Even many Republicans are distancing themselves from the Y'All Queda/Vanilla ISIS theater in Oregon. And many liberals have rightly made a contrast with the authorities' likely response if a band of armed black militants would have taken over a federal building.
Beneath it, however, is a longstanding dislike of the federal government by many Western landowners and cattlemen. They wanted the perks that came from Washington: the Homestead and Desert Land acts, conquest of native tribes, land-grant railroads and reclamation.
They eagerly exploited the favorable terms of the General Mining Act of 1872, as well as price supports and other goodies for farmers and ranchers and timberlands in the 20th century. Developers wanted federal Interstates and other highways, flood control and murky, corruption-tainted land swaps of public land. And they demand taxpayer-funded firefighting to protect their "cabins" (read exurban subdivisions where they shouldn't have been built).
Ammon Bundy, son of welfare-queen rancher Cliven and "mastermind" of the Oregon takeover, is a taker himself. He received $530,000 through a tyrannical federal loan guarantee program for his truck-repair business in...wait for it...Phoenix.
Otherwise, these rugged individualists wanted the government gone. Some of Arizona's leading statesmen opposed making a National Park at Grand Canyon.
The notion of an oppressive federal government controlling the land, and hence the destiny, of the West has been political fuel for the Republican Party since the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s. One of its prominent arsonists was Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, a friend of Ronald Reagan. Now the issue is back.
Earlier this year, Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar said, "For every acre of land declared public, there is an acre of private land lost, and in Arizona, only about 18 percent of the land remaining in the state is privately held."
He's right (it's 18.2 percent), yet very misleading.
The "gub'ment-owned land" in Arizona includes 20 million acres of Indian reservations, or more than 27 percent of the state. Considering that all the land was inhabited by the tribes before the American conquest, this is an injustice.
Another 13 percent of "gub'ment-owned land" is controlled by the state. It was given at statehood by Washington to be held in trust to fund education. Despite this, and the vast sums paid for state land by developers in the go-go years, Arizona has among the worst-funded schools in the nation.
About 42 percent is controlled by the federal government, including military reservations and bombing ranges. Some of this is run by the Bureau of Land Management, which gives incredible favorable leases to ranchers. Other portions are National Parks, National Forests and wildlife refuges, quaint artifacts from the Progressive Era's belief in conservation. And even much of this is open to human economic uses.
The chief conservationist was Republican Theodore Roosevelt. Of Grand Canyon, he majestically said, "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you..."
His successors in today's GOP are pushing crapola development at the gates, ignore the federally subsidized dirty air in the canyon from the Navajo Generating Station — wanting instead to abolish the EPA — oppose any new wilderness protections, and believe the "ages" are the 6,000-year history of this 4.5 billion year old planet.
The New York Times Upshot has a useful primer on the background of why the federal government owns so much land in the West. But even this is misleading. Most of this is the people's land, the commons, held in trust for the public good. We own it. God help us if the land racketeers ever get hold of more of it than they have. Prescott Valley everywhere.
People were quite incredulous when I wrote a column at the Arizona Republic a decade ago forecasting that if the extreme GOP continued its ascendancy, we would see the privatization of the National Forests and National Parks in our lifetime. It seems even more of a danger today. Because...they vote.