Like so many other people in Oregon, I've been avidly following developments over in Harney County, where a bunch of wacko right-wing militants have taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for bizarre reasons only their twisted minds have a chance of comprehending.
(The Portland Oregonian has extensive coverage of the takeover, now in its 24th day.)
Every morning I fire up my laptop and head to the Oregonian's "What you need to know today" page. There's always something newly irritating -- a fresh outrage by Ammon Bundy and his band of no-nothings.
As we enter the third week of the thoroughly illegal takeover, with no end in sight, I've been thinking about what is The Utterly Most Irritating Thing about it.
Opinions will differ, but here's my nomination:
Inaction by law enforcement -- federal, state, local -- supports the oft-heard contention by gun nuts that only by owning lots of weapons can the heavy hand of government overreach be prevented from taking away citizens' God-given constitutional rights.
Is there any doubt that if Bundy and company weren't heavily armed, they would have been kicked out of the refuge a long time ago?
Or at least, had the electricity cut off, and been prevented from freely traveling around the countryside to do whatever they choose, then return unimpeded to the refuge headquarters?
I'm no conspiracy theorist. I generally believe government officials are honest and competent.
But I can sure sympathize with those who see clear signs of racism and discrimination operating here, given how law enforcement has let the militants do whatever they want after their takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
If these guys weren't white, wearing cowboy hats, and heavily armed, almost certainly they would have been arrested and charged with numerous crimes by now. Early on in the standoff, an Oregonian story said:
When black residents took to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to protest the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the National Guard responded. The guard called protesters "enemy forces" and "adversaries," according to documents that became public this year.
When Ferguson residents’ anger spread and African Americans across the country protested, too, local police responded while wearing riot gear.
Why then, some people across the country wondered this week, were there no law enforcement officials confronting the 20 or so white men occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters?
The men carried pistols and long rifles to the refuge. One man told Oregon Public Broadcasting he came prepared to die. Yet reporters on the ground said they saw no police officers.
Since, things have gotten worse.
The militants have attacked another group of "patriots." They've used federal computers and accessed confidential information. They've destroyed a refuge fence. They've intimidated law enforcement officers. They've stolen refuge vehicles. They've urged ranchers to defy federal law. They've threatened to unleash "rapid response teams" against federal employees doing their jobs.
And we need to remember the previous 2014 Bundy Standoff in Nevada.
BLM enforcement agents were dispatched in response to what were seen as threatening statements by Bundy, such as calling the events a "range war." There was no armed battle. When those guns were brandished, multiple violations of federal and state law occurred: It is a felony to point a weapon at a law enforcement officer and a federal felony to take aim at a U.S. government agent. And yet there were no arrests that day — no meaningful action has yet been taken against anyone involved.
So its no wonder Ammon Bundy and his fellow militants feel that they're above the law. Nothing ever happens to them. Law enforcement officials let them do whatever they want. A million dollars in grazing fees the Bundy family owes remains unpaid.
Why? Again, the only reason I can come up with is because they're white, wear cowboy hats, and are heavily armed.
The militants spout nonsense about defending the Constitution and converting federal land to private ownership. They plan to have citizen panels indict people for going against their bizarre views. They go to public meetings with their guns and intimidate locals in Harney County, almost all of whom want them to go home.
Irritating. Super irritating.
Problem is, I'm just about as irritated at President Obama, the FBI, the federal Justice Department, Harney County Sheriff David Ward, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, and every other public official who has encouraged Bundy and the other militants to keep on doing what they're doing by not doing anything about them.
It sure seems like the lesson for other protesters is, carry a gun and nothing will happen to you. Oh, unless you're black. Then, even if the gun is fake, law enforcement will deal with you harshly (very harshly).