My best friend is 4

August 17, 2018

When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, illusion of the “happy homemaker” was forever shattered. Women were more than “Mrs. Joe Blow,” finding a sublime happiness in a spotless house with dinner on the table at six sharp. Feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith wrote that women were given the domestic sphere of the home so men could occupy the whole of the public sphere. Suddenly, the word was out and girls and women said, “I’m coming out into the wide word. Time for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T!” (Forever love to our queen.)

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My experience flipping the script and becoming a house husband while my wife went off to work at various Portland law firms revealed some unexpected truths. Expectedly, as Friedan would have predicted, I hate housework. The reality of the that drudgery came rather quickly. But I’ve found a sense of fulfillment out of getting dinner on the table. The thrill of the grocery store hunt for ingredients (“Excuse me. Is pesto a spice?”), the kitchen assembly (while this week’s Spotify Discover Weekly playlist plays behind the Food Network website), and then the ultimate cliffhanger (Will they eat it??). John Lennon once said that, when he became a house husband, preparing a meal that his wife and child actually liked was better than making a hit record. I can totally relate, John. All we are saying is give pasta a chance!

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But the other part that has crept in is the intense bond I have built with my child, who turns four today. That moment when we brought her home from the wild ride of her birth, she was just this helpless little blob that looked like my father but acted more like a slug than a member of the family. In those four years she has become a full-fledged person with the world in her sticky palm. Yeah, she’s cute but,  yeah, she knows how to work it. Somehow she picked up on the social lessons of how to work a room. She’s got work to do before she truly understands how to win friends and influence enemies. She’s still fairly id driven – “What can you do for me? That might work for our emotionally stunted president, but we want her to ask, “What can I do for you?” I guess, until then, she’s just half-fledged.

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My wife can see the bond between Cozy and I. We have our own secret language (called Kupa Sana) and her weird hand mannerisms are the same as mine. (Sorry, kid.) We fill our days with adventures. This week we spent some time wandering around Lone Fir Cemetery, full of nineteenth century headstones of Oregon pioneers and twenty-first century headstones of Russian immigrants who lived through the rise and fall of the Soviet empire. We talked about life and death and how we can be sad when people die but happy because their memories surround us. “You mean, the spirits of all these dead people are floating around here?” she asked. I was worried that the death conversation would traumatize her, but, instead it gave her a sense of calm. I guessing that’s because she’s half Mexican (and really loved Coco).

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A few days later we trucked up to Sauvie Island to pick blackberries on an organic farm. The smoke from the west coast wildfires hung low, but we lost ourselves in rows and rows of sweet berries, learning which ones were sour (“Daddy, this one’s not ready. Can I spit it out?”) and which ones were perfectly sweet. We were in a little cubby hole of fruit, with the occasional tiny green frog crossing our path, laughing and eating more berries than we were putting in the bucket. Her face and hands were purple and I had a moment where I thought she had been sent to me from another dimension to help me connect the real world to the one that exists in dreams.

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It’s strange having such an intense connection to a child. Andrea is right in that we celebrate Cozy as the intersection of that’s everything that’s right about us. We had to bust through some seriously evil roadblocks just to be a couple. Cozy represents everything that is pure about our desire to be together. Her birthday is a reason to celebrate what a good job we’ve done. But she’s also her own entity that’s full of depth and wonder separate from us. Last night we took Cozy to see a band recreate The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ album and on the first note of the third song she screamed “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!” This is my child. I vowed not to be the parent in “She’s Leaving Home” and held her tight.

Each moment of these four years has been a gift. I wonder about the fathers who see the “domestic sphere” as an alien, feminine space. Do they know what they are missing? Do they know the unadulterated thrill of having a child say, “Daddy, you make the best spaghetti ever!” (even when you know that they’ve only had spaghetti made by you). As much as I’m ready to return to full-time public life, this experience has given me a great friend and expanded my soul. I might not know who’s playing in town this weekend, but I know someone who digs nature walks,  old Batman episodes, and endless blackberries, and that’s cool enough for me. Happy birthday, Cozy Pozy.

