like something unbelievable had happened. My stomach bothered me all night. I chalked it up to something I ate, though I didn’t eat anything unusual.

This morning I woke up in a different world. Trump won the election.

Apparently many of those who told pollsters they were going to vote for a third party, didn’t. Back in 2008, Obama got 6% more of the vote in Utah than polls predicted. A significant number of people were going to vote for him, but wouldn’t admit it to a pollster. That seems to have happened again with Trump, because the election results contradicted both polls and statistical predictions. Even Utah, which was predicted to go with McMullin (giving a third party candidate an electoral college vote for the first time in modern history), voted for Trump instead.

It would be easy to panic. I was somewhat comforted by reports of Trump’s conciliatory language in his acceptance speech. So maybe it won’t be that bad.

Or maybe it will.

Already, I see my left-leaning friends calling for mobilization in terms that sound pretty hateful. They expect (perhaps rightly, perhaps not) an agenda of hate from the winners. But hating hate isn’t a solution for hate.

Instead, I find myself thinking about the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). I have one Lord, and it isn’t the government, and it isn’t the nation. I will serve Jesus however he sees fit. I will stand up for my neighbor, and I will stand against injustice. If God requires it, I will be a member of the persecuted church. I already have a CIA file because of my work in Sri Lanka, and probably for my consensus-challenging blog posts since, so I’m on the radar. But the foundation of my faith is Kingdom values, and I can’t turn my back on that no matter the risk.

And yet I have failed to embody those values in a sufficiently radical way. Reflecting on Revelation, I wrote this in my first novel, Ordinary World, five years ago:

Babylon.  The most luxurious nation on earth.  Every one of us benefits from the free market juggernaut, the control of oil fields by friendly dictators, and the expansion of American franchises into nearly every corner of the globe, sending a steady stream of money to our economy here at home.

Do I want to live in a less privileged nation?  I do not.  No matter my protests, no matter my awareness, I am of Babylon and I shall suffer its eventual fate.

As much as I want to protest, the Lord said, “Come out of her, my people,” and I didn’t. I am guilty. I stand convicted by my inaction. I deserve the judgment pronounced by the prophets as much as anyone else. Perhaps I deserve it more, because I’ve seen the reality. I’ve seen Sri Lankan garment workers living 30 to a flat, sleeping in shifts because there isn’t room for them all to lie down at the same time, yet I still buy clothing made in Sri Lanka. I’ve seen the desperation of Mexicans who get paid just a little less than a living wage by American companies in the maquilladora plants south of the border, and I’ve done nothing to identify who those companies are and avoid their products. I’ve seen what industrial farming does to animals, to the land, to the water, and to small farmers trying to compete, but I still eat industrial food sold at the grocery store. I know the difference between good cheese and industrial cheese, yet I still buy store brand cheese because it’s cheaper.

I stand convicted before my Lord.

I want to point my finger at the Democratic Party and scream, “You knew there was a danger of this and you ran one of the most controversial candidates available when you had a popular candidate available who polled a dozen points better and had a better record of bipartisanship?”

But that would be me playing God. I’ve already made that criticism, and it didn’t convince anyone.

I can’t read the prophets without thinking that as a nation we are due to sow what we have reaped. And I can’t read the Gospel and retain any thought that I should be exempt. I’m not an insider, but I still participate in the capitalist juggernaut.

I pray with all my heart for mercy on my people. I pray that they (we) will turn from our ways and ask forgiveness. But that doesn’t seem likely.

So I fall back on Jesus’ promise of forgiveness. I have fallen short. Lord, be merciful to my family and me. I don’t want to be a lone voice crying in the wilderness of what could look like Germany in 1933. I know what happened to those voices. I’m not suicidal.

But I will do it if called. Not without fear, and not without reluctance. But if I don’t follow God’s call, wherever it leads, who and what am I?

September 18

The Nature of War – Conclusion (Part 5)

Oct 2 2006 - Event 034

If war is driven by two sets of elite leadership, both of which control the press and dominate the national dialog, how can war be ended?

