I spent a good chunk of Wednesday night and Thursday morning glued to the live-stream of various right-wing figures trying to convince the last four holdouts of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to lay down their guns and surrender. It might have been more entertaining than anything that was on TV, that’s for sure.
The long phone conversations had something for everyone. There was the irritation of listening to the occupiers complain about the possibility that they might have to surrender their guns and go to jail for, you know, breaking one or more laws, as if they didn’t truly understand the mechanics of civil disobedience. There was the surreality of Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, previously best known for being such a perfect representative of glib wingnuttery that she might have been grown in the same lab that produced Glenn Beck, putting in a heroic effort to talk the occupiers down when it looked as if they might come completely unglued and start shooting at the FBI agents surrounding them.
There was high comedy when Fiore told holdout Sandy Anderson to write down her story of the occupation in granular detail, “like that author did in 'Fifty Shades of Grey,'” Which raised the specter that the most lasting consequence of this event will be some poorly-written erotic occupation slashfic getting adapted into a series of terrible movies.
And there was genuine pathos in the voice of David Fry as this sad and desperate young man, the last holdout to surrender, urgently tried to convince Fiore and others that seemingly every conspiracy theory he had ever read on the Internet was indeed true. His father, meanwhile, was telling media outlets he was worried his disturbed son would rather commit suicide than give up. One can only hope that Fry gets the care he so obviously needs. Or failing that, a seat in Congress, where his lunacy will be less noticeable.
But what was most obvious in the long, long list of grievances that Fry, Anderson, her husband Sean, and the fourth person, Jeff Banta, was that these were people steeped in the muddled and reactionary right-wing politics that have turned the base of the Republican Party into a stew of resentment and victimization. These were people who have spent years being told by conservative media that everyone is out to get them and everyone is stepping all over them while minorities and liberals and immigrants and jackbooted federal officers steal their jobs and their guns and turn America into a giant, sharia-ruled suburb of Tijuana.
And now, having stood up to all those forces, the people in Malheur had been abandoned by the very groups they had been told repeatedly were with them all the way. Where were the Oath Keepers, who have sworn to defend the Constitution and have supposedly infiltrated the FBI? Where were the right-wing radio and TV hosts who spent years firing them up? Why wasn’t Sean Hannity parachuting into Oregon with a camera crew to bring the struggle to a national audience? Where were the American people, and why weren’t they storming the barricades to help these four souls who had taken a stand for everyone’s rights?
You could hear it coming for hours. First there was the disbelief that no one, not undercover Oath Keepers posing as FBI agents or Rush Limbaugh in L.L. Bean outerwear and a surplus Desert Storm Humvee, was coming to rescue them and kick off a revolution. There was the dawning awareness that they might just be a bunch of sad-sack working stiffs huddled in the miserable cold in the ass end of nowhere, soon to be held accountable for the various laws they had broken.
In short, they became aware that, far from being great patriots striking a blow for tyranny, they might not actually matter. That it had all been a grift to keep them tuning into talk radio and reading Twitchy.
In their shock, they lashed out. They complained that the ACLU wasn’t out there standing up for their First Amendment right to protest. They bitched that people would have cared if they were Black Lives Matter activists. They wondered why no one cared that Obama “has billions of dollars for gun control” -- a sentiment that is a) untrue and b) the occupiers somehow didn’t realize might be made desirable to a lot of people by the example of their own little armed camping party.
This is what 60 years of fear-mongering in the conservative movement has wrought. This is the end result of a grand paranoia fueled by a vast archipelago of right-wing news sites and think tanks and TV and radio shows lying to you. This is the end a person comes to after imbibing for years the angry shouts and finger-pointing and blaming of everyone else for the slow erosion of living standards and working-class wages and stagnation. It ends with you huddled over a can of lukewarm Dinty Moore stew, cold and alone and casting one angry eye at the federal agents standing implacable, patiently waiting for you to give it up and go home, while the other angry eye searches the horizon for a cavalry that is too busy counting the money it grifted of you to come help you now.
About the only satisfaction to take from this whole incident is that at least no one died yesterday, and that the people the GOP has played for suckers for decades are now getting their revenge on the party establishment by nominating Donald Trump for the presidency. Unfortunately if he wins, those of us who have always known Fox News was a scam are going to suffer too.