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(Re) Making the case for hate crime laws in Trump’s America

March 15, 2017

Earlier this week a neighborhood in Southeast Portland was covered in spray-painted swastikas. Swastikas on cars, fences, trees, and sidewalks. It’s been part of a rash of similar graffiti in the metro area this winter, including “Kill niggers” and other racist scrawlings at Lake Oswego High School and a swastika with a “Heil Trump” tag in men’s room at Portland State University. A report released today by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism-California State University, San Bernardino found a 22% increase in reported hate crimes in 2016 in ten large cities across the country (including Seattle). Is this the new normal in Trump’s America?

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I spent the morning testifying at the Oregon state capital in support of Senate Bill 356, that would refine the state’s hate crime law and add gender and ethnicity to the protected statuses. It was a chance to explain to our state’s lawmakers the “greater harm” of bias motivated criminality and why the nation started passing these laws in the 1980s. I began my testimony with the story of a woman named Loni Kai, who was born a male named Lorenzo Okaruru. Kai was brutally murdered in 2001. She was last seen hitchhiking on a main thoroughfare in Hillsboro, Oregon. Her body was found in a  nearby field the following day with her head caved in from a savage beating. At the time, the case could not be investigated and prosecuted as a hate crime because gender (and gender identity) were not included in the state’s hate crime statute. Almost 16 years later there still have been no arrests in the murder of Loni Kai.

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Since election day there has been a dramatic increase of hate crimes and hate incidents around the country. Hate incidents are acts that protected by the Constitution as free speech but are still hateful. After the election, there were numerous reports of high school boys telling Muslim and Latinx students that Trump was going to get them. It’s not uncommon to see cars and trucks in Oregon with swastika placards. Hate crimes are things that are already illegal (vandalism, assault, murder, etc.) that are committed because of a bias motive towards the victims perceived demographic membership. Yes, this includes kids who get beat up because they are white.

Hate Crimes as a form of terrorism

If I had the dollar for every time somebody asked me, “Isn’t every crime a hate crime?” I’d be a rich sociologist. Most crimes are motivated by financial gain, so I’d like to hear your argument that stealing a bike is a hate crime or burning down the business for insurance fraud is a hate crime. Hate crimes focus on the motive, a common thing in criminal prosecution. That’s why there is a difference between homicide and manslaughter. Did that guy break into your house to steal your gun or to just take a shower? Those are two different crimes.

Why don’t we consider the September 11, 2001 attacks 2,977 cases of homicide (or one case of homicide with 2,977 victims)? Because all of America was the target. And those who were around on that day can testify that every single person was affected. (I had an irrational anxiety about crossing large bridges for months – a real problem in Portland). The goal wasn’t to kill just the people on the planes, in the Pentagon, and in the World Trade Center. The intended victim was all Americans. Terrorism is a message crime targeted at entire populations. A swastika spray-painted on a Jewish family’s car is going to impact more than just that family. This is why these laws exist. Greater harm.

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The research is clear. Hate hurts more. Nobody wants to be a victim of a crime. It straight up sucks. But hate crimes tend to be more violent, like baseball repeatedly bashing a skull violent. Like Osama bin Laden, hate criminals want to send a clear message to a larger population. Get out of my land. If hate crime victims survive, they are more likely to need reconstructive surgery and long term-therapy compared to other victims of violent crime. We know that hate crime victims have deeper psychological scars and suicide attempts. When someone beats you for your gender identity, it’s deeper than someone beating you because they want your debit card. Victims of hate tend to withdraw and then the cavalcade of problems continue; at their job, in their family, and with their community.

It doesn’t end there. The target community also suffers. Who is going to be the next victim? Is this attack a reflection of wider beliefs? If there is a gay bashing in Portland tonight, all members of the LGBTQ community in Portland will experience the wave of anxiety and impulse to withdraw. The 1988 murder of Mulugeta Seraw in Portland by racist skineads created a wave of fear in the city, and not just among the local Ethiopian community. Many people of color shut their doors and focused on their and their children’s safety. Like how Americans felt after 9/11, but just think of a 9/11 after 9/11 after 9/11.

