Field of Dreams: The Oregon Militia “Occupation”

Half or two-thirds or three-quarters of the world could belong to such an organization, and yet you could still have an atomic war. I’m not saying the “Ban the Bomb” campaign would cause an atomic war, but there’s absolutely no proof it would prevent it. If you have people evil enough to lust for an atomic war, they are even more likely to force that war if there looks to be a real danger that they will never have a war.

-Norman Mailer, The Realist Magazine, 1962

Q: In a certain light, wouldn’t nuclear war be exciting?

-Okcupid.com Match Question

When George Zimmerman was on trial for murdering Trayvon Martin, the transcripts made it fairly obvious that the thing that Zimmerman was most mortally frightened of was not a “scary black man” or “being mugged” or whatever else; what he was most afraid of was the possibility he might never get to shoot someone. He needed to psych himself up; he needed to make reality meet his own paranoid fantasies more than half-way so that he could consummate the thing of his desires and fantasies. Desire and fantasy are more often sources of anxiety than relief or joy; they’re little things that nudge one in the direction of their consummation more than they have any particular emotional shading; whatever emotional shading they take just needs to be ramped up to where it can drown out whatever voices in a person’s mind say “don’t do that.”

The current paramilitary occupation of federal lands by three sons of Cliven Bundy and a number of other excessively armed white people is, of course, not actually about getting a better subsidy from the government for land for grazing cattle or arson charges. It is about white privilege and white entitlement, even more blatantly than these sort of news stories usually are. It’s yet another amply magnified case study in what the white privilege is in the United States and how it works. It’s another study of the far end of the gun culture and it’s another opportunity to dwell on exactly what it is these people so dead set on holding onto their stockpile of firearms actually want to do with them.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to say the militiamen here have actively fantasized about shooting and killing a human being, probably on multiple occasions. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to figure, if I might be allowed to play JG Ballard for a moment, to suggest there was likely a strong sexual component to these fantasies. I’m not saying the psychosexual component predominated, but it would be irresponsible on my part not to acknowledge it. The “thrilling” passages of white supremacist texts from Birth of Nation to The Turner Diaries have always conflated the seizure/”reclamation” of territory with the seizure/”reclamation” of women as sexual property, both from the fear of miscegenation. These texts invariably envision women as property. “They’re coming for our women.” Etc. etc. One of the most foundational American myths that pervades the cinema especially but also genre literature is the “woman as prize won for acts of normative heroism”; the woman is not actually a full person in this narrative but the symbol of acceptance/integration into society, a sort of Boy Scout’s merit badge with implied sexual privileges. It wouldn’t be a stretch to presume that more Hollywood films feature this component than don’t. Action movies almost always have this component; think Bond women, the girl on the train tracks. It’s a narrative archetype so ubiquitous that, as I explored in an earlier essay, is so ingrained that literally just a picture of a man looking at a woman on a beach in a Charles Atlas bodybuilding program is enough to imply the entire rest of the context.

The person on whose “behalf” they’re supposedly holding the occupation doesn’t want them there. But that isn’t especially surprising. The fantasy revolves around the self-they want an armed stand off with the government more than they want to prove any particular point. If I might be allowed to play Ballard again and forgiven an unforgivable double entendre: “If you build it, they will come.”

The greatest fear of gun-obsessed conservative America is that they might never get to shoot someone. To them, on some level, the gerrymandering of ethnic or economic “other”s is a functional mechanism to keep alive the hope that certain human beings still exist as potential hunting trophies through which they can prove valor, much as “white women” and marriage to one represents the barrier to a sort of sexual landed gentry status in this psychomythology.

There aren’t many people actually involved in this occupation, but like Donald Trump, the extent of media coverage has been disproportionate.

Why is the media so concerned with this and not something else going on?

As I’ve repeated on numerous occasions and as Marshall McLuhan pretty much said on the first page of text in The Mechanical Bride, the national news functions as our mythology; that the things involved actually happened tells us very little about how they’re read. And insofar as it functions as mythology, mythology’s function is to be evocative of “universals”; open ended enough for the person to see their own face in a similar way to how you kinda see a face when you squint at the front of a car, but with enough definition they can plausibly deny they were projecting themselves. And in the Bundy family, this particular mojo seems to run in the blood. Same with far right culture generally at this historical juncture. It should’ve been relatively predictable that after the exposure of culture and values as a collection of subjective comfort zones with the more heavily theoretical onsets of the postmodern period there would be the emergence of something so one-dimensionally normative as to cross the border into the parodic and back again into actually existing. And here we are.

A lot of the US population secretly or not so secretly fantasizes about an alternate history of the national downturn that started in 2008 centered more around their own accumulated resentments and fixations than around what actually happened. They wish there was a more coherent enemy. Multiple confused narratives have emerged, tied together as part of a shared social trend in their aesthetic glaze of false nostalgia for earlier, now antiquated, objects and wellsprings of monolithic paranoia.

The right wing fixation on the government, where it doesn’t stem from direct personal interest, takes the shape of antagonistic nostalgia for when the federal government was actually still the large enough entity to traffic in something resembling monolithic repression, or perhaps a nostalgia for figures of monolithic repression generally. There are giant banks, multi-nationals, and bigger and nimbler social blocs than governments to be contended with and the presently stewing and steady rise in anti-government sentiment from the far right is more about attempted scavenging and pecking at political carrion than ideology or principle.

 

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