Taking Ammon Bundy Seriously
Ammon Bundy sees something coming, but he is not a man for tomorrow.
Why might Ammon Bundy, who announced his independent candidacy for Idaho governor, have a legitimate claim to rule? What is the understanding of justice underlying Ammon Bundy’s run for governor?
Bundy’s slogan is “Keep Idaho Idaho.” What is this Idaho that we are supposed to be keeping?
At the center of Bundy’s idea of Idaho stands landed private property. Taking private property in the form of property taxes, he holds, is “immoral.” Eliminating property taxes is not simply about putting money back in people’s pockets. It secures ownership of the land. For Bundy, “you will finally OWN that which is rightfully yours” with the elimination of property taxes. His standoff against the federal government in Oregon, whatever else it was, was, in Bundy’s mind, an effort to protect someone’s private property. He is willing to go to prison for the belief in the importance of land to the free life.
Bundy also imagines eliminating the personal income tax. Income taxes do not draw the ire as much as property taxes. They are not immoral.
The difference between property and income taxes reveals what Bundy’s view of Idaho is. It is not a monied economy so much as a place where people can own land, be on the land and determine their own relationship to nature. Being independent people who can stand on their own two feet is compromised by working for someone else. Independence requires land. So spreading land ownership seems crucial to Bundy. And he seems to think eliminating property taxes will encourage that.
This importance of land can be seen in another of Bundy’s chief commitments, taking back federal land in Idaho. The federal government controls over 60% of Idaho. Bundy calls this “wrong and unconstitutional” and “a total abomination.” Bundy waxes about the importance of land ownership for individual thriving. “Wealth, prosperity, and freedom all stem from land ownership, so the control of this land by the federal government represents nothing more than an assault on Idahoan’s liberty and prosperity.”
Many Idaho conservatives have repeated this for years. Bundy’s run-ins with authorities make it seem like he really means it. He has done stints in federal prison for standing up for people’s rights to their land. He sees fighting as central to the job. Precisely how such fighting would work he never tells us.
Combined with this commitment to the land is a commitment to criminal justice reform. Part of this is a property issue. All crime victims would have the “evidence of crime” restored to them so that the state cannot keep such evidence in perpetuity. In addition, Bundy implies that non-violent crimes need not lead to incarceration.
The policing aspect of Bundy’s program is connected to his criticism of police. Many of those who criticize the police from the Left want to “defund the police” or end what they deem to be racist police practices, while conservatives nearly always want to back the blue. Bundy does not think the police are systematically racist.
Far from backing the blue, Bundy is skeptical of the blue, but not because they are blue but because they are the enforcement mechanisms of the liberal state. The liberal state is too often arrayed against private property and personal freedoms. The blue enforce the laws of the liberal state and hence threaten property and threaten the integrity of family life and probably threaten religious practice as well. Police enforce mask mandates, but mask mandates are illegitimate and unconstitutional. So, according to Bundy’s analysis, police end up enforcing bad laws. Instead of changing the law, he protests against those who enforce the law. There are also bound to be “Bad Cops” in his judgement who skirt the law to enforce the ever-changing demands of the liberal state.
His commitment to conservative social policy is seen in his promise to end abortions through executive order.
Bundy seems to have a bunkering philosophy, where the individual with property faces a hostile public authority backed by force. Individuals must have force to defend themselves, when the government cannot be preemptively limited. Sometimes public force comes in the form of taxes. Other times as actual police or agents. The key to self-defense is limiting the government, arming the people, and inspiring them to resist when the inevitable knock at the door comes. His philosophy may just culminate in the apocalyptic last stand.
Does Bundy assess Idaho’s situation correctly?
Bundy’s claim to rule rests on an older idea of the American economy, where prosperity is closely tied to land. It is not clear how his vision applies to Idaho’s suburbs, for instance, where people own very small parcels. His vision takes no account of how technology and finance has changed the landscape of American wealth. Land is nice, but it is nowhere near enough at this stage in our history.
Bundy wants to ban things and eliminate things, but has no real idea what local government is supposed to do. He opposes the police to a degree, but not the schools and libraries (at least not on his top five issues). He worries about homelessness, but has no idea what to do about it or even why homelessness poses a problem.
He is a vehicle for those who sense something is wrong. His methods of lashing out and wishing things away are recipes for consolidating the Left’s power.
And then there is the problem of populism generally. Bundy's vision assumes the basic goodness of the people of Idaho, especially of his supporters. None of the degeneracy that seems to be plaguing the rest of society affects his Idahoans. Bundy shows little awareness of the degeneracy of drug use, family breakdown, and so on.
If Bundy and his supporters reflect a healthy spirit of resistance, they do not understand precisely what kind of oligarchic ruling elite we face or the kind of degeneracy afoot among our people. Their analysis of the situation is outmoded. Bundy kind of knows what time it is, but his clock is stuck in the past. Bundy, while spirited, is not a man of the future because he does not understand the present.