To answer this question, it may help to examine our beliefs about war.  For example, the Sri Lanka war was often portrayed as two social pyramids in conflict with each other, with the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the LTTE at the top:

SL society 1

One day during a brainstorming session, my coworker Shariff Abdullah redrew the diagram like this:

SL society 2

In other words, it’s not Sinhalese against Tamils, but rather the two leaderships against the rest of the people.  The majority of people on both sides don’t want the war, they just want to get on with their lives.  It is the extremists and leaders who make that impossible, serving up a constant dialog of fear and patriotism.

To end the war requires mobilizing this unheard majority.  That’s no easy task.  However, even the most ruthless insurgents have at least some responsibility to the constituents they claim to represent.  Moreover, many who support one side or the other do so because peace seems unimaginable.  Given the option of peace, they would choose it.  Thus, changing the national dialog has tremendous effects.

With the leaders firmly in control of the public dialog, alternative ways of communicating must be found.  In Sri Lanka, over the course of three years, round-table discussions and constitutional forums were held in villages across the country.  The message of peace was carried, quite literally, from village to village.  Sri Lanka was fortunate to have an organization that was already active in about a third of the villages, and well-known and respected throughout the countryside.  The infrastructure for spreading the word was already in place.  But every country has volunteers working on the ground.  For example, in most countries at war, both Catholics and Mennonites have a strong presence, and sometimes a significant network, in addition to (and often supporting) local organizations.  Some volunteers are actively engaged in peace work.  Others provide medical services or distribute food, and while not actively engaged in peace, they strongly support it.

Obviously, campaigning against the government or the insurgents could have undesirable, and perhaps fatal, consequences.  The first step is to realize that neither the government nor the insurgents are the enemy.  War is the enemy.  Neither of the combatant parties would ever claim to be against peace at the risk of losing their legitimacy.  Both sides claim to want peace, despite their actions to the contrary.  Presenting an even-handed message of peace is both healthful and effective, because it forces the parties to do what they claim they want to do (but don’t really).

Likewise, when discussing atrocities, it should be emphasized that both sides have committed them.  (In most wars, they have.)  The problem is not the insurgents’ atrocities or the government’s atrocities.  The problem is atrocities, caused by war.

In Sri Lanka, the Sarvodaya Movement kicked off its peace campaign in 1999 with a peace meditation in the capitol that drew an unexpected 160,000 people from all over the island.  It was, to the best of my knowledge, the largest event of its kind in the world up to that point.  Politicians and the LTTE gave the event tepid praise, while some news outlets scorned it.  But Sarvodaya continued holding peace meditations, large and small, as the visible expression of the growing support for peace.

After a couple of years of grassroots work, Sarvodaya was able to draw more than half a million participants to its peace meditation in Anuradhapura.  Peace was obviously no longer a fringe idea.  The national dialog had changed.

The Norwegians had been trying to negotiate a cease-fire for some time, without success.  In 2001, the war raged on, then in its 21st year.  The LTTE, outnumbered 40 to 1 by the military, fought effectively with child soldiers and weapons stolen from the military.  Both sides believed they were winning.  That’s because the two sides had very different goals.  The government sought to control territory, while the LTTE wanted influence.  Both were getting what they wanted.  So, while both sides insisted that they wanted peace, neither had any incentive to compromise.

But something else was going on behind the scenes.  Sarvodaya had, over the previous three years, mobilized a huge segment of the population to speak out for peace.  In February of 2002, the parties signed a cease-fire agreement that would last for six years.  The Norwegians would later recognize publicly that their efforts could not have succeeded without the grassroots work of the Sarvodaya Movement.

It’s worth considering what happened after that.  By 2004, the LTTE was quietly looking for advice in how to transform its paramilitary organization into a political organization.  Small businesses were booming, and roadside markets appeared throughout the country for the first time in years.  Then things began to change.  By 2007, both sides were skirmishing in remote areas.  By 2008, the war has resumed in earnest.

My coworker, Shariff, once observed that the only way to win a war against an ethnic insurgency is to kill them all.  In 2009, the government became willing to do just that.  It cornered the LTTE in the jungle.  The LTTE had taken as many as 250,000 Tamil civilians with them as human shields, which had always worked in the past.  This time, the government attacked anyway, eventually wiping out the LTTE (despite their attempt to surrender) and killing tens of thousands of civilians in the process.  The war ended because there was no one left to fight it.

