Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. To learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column, click here.

Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Shea plays his part – backing the doofuses – in Oregon standoff

Of course he did.

Our very own Bundy, Matt Shea, met last week with the armed doofuses at the Oregon bird preserve. So did North Idaho’s Heather Scott and Sage Dixon, proud defenders of the Confederate flag and all the Gem State heritage it represents, as well Graham Hunt of Orting, Washington.

It’s not known what these state legislators did on their trip to a state where they don’t legislate, but rest assured it wasn’t to talk sense into anybody. No, they were there to represent their true constituency, the amorphous ideological landscape of survivalism, end-times paranoia, firearms, whiteness and religiosity – the American Redoubt.

Coined by a survival novelist and blogger, the term “American Redoubt” describes a stronghold in the Northwest where Christians and conservatives will flee when everything goes to hell. Shea, Scott and others use the term with pride, as a sign of their residency in the alternate reality. It is a slightly less extreme version of the idea that Richard Butler and other white supremacists used to peddle: the Northwest as a haven for the right kind of people to flee to, a sanctuary for guns and white grievance, flags and crosses, manly posturing and constitutional misinterpretation.

In the American Redoubt, it is always desperate times.

“The BLM’s bureaucratic terrorism has finally reached a boiling point,” Shea wrote on his Facebook page Jan. 3. He also said the FBI was imposing a gag order on people who wanted a peaceful resolution.

No one loves a boiling point like Shea. “Please pray for a peaceful resolution,” he wrote, which was a clever twist: provocateur posing as prayerful peacemaker.

The people in Oregon who are actually seeking a peaceful resolution asked Shea and his fellow travelers to stay away. They went anyway, accompanied by a Roseburg, Oregon, lawmaker, Dallas Heard. Nevada legislator Michele Fiore, a crazed gun nut who recently said she wanted to fly to Paris and shoot Syrian refugees in the head, joined this meeting of the minds by telephone.

Imagine the brilliant constitutional analysis. A spokesman for Shea called it a fact-finding mission, and though I think we can all support the idea of Shea finding some facts, he’s not sharing any of them just yet.

The Malheur standoff has been alternately comic and worrisome. If these cowboys weren’t armed, it might not be worth noticing. After all, the occupiers were not even welcome by the people they were there to support – the ranchers serving sentences for setting fires on public lands. They’re protesting abuses by federal land managers, they say, but what they really want is the mere reversal of 100-plus years of history, the instant undoing of judicial findings, and the erasure of the concept of public lands managed for more than just ranchers and loggers. To achieve this, they have started taking down fences in the bird sanctuary.

They say they want the government to give the land back to the people, but they mean very specific people: the ones who own a lot of it and believe they are meant to own it all.

The charade is misbegotten and angry and futile and sometimes pretty funny – the begging for snacks, the reports of drunken conflict among the burglars. These fellas are the worst standoffers ever, like the Apple Dumpling Gang turned political. But their weaponry, accompanied by apocalyptic, live-free-or-die rhetoric, makes them impossible to dismiss. It wouldn’t take much to turn this spectacle from comic to tragic.

One of the things that would goose that along is an escalation on either side. Many have criticized the gentle handling that the occupiers have received from police, but I think it’s better than the tragic results that we’ve seen in past standoffs. One can’t imagine a group of black protesters occupying a government building while having handshake meetings with the local sheriff, but it doesn’t mean overreaction is the right move here. Let them cool down and get more desperate for snacks.

Shea and company arrived to provide support and succor. Given the nature of his assertions – the BLM are terrorists, the FBI is supressing peace talks – what possible peace could he be praying for?

Peace is no fun. Boiling points are what they love. In the American Redoubt, the notion of an armed righteous revolution is bandied continually. Guns and white grievance share a bedroll there, and the Constitution means never having to pay a grazing fee. Shea represents Spokane Valley in the Washington House of Representatives, but he is royalty in the American Redoubt because he gives gloss and legitimacy to talk of violent revolution.

Shea’s Facebook post is an ideal example. He says that what brought about this “recent situation” was not the uninvited Bundy boys, but the “utter failure of the BLM and continuing pattern of abuse throughout the West.” He blows the dog whistle on race and white grievance, mentioning Ferguson’s rioting while failing to recognize the nice, soft kid gloves that have been used on these white cowboys. He then shifts the blame for it all to President Barack Obama and … Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich?

“I suspect our Sheriff and President Obama will once again try to paint Constitutionalists as domestic terrorists as part of the President’s gun control agenda,” he wrote. “Why isn’t our Sheriff negotiating or supporting the negotiations for peace? Why is our Sheriff defending federal bureaucrats and not the people?”

Why, indeed, Ozzie? Shea and Knezovich have a long-standing beef, based in large part on the sheriff’s acknowledgment that militia extremists pose a threat in the region. Shea does not like this, though maybe he found a fact in Oregon that changed his mind. Knezovich replied to Shea’s post, briefly, wondering why the Spokane County sheriff might be involved in an Oregon matter and inviting him to read the U.S. and state constitutions.

Makes perfect sense. Unless you live in the American Redoubt, where nothing has to.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

More from this author