Wait, there’s more! Researchers have found that whole communities suffer after a hate crime. People start wondering what side their neighbors are on. Vibrant networks are strained as distrust grows. Yusef Hawkins was a 16-year-old black boy who was murdered by a white mob in Bensonhurst, New York in 1989. In the aftermath, the community erupted into months of racial conflict and violence. To this day, you can’t hear the name “Bensonhurst” and not think of how bad we can be to each other.

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That leads to the last harm, the place itself. Like Bensonhurst, what do you think of when someone says Jasper, Texas or Laramie, Wyoming? There’s a good chance you recall the brutal 1998 murders of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard. Places become stigmatized by the hate crimes that occur there. Many people across the world still think of the Seraw killing (29 years ago!) when someone says “Portland, Oregon.” I’ve had numerous people ask me, “Is Portland safe? I’ve heard about these skinheads.” And pity the poor state of Idaho. Nobody is looking at brochures from the Chamber of Commerce these days. They’re using Google and guess what they find when they look up Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

I am not your white person

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In the Academy Award-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, the late African-American author James Baldwin asks us to take a real look at the state of race in America. Not a Hollywood version, but a real hard look. And by “us,” he really means white people because everybody else pretty much knows what’s up. I’ve learned that most white people don’t like it when a person of color holds a mirror too close to their face. They’ll call them “racist” for trying to show them their own unstated racism. They’ll accuse them of “stirring up trouble” (as a white friend from Georgia said on my Facebook page today about Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. John Lewis). Looking is uncomfortable. The airbrushed version of myself is so much prettier.

The ugly reflection is that hate crimes are on the increase in America. Bomb threats at Jewish Centers, Muslim-Americans being assaulted and told to leave the country, Latinos being beaten by self-styled vigilantes, gay and trans kids being bullied, and, yes, even some white folks getting beaten up just for being white. This is the civil war our current president has no interest in rectifying. In fact, he has only fanned the flames of hatred.

In Oregon, we are trying to take a stand against both the history of oppression and the current effort to take us back to “again,” when, for some people, America was “great.” Never again. I’m proud to be a part of that effort.

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Obama has been to the mountain top (and so have we)

January 13, 2017

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I’ve been thinking about what to write this week as Portland has been buried under a record snowstorm. The most accumulation since the winter of 1943, when America was at war with fascists and emperors. (Insert joke about contemporary fascist emperor wannabes here.) I was thinking about a passionate defense of Donald J. Trump’s right to engage in golden showers with other consenting adults, but I kept getting that Frank Zappa song about not eating yellow snow stuck in my head. Maybe after things melt around here. (And the Russian video comes out. Will Billy Bush be in it?)

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Watching Obama’s farewell speech this week was such an emotional passing. It’s been a tortured presidency, scandal free and full of class and poise, but marked with so many “You almost did it” moments. You almost closed Guantanamo. You almost created a health care coverage system that all Americans saw as better than the previous mess. You almost ended the war in Afghanistan. You almost created a national dialogue on race that conservative white people felt invited to. You almost shut Trump up for good.

Of course there have been a ton of accomplishments, too long to list here. People seem to forget that eight years ago, we were in the Great Recession, headed straight for another Great Depression. Unemployment was skyrocketing and the stock market was plummeting and the value of my house fell by over 50%. One of my colleagues was set to retire in 2008 and cash in his 401K. He couldn’t. Obama’s risky moves got the economy (and the American car industry) back on track. My home equity is above where it was and the predatory lenders have been banished from the hood. Whew!

