If you’re a clown today, there’s a good chance the media will eat your act for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Trump proves this every day. Now, more angry white men with few facts on their side are stepping forward to follow his boisterous lead.

Take the invading circus of clowns from Nevada (and Idaho) presently occupying The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural southeast Oregon. Apparently, they want the refuge land to be liberated for use by local ranchers. It’s as preposterous as it sounds, and so is the inept response from a federal government, which seems intent on not taking the threat seriously.

Harney Country’s Sherriff and other locals are taking the threat seriously and have asked the militants to leave Burns peacefully. Thus far, the poseurs have refused to do so.

Of course, the idea that any white people anywhere have any rights whatsoever to this land is in dispute. It’s a question we thought was answered a century ago, but the question is far from settled. Although the wildlife refuge is not part of the Burns Paiute reservation, tribe members consider it sacred ancestral land.

The Paiute are guaranteed access to the refuge for activities important to their heritage — hunting, fishing, gathering reeds for basket weaving and precious seeds. The tribe is also working with the Bureau of Land Management to preserve its archeological sites, according to The Washington Post.

Speaking of the sacred, members of the occupying militia say they were sent by God. One militant interviewed by Oregon Public Broadcasting identified himself as “Captain Moroni,” a historic general who, according to Latter Day Saints scripture, threatened to “stir up insurrections” and fight “until those who have desires to usurp power and authority shall become extinct” because he felt the government did not care about the country’s freedom.

It’s funny how different our concepts of freedom can be. We are not free to visit the refuge at this time. That’s clearly freedom denied. Also, please ask yourself what would happen if a group of armed brown or black men took over a federal building anywhere in these United States. We all know what would happen. Their resistance would be met at once with insurmountable force. This obvious form of racial injustice angers liberal Portland and Seattle residents who are following this story.

Nevertheless, these mini-dramas have been playing out in rural communities for years. Rural and urban residents of the American West have long been at odds over public lands and other important issues. The Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and ’80s was a movement to transfer more control of federally owned Western lands to state and local authorities. This was meant to increase the growth of Western economies. In other words, Sagebrush Rebels want to mine for profits, turn forests into tree farms and so on. And they deeply resent city dwellers (inside and outside of their state) telling them that those activities are prohibited by law.

What’s truly sad is how focused we are on the mini-dramas while missing the larger play altogether. The West is abundant in land and open space but the region lacks the most essential natural resource of all—water. Until we wake up to this real shortage and change our water consumption habits as a nation, everyone’s prosperity is at risk.

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Oregon, Politics, The Environment