What caused the cease-fire to fall apart?  Complacency.  In 1999, Sarvodaya had acknowledged that cease-fire was not the same as peace, and that continuing efforts were needed to resolve the underlying causes of the war.  But after the cease-fire took effect, long-term peace building took a back seat to other, seemingly more pressing issues.  The grass-roots pressure to make peace gradually receded, and first the government and then the LTTE reverted to their old habits.

Ending a war is not an easy task.  Keeping it ended requires ongoing patience and perseverance.

It would be easy to view the Sr Lanka experience as a failure.  However, what happened there is cause for hope.  A small team of strategists guided a grass-roots organization to mobilize the people for peace, and the shooting stopped for six years, That’s no small accomplishment, and is perhaps unique in the context of post-modern war.

No longer is it enough to negotiate peace between parties, because the parties involved benefit from the war.  To end war, as it exists today, requires thorough analysis, careful strategy, and grass-roots work to mobilize those who do want peace.  It’s not easy.  But, as the Sri Lanka experience proved, it can be done.



April 18

Portait of a Protester: Not What You’d Expect

Symbria Patterson is an organic farmer.  She and her 19-year-old daughter, Sara, are pillars of the Local Food community in Cedar City, Utah.  They frequently travel to other states to support local food events across the country.  They operate their farm on the Community Supported Agriculture model, and hold several events at their farm each year at which they serve gourmet food procured from local sources.

Over the weekend, Symbria and Sara went to Bunkerville, Nevada, to support the anti-BLM protests there.  I met with her last night to ask her why.

“I am neither a liberal nor a conservative,” she tells me.  “My religion is not my culture.  But I do believe in the proper role of government, based on the principles this country was founded on.  We should have the right to choose.  We should have the right to use our lands.”

Symbria has many objections to how power is used in our country.  For starters, although she grows her food organically, she’s not allowed to say so.  The Federal Government now defines what “organic” means, and in their view, it must include a certification from a Federally-approved organization.  Symbria uses much stricter standards than the government, whose watered-down regulations have made the “organic” designation nearly meaningless.

“The certification is meaningless,” she says.  “How can the government own a word?”

But without that certification, Symbria can’t legally use the word “organic” to describe her produce.

Some years ago, Symbria was invited to a Sheriff Mack convention at a Las Vegas casino.  She didn’t know who Sheriff Mack was, but the organizers asked her to bring raw milk in support of a raw food table, so Symbria agreed.  Crossing state lines with unlicensed raw milk is a federal felony, but she did it because she believes the raw milk ban is wrong.  Other participants had brought raw cheese and ice cream.  But as soon as they started to serve it, the casino shut them down because raw dairy was illegal, and the casino was afraid of getting into trouble.

“That experience opened my eyes,” she says.  “It’s not the government’s place to tell us what we can eat.”

0413141932Later, she helped her best friends, who coincidentally happen to be neighbors of Cliven Bundy, put on a farm-to-fork dinner in Nevada.  They had rented a mobile kitchen for the event, and a gourmet dinner was prepared by a licensed chef.  Authorities shut the dinner down because the meat, eggs, and dairy had been brought from unlicensed producers in Utah, and it had therefore been brought across the state line illegally.  They forced the organizers to destroy an entire gourmet dinner by pouring bleach on it.  Not only could the participants not eat it, they couldn’t even feed it to their pigs!

“I am a supporter of choice,” Symbria says.  “The government is removing our right to choose.”

I asked her why she chose to attend the anti-BLM protests.  “It’s just wrong,” she says.  “We should be able to use those lands.  The Constitution says these lands should be owned by the states.  Bundy tried to pay the State of Nevada for his grazing, because they have jurisdiction.  But they didn’t know what to do with the money and gave it back.”

During the roundup, Symbria tells me, bulldozers were used to destroy watering holes so the cattle would look for water elsewhere.  Some of those watering holes had been built a hundred years ago, long before the BLM even existed.  They were built of concrete, and maintained by the ranchers.