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But for every drop in the mortgage foreclosure rate there’s been another drone attack, often involving civilian casualties (aka, somebody else’s kids) and peaceniks debate whether bombs in the sky are better than boots on the ground. Obama’s gotten hell from the left for being too friendly with Wall Street and gotten hell from the right being a big government socialist. And then there are Trump’s racist alt-right gang that think he’s a Kenyan Muslim who is married to an orangutang and wants to institute “Sharia Law” across the country. Whatever happened to those nut jobs. Oh…

This week I just find myself flashing back to 2008. I was leading discussions in my Contemporary Theory class at PSU about which Democratic candidate was more in line with core feminist values, Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton. I made the case for Obama because, like radical feminists might, he argued we should talk to our adversaries instead of bombing them; that Clinton was falling for a liberal feminist hang-up by trying to “out-male” the hawkish males in Washington. (On a side-note: doesn’t Mitt Romney seem like a completely competent commander-in-chief compared to the buffoon coming in?)

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The fall of 2008 offered so much promise; an end to the Iraq War and a return to proven Democratic economic policies. A moment in history when The White House, built by slaves, could be occupied by highly qualified black man. It was a stunning prospect. A true moment to transform the country and repair some of the cracks in our national mirror. To see ourselves as better people than we were. I needed to mark the moment in some Northwestern fashion.

So on September 11th, I took a solo hike up to the top of Mt. Saint Helens (elevation: 8,366 feet). I was going through my own transition as my marriage was ending and I was thinking some of that hope and change might rub off on me. I had never made the climb and really had no idea how treacherous it was. The day I went up, a climber fell in the boulder field and had to be airlifted out. The following week a climber was standing on the rim at the summit when the volcano rumbled. He fell into the crevice and was killed. All I knew was I had to make it to the top to see what was on the other side.

It’s a four hour hike. The previous week, I thought I’d be a rebel and take the trail less traveled and ran into a black bear. So on 9/11 I went up the right way. An hour in the woods, an hour in the boulders, and two hours up the volcanic ash, two steps forward and one sliding back in the grey powder left over from the great eruption. That climb would become of metaphor for the next eight years. This includes a shrinking supply of fresh water from the melting glaciers on the way up.

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I spent some time at the top, admiring the view and looking over my cheap hiking boots at the tortured route to the summit. I asked another hiker to take my picture with my “Oregon for Obama” t-shirt and extreme hat-hair. I made it and so did we. Now whenever I see Mt. Saint Helens on a clear day, including in the winter when it’s covered and snow, I think, “Yeah, I made my way up there and stood on top. The journey made me a better person.”

Congratulations, President Obama. You made it to the top. And we are all better people because you did.

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What does the Bundy militia really want?

January 25, 2016

What does it mean to be a patriot? Does it mean upholding the laws of the land without question? Does it mean wrapping yourself in a flag and singing that dreadful Lee Greenwood song? Does it mean claiming an allegiance to the principles of the founding fathers and nothing else? Is Donald Trump a patriot? Is Barrak Obama a patriot? There are as many definitions of patriotism as there are flagpoles. That’s why the specter of the “patriot militia” is both comical and perplexing. I first interviewed militia members in Montana in 1998 and Oregon is now experiencing a new chapter in this both exciting and frightening American story.

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If you live outside of Oregon you might’ve missed the rogue group of militia MEN who took over a Central Oregon wildlife refuge on Saturday, January 2. Since then the Malheaur National Wildlife Refuge has been occupied by a small group of armed men (and the women who have come to cook for them), claiming they have a right to the federally protected land (that originally belonged to the native Paiute people).

Their goal is to “return” the land to the ranchers who can profit financially off grazing on an area that has been designed to protect wildlife, including threatened migratory birds. These men have begun to tear up the land for roads, they have disrupted Native American artifacts, they have prevented biologists from having access to their worksites and have blocked the land from use by the citizens they claim to speak for. So what do they really want?

Not the Dildo Militia

It’s easy for us city people to laugh at these rural activists, mailing them sex toys and branding them as “Y’all Qaeda.” We protest the government with clever signs and they protest it with rifles. Both sides sport beards but ours are worn ironically. While there is plenty of local opposition to the Bundy Militia, led by a “car fleet manager” from Phoenix named Ammon Bundy, there is also some local support. At the root of that support is the wording of the tenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I know you probably know the 2nd pretty well by now, but do you know the 10th?

