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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: The American Redoubt is alive and well in the Idaho Capitol as ‘Bundy sniper’ receives hero’s welcome

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 30, 2018

Cliven Bundy refers to his U.S. Constitution while making a point to a reporter following a news conference on Jan. 10, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / AP)
Cliven Bundy refers to his U.S. Constitution while making a point to a reporter following a news conference on Jan. 10, 2018. (L.E. Baskow / AP)

If you’re looking to gain the loud, explicit approval of a whole bunch of Idaho lawmakers, here’s some advice.

Don’t try improve the schools. That will do you no good at all. Don’t try to offer cannabis oil to sick people or provide health care coverage to people who can’t afford it. That’s a fool’s errand. Don’t try to make it illegal for parents to religiously neglect their children to death. That will win you few friends in the Boise Statehouse.

No, if you want attract the approval of a lot of Idaho’s elected lawmakers – to get them to, say, applaud you on the floor of the state House of Representatives – what you need to do is get your assault rifle and flak jacket, drive to a tense standoff with federal agents, find a good strategic position above the situation – a sniper position, say – and aim your gun right at those agents.

Do that, and you’ll receive a hero’s welcome at the Capitol.

The foregoing is an entirely unexaggerated, true story. An Idaho man who has become a symbolic hero in the American Redoubt for aiming his assault rifle at the feds during the Bundy ranch standoff in 2014 – and who was convicted of a federal misdemeanor for it – was greeted with such enthusiasm by a number of Idaho lawmakers on Jan. 19 that they had to be gaveled to order.

Like kids at a Wiggles show.

It’s always discouraging when the tentacles of the American Redoubt connecting the militant fringe to the “respectable” establishment start waving quite this clearly, though these tentacles are everywhere in the West, of course. The Redoubt is more idea than place – a dream of a Western haven for far-right revolutionaries that is not all that different from Richard Butler’s view of the region – and every now and then it becomes bracingly clear just how much approval for armed insurrection lives inside that idea.

“Bundy sniper” Eric Parker was introduced in the House by Rep. Dorothy Moon, a “true conservative” from Custer County. Moon told the Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker that Parker has been misunderstood. He wasn’t aiming his gun at the feds, she said. He was just using his scope to get a better look.

Imagine saying that out loud, and thinking you’ll be taken seriously.

It’s absurd on its face. But even if it weren’t, the idea that Parker was just taking a harmless look-see through the scope on his rifle is complicated by one fact: The rifle he aimed did not have a scope.

We know this because Parker was photographed in position, on his belly, rifle snaked between two concrete sections of road barrier, and those photographs became some of the most viewed images of the whole hootenanny.

They became Parker’s pathway to fame as the “Bundy sniper.” In the Redoubt, after all, there is nothing more admirable – nothing more patriotic – than aiming your gun at the government.

But the photos make it clear: There’s no scope on that rifle.

The Bundy ranch standoff was the precursor to the Bundy Malheur standoff, and the fact that the government so badly botched the prosecution of the latter case doesn’t erase the truth that Bundyism is essentially a vigilante fever dream, a lawless prophecy of violence looking to fulfill itself.

It began with Cliven Bundy’s notion that the Constitution has guaranteed him free livestock grazing for life, and moved toward a confrontation between the Bureau of Land Management and the Bundys at their ranch. The BLM had begun seizing Bundy cattle to offset an outstanding bill for grazing fees that had been growing for more than 20 years to more than $1 million.

Hundreds of constitutionalists, patriots, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters – the whole Redoubt Rainbow – rushed to the standoff, many of them armed and high on the fumes of revolution.

Parker gave an interview to the website The Big Smoke about his participation in the standoff. It might not surprise you to find that he doesn’t talk about using a rifle scope to get a peek at the feds. What his interview reveals with utter clarity is that he went there with a heightened sense of conflict, a desire to fight back against the feds and a palpable anticipation of violence.

He describes his decision to get down on the bridge and aim at the feds as “an intuition to take a defensive position.”

Throughout the interview, in fact, Parker couches his actions in this way, without any apparent sense of how utterly strange it is to describe what he did – throwing his rifle and flak jacket in his truck, driving hundreds of miles from his central Idaho home to the southern Nevada desert and taking up a sniper position – as defensive.

“When somebody said, ‘What we need to do is give them a show of force back,’ I bought into that,” he said in his interview. “That was what I thought needed to happen.”

In the face of all that self-defense, Big Brother backed down. Agents didn’t take any cattle. Bundy continued not paying his grazing fees.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we were all going to make it out of that situation,” Parker said. “I didn’t think it was going to end well.”

He was ready to shoot, in other words. To be required by circumstances to stand up honorably and patriotically, and shoot. He had come all that way, after all, with his gun and his gear and a buddy beside him, spotting with binoculars. Because he couldn’t … uh … well … see very well from his prone position aiming the rifle.

Here – I’ll let Parker tell it: “I got down. And then I couldn’t see very well. They kept calling me ‘The Bundy Sniper’ but I was not prepared for that position at all. So, actually, my buddy was looking over the wall with binoculars telling me what was going on. And we waited it out.”

Parker had a spotter, there on that bridge. Because he couldn’t see very well from his defensive position, aiming his rifle at federal agents.

Even if he’d had a scope, of course, Moon’s claim would be just … dumb. It only goes to show how far some people in the Redoubt will stray from the truth to make heroes of yahoos.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Jan. 30, 2018 to correct the first name of Eric Parker.

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