Although Ammond Bundy claims that his armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Harney County has been in the works for decades, he doesn't seem to be thinking too far ahead. There's no way this ends well for the Bundy brothers and their militant movement to reclaim federal lands and return them to the people.
But there is a best-case scenario. It's the one where the militants set their sights on an achievable goal—like, say, bringing the concerns of rural Oregonians to the nation—and then return home, heads held high with the accomplishment of their (done and done) mission. In this scenario, they leave with enough dignity to spin a version of the story in which they emerge victorious, the government regains access to the land, and the people of Harney County get to go back to their regular lives.
Realistically, there's nothing left for the militants to achieve. They got their message out—albeit with a heavy helping of overkill. Tearing down a fence is not a victory if you're doomed to lose the war, and they will lose the war. We're aware of no precedent for an armed takeover of federal land leading to a change in land use policy favoring the occupier. The militants don't even have public opinion on their side.
Whether the group leaves voluntarily or by force is, as of press time, still on the table. It's an incredibly rare opportunity that the militants should take advantage of. As numerous commenters have pointed out, had the occupiers been black or Muslim, the response would have likely been much different.
The group has given some indication that their departure date is sooner than later. According to the Oregonian, the militants are planning a public meeting for Friday at which they plan to disclose their departure plans. No word yet on how long that will be or how much more specific it will be than previous claims to leave, eventually.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward recently told media that the militia's time is running short. The window will close, and their options will dwindle. Although we hope that this window remains open as long as is feasible, we are also sympathetic to the locals and government employees living in fear under the shadow of the occupation.
But despite this fear and chaos, the people of Harney County by and large seem to know that violence is not the answer. Slow and steady is the safest bet, even if it costs more in the long run. No one wants a mass-casualty event, along the lines of confrontations like Waco or Ruby Ridge. As much as the "Bundy bunch," as some have called them, may portray themselves as God-fearing family men who just want to make a living, groups members' comments to the media give the impression they aspire to martyrdom.
As we consider the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this coming week, all involved in the situation at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge—the occupiers, law enforcement, detractors, and supporters—would do well to consider the delicate relationship between violence and justice. As Dr. King said, "Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
Though it's a slow burn, the light of justice is the only way to deal with militancy, and it won't be cheap, but that is the cost of a system where misplaced ideas like those being championed by the militants are encouraged by pandering politicians.