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There is a great debate about the reach of the federal government into our lives that crosses political boundaries. Remember how the left pushed back against George W. Bush’s Patriot Act or how the right pushed back against Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act? This debate is as America as apple pie made from GMO apples that were grown with federal subsidies. If you take a literal reading of the tenth amendment, the federal government has no business doing either, and both the left and right are correct. Bundy’s group believes the federal management of this Oregon land for the American people is unconstitutional.

Also not defined as a federal authority is preserving land and protecting animals. Based on this rhetoric, the federal government has no business creating and operating national parks. If you want to march into Yosemite and start grazing your ironic sheep herd, you have that God-given right. I’ve been thinking about building a spa next to Old Faithful in Yosemite myself.

If that sounds crazy, it is. The Constitution was designed to be a living document. The first ten amendments, codified in 1789, are the backbone of our free society, but there have been seventeen amendments since then that give us the flesh and bones. (Although the 27th is pretty self-serving for the federalists.)

The problem is that many militia members (I don’t know if this includes the Bundy gang), don’t believe in anything that follows the original ten (aka, the Bill of Rights). That includes some biggies, like #13 (freeing slaves), #14 (birthright citizenship), and #16 (authorizing federal income tax). They talk about “Supreme Law” and the “Organic Constitution” because there is a belief that the 1789 document was handed down from God (similar to the 1215 Magna Carta and my 1962 Spiderman comic book). Now it’s certainly patriotic to think the U.S. Constitution is “sacred,” but it was written by imperfect men who disagreed as much as modern Republicans and Democrats. And most Americans would disagree with the Bundy militia’s extremist interpretation of the Constitution, making them a lot more like ISIS than they’d probably like to admit.

The Supreme Law folks don’t recognize most federal authority, including the FBI and federal courts. That’s why they think they can hold these “common law grand juries” to “indict” their opponents. They have zero legal power but they can make life hell for the targets of militia members by the filing of endless property liens. It completely subverts constitutional due process protections but the threat of the this action has kept many of the critics, including myself, wary from speaking out against them.

But as much as we might disagree with their macho tactics, this issue about the power of the federal government to infringe on our personal liberties is at the core of the American conversation. It was in 1789 and it is in 2016.

Conspiracy City

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After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, we began to pay a lot more attention to patriot militias. One of the best books on the topic is Kenneth Stern’s A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (1997). Stern accurately describes the militia world as a giant funnel.

  • At the top level are a lot of issues that many Americans can find common ground on, including gun rights, tax protests and land use regulations (which would include the debate over the best use of the Malheaur National Wildlife Refuge). People’s first contact with militia is usually rallying around these types of “Don’t tread on me” issues.
  • Then the movement becomes focused on anger at the “tyrannical” federal government as the enemy, not as a democratic form of governance by and for the people. Whether it’s old school “revenue collectors” or federally funded botanists, all federal agents are portrayed as enemies of the people (unless they are defending the country against foreign enemies or brown people crossing the border).
  • The next level is where the conspiracy theories kick in. Now that The X-Files is back on the air, these dark theories have whole new audience. The federal government is controlled by a secret cabal (The illuminati, Freemasons, aliens, etc.) working to deprive average Americans of their basic rights to life and liberty. The conspirators control the media, both major political parties, and the banks, so every time you use your debit card you are giving them data to run your life.
  • Below that, that conspiracy theory becomes a very familiar face, the Jews. That cabal is now ZOG (the Zionist Occupation Government), working globally to destroy white Christian society. The global banking system is the arm of their new world order and they have you eating bagels at McDonalds without even knowing it.
  • At the bottom of the funnel are the revolutionaries who believe a “second American Revolution” is needed to banish the Jewish occupiers and restore the supreme law of the founding fathers. This is where we found Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the militia men behind the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 Americans (including 19 children).