0413141928“Bundy used to pay his grazing fees,” she tells me.  “The BLM was supposed to help him manage the land.  But they didn’t manage it.  The BLM, which was supposed to be helping him, instead made it impossible for him to make a living.  He stopped paying his fees to the BLM because his ‘partner’ was putting him out of business.”

“Did you ever wonder how Cliven Bundy came to owe a million dollars in grazing fees?” she asks.  “The grazing fees aren’t that much.  It’s the penalties for not paying them.”

She sees Bundy’s situation as representative of the problems many people have with government.

“You should have heard the stories being told around the campfire at night,” Symbria continues.  “So many people, especially older people, thought they had a right to land their grandparents had homesteaded.  Then the government took it away.  One man in his 70s said he’d been fighting for his land since 1946.”

Symbria and her daughter returned from the protest site Friday night so they could sell their produce at a farmers market on Saturday.  When the market was over, they drove back to Nevada.  Everyone knew that would be the day of the showdown between BLM agents and protesters.  There were fears that violence might erupt.

“I wanted to support them,” she says.

At the climax of the day, forty unarmed horsemen gathered under a bridge and prepared to approach the heavily-armed BLM agents.  Symbria tells me that she spoke with one of the women in the group afterward.

“They were all alone,” she tells me.  “Forty unarmed people against the federal agents’ firepower.  They stopped and said a prayer, and talked about whether they would survive this.  Some of them discussed who they wanted their horses to go to if they died.”

The horsemen approached the BLM agents slowly.  As they came out from under the bridge, more protesters on foot came down from the hill to join them.  The BLM began to back up.  One BLM agent came out to negotiate, and the protesters told them they wanted the County Sheriff to take over, because legally the Sheriff had jurisdiction over the BLM.  The sheriffs took control, and they ordered the BLM back.  The sheriffs then allowed the Bundys to approach the corrals and open the gates to release the cattle.

“Would I have joined those people under that bridge, knowing that my daughter and I might be killed?” Symbria wonders.   “But I was driving my car into that situation knowing there might be shooting, so I guess I would have.”

At this point, Sara chimes in.  She milks the family cow, as well as several goats, and says she was appalled at how the cattle were treated by the BLM.  “The conditions in the corrals were disgusting,” she says.  “There was no water.  There were dozens of dogie calves separated from their mothers.  The cows were all full of milk because they had been separated from the calves.  Two cows had died, and two more had been crippled and had to be killed.”

0413141929aSymbria notes that the protests brought together a diverse group of people: ranchers, farmers, small business owners, militia, and retired people.  “I grew up in Los Angeles,” she says.  “I’m afraid of guns.  It was strange to be rubbing elbows with men who were carrying guns openly.”

Yet that diversity demonstrates how many people are concerned about government overreach.  Symbria tells me, “I don’t understand why so many people don’t support Cliven Bundy.  Some of my friends are mad at me for supporting the Bundys.  I don’t understand that.  Many of them are angry at the government for not allowing raw food, and failing to regulate GMOs.  They seem to think this is different.  It’s not different.  It’s the government abusing its power.”

I ask Symbria what she thinks the protests accomplished.

“It saved the cattle, at least for the time being,” she notes.  “But I think the BLM will come back later.

“What’s more important is that this started a conversation about the role of government.  I hope it will change people’s minds.  I know people can change their minds, because I changed mine.  I attended private schools and college in California, and I never learned about any of this.  I never even voted until ten years ago.”

I ask Symbria about the role of nonviolence in getting the BLM to back off.  She thinks for a moment before answering.

“There were people there who seem to believe we can’t get our freedom back without bloodshed,” she says.  I ask her if she believes that.  She pauses, and says, “I hope not.”

Symbria believes that violence is doomed to fail.  The government has air power, surveillance, and lots of technology.  “This isn’t like it was in the American Revolution,” she says.  “They could slaughter us.”

She instead uses the examples of the horsemen who confronted the BLM.

“I asked them if they didn’t have guns,” she tells me.  “One man said, ‘Oh, we have guns, we just chose not to bring them.’”

That, she says, is why the protest succeeded.