NewsDrought in the US: Right-wing militias fuel rebellion over...

Drought in the US: Right-wing militias fuel rebellion over water

Hundreds of farmers in Oregon are literally left out on dry land. Now there is fear of a confrontation with the police.

Klamath Falls – The American West will be hit by a severe drought again this year. 2021 could be the driest year of the last century. The water level of the Rio Grande in the state of New Mexico in the southwest of the USA is at a record low. There is a water shortage in most of the west.

Agriculture in particular is hit hard by the drought. In southern Oregon, on the border with California, a conflict over this important resource threatens to escalate.

Drought in USA: Hundreds of Oregon farmers run out of water

The so-called Klamath Project has been a hot topic in Oregon for years. In the rural and rather dry south of the “beaver state”, which is considered a kind of breeding ground for right-wing militias and anti-government movements, water is a precious commodity. Due to the shortage, the federal authority responsible for water management and supply had announced in May that it would not release any further water reserves for irrigation – and reopened the conflict that had existed for two decades.

Grant Knoll and Dan Nielsen, two farmers from the region who depend on the water, want to take matters into their own hands, have bought a plot of land next to the lock of the main canal for 30,000 dollars and set up a warehouse, according to local media. Around 1200 farmers and the indigenous population in the area are supplied with water downstream from this location.

Drought in the USA: Militant farmers in Oregon want to release water themselves

As early as 2001, Knoll and Nielsen once illegally released the water. The technology to do this has changed – but their plans have not. However, the area from which the water supply is controlled is cordoned off with barbed wire. A few months ago, Knoll and Nielsen took part in militant demonstrations against the mandatory mask requirement in the neighboring state of Idaho. Volunteers from the People’s Rights movement, who have ties to Ammon Bundy, an anti-government militant who wants to become governor of Idaho, have gathered in a tent on their newly built camp.

In 2016, Bundy led a semi-automatic rifle militia that manned the state information center of the Malheur Conservation Area in Oregon to protest the detention of two rangers convicted of slash and burn and poaching. One person was shot dead by the police at the time.

Ammon Bundy (Cowboyhut) im Januar 2016, als er und rechte Milizen das Malheur-Naturschutzgebiet in Oregon besetzten.


Ammon Bundy (cowboy hat) in