There are fewer and fewer militia activists the farther your descend the funnel. However, Stern posits that the more folks who come in at the top on broad issues, like 2nd Amendment gun rights, the more who will make it down to the bottom and a see events like Oklahoma City (and the standoff in Oregon) as a call to violently overthrow the evil federal government.

End Game

What is their endgame? Well, it’s safe to say the Bundy militia wants a federal government that does little more than sail aircraft carriers around the oceans, but they’ll settle for the Bureau of Land Management handing protected lands over to any white man who asks. “I got some cattle!” Ammon Bundy’s father is Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who’s cows have been ripping off taxpayers for years.

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So it shouldn’t be that surprising that there is significant overlap between the federal government-hating militia world and the federal government-hating white supremacist world. Timothy McVeigh’s guidebook was The Turner Diaries, a poorly-written novel about Neo-Nazis killing “race-mixers,” bombing a federal building, overthrowing the government and launching nuclear missiles at Israel. They want to make America great again by taking us back to 1789, when the authority of (straight) white Christian men went unchallenged, before all this “political correctness” encroached on God’s chosen leaders. It all sounds like Donald Trump’s wettest dream.

It’s not clear what the racial beliefs of the white men hold up the Malheaur refuge are. One member has posted several tweets and videos about “Zionists” and nuking Israel. Their website. www.defendyourbase.net, had plenty of wild conspiracy theories (including some about Hilary Clinton) but was just taken down. I don’t know if they wisely unplugged it or it was the oppressive feds (or an anonymous Smoking Man), but it gave us a glimpse into their bent world views.

How to diffuse a stand off

After the disastrous standoffs in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (1992) and Waco, Texas (1993), authorities now know how to manage a siege with white activists (I’ll let others present the data on standoffs with black and Muslim activists). Those events showed the heavy hand of militarized federal law enforcement agencies and children were sadly killed in each.

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After Oklahoma City bombing, the 1996 standoff with the Freemen militia in Montana turned out very differently. While many called for authorities to arrest the men, the feds waited them out for 81 days. They peacefully arrested the eight man who were later convicted for various charges, including threats against public officials.

The siege at Malheaur could go either way. You get the sense the FBI is playing the long game and hoping these guys will just get back to managing car fleets. But they may also be itching for a showdown. The militia movement hasn’t had any martyrs in a while and more than one have expressed a desire to die for the cause. There’s an assumption that Ammon Bundy, who is quite charismatic, can control all these rogue men who are just hanging out in his very unregulated militia. If one the rogues goes rogue, well, they’ll get the battle with the “tyrants” they’ve long dreamt about.

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Malheaur occupiers Ammon Bundy and LaVoy Finicum have both talked to the media and presented their case in a very calm and articulate manner. They raise some important points about about the overreach of the federal government and the lack of the balance between individual rights and eminent domain. But their logic is rooted in a version on the Constitution that is not real. It’s a cartoon verson that cowboys cling to because it’s very simple and romantic. I can see how they are swept up into its poetry. But the real world is complex. We as a society evolve with this living document. Sometimes we decide that land is best used to preserve wildlife and usually we find a way to share it with law-abiding ranchers.

We can make fun of these guys. We can see how they’ve trampled the rights of the people of Harney County while pretending to defend them. We can see them as little boy soldiers obsessed with guns and cowboy hats. We can see them as entitled whites who are the media savvy face of a racist underground. We can see them as armed terrorists who would be dead by now if the were black or Muslim. Or we could see them as sparking a discussion about our faith in and fear of the government and what we should do about it.

As a parent the images from Oklahoma City haunt me. There are now children inside the encampment at Malheaur National Wildlife Refuge, perhaps being used as human shields or perhaps, like in Waco, being set up as sacrificial lambs for their revolution. Let’s hope they feel they’ve made their point and will return the land back over to the birds and biologists soon. My sense is that Bundy’s gang wants to spark a civil war and this isn’t going to end before spring.

Regular updates on the Oregon siege here at OPB News.