Republicans have made it stubbornly clear over and over again: America does not capitulate to terrorists! On perhaps no issue have American conservatives been so adamant in recent years. In recent days, however, Republicans in the House have made it clear that this supposedly inviolable axiom does not apply to terrorists of a certain stripe.
Less than two weeks after the arrest of Cliven Bundy and the end of his group’s occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the House will be considering several bills that seek to implement the radical anti-government agenda of the Bundys by transferring control of federal lands to the states and, ultimately, private corporations. The first bill, introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), would allow any state to seize up to 2 million acres of national forest – an area nearly the size of Yellowstone National Park and larger than Delaware – and then auction it off to private companies for mining, logging, and drilling.
Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Labrador (R-ID), would give states and counties the right to take direct control of up to 4 million acres of national forests nationwide – an area larger than the state of Connecticut – for the express purpose of opening up land for clear-cut logging. A third bill, written by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) would turn over some 6,000 miles of road right-of-ways in Utah to counties in order to facilitate new development in protected wilderness areas. All of the bills completely ignore federal environmental laws and protections, which their sponsors, like the Bundy terrorists, consider an affront to freedom.
The demand of the Bundys and other similar right-wing terrorists that the government cede control of all publicly-owned land in the West was once a fringe ideology. The recent onslaught of bills in Washington, however, demonstrates the increasing degree to which it has gone mainstream among Republicans, aided, to be sure, by the actions of the Bundy terrorists both in Oregon this year and in Nevada two years ago.
What lies behind the mainstreaming of the land seizure movement, as which so much else in the Republican platform, is the influence of big corporate donors. Scions of the energy and logging industries, among them the infamous Koch brothers, have been pumping millions into the various terrorist groups that promote land seizure in a cynical attempt to get their hands on new drilling and logging opportunities at the expense of some of America’s most cherished natural wilderness. A small group of Republican politicians, including Natural Resources Committee chair Bob Bishop (R-UT) are now in the pocket of these energy interests and have become staunch promoters of the land seizure agenda.
The cause has even been picked up by the presidential candidates, almost every one of whom has expressed support for selling off public lands. Ben Carson, as usual the among the most outrageous of the candidates, has even explicitly praised the Bundy terrorists. All of this attention comes despite the fact that the land seizure movement, pushed as it is by big business, is in fact extremely unpopular among the citizens of the West, with more than 70% opposing relinquishing federal control of public lands.
Terrorism, however, doesn’t need widespread support to succeed. It simply needs financial support and politicians willing to capitulate to the terrorists’ demands. Just as al-Qaeda had the financial support of wealthy Saudi backers and an American president willing to fall into their trap, the Bundys and their allies have the Koch brothers and demagogic Republican politicians willing to take up any line they think the base wants to hear.
It is a tragedy that the century-old efforts of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir to preserve America’s natural beauty are being undone in the name of mass fracking and logging, but, given the regressive nature of so much of current Republican policy, it hardly comes as a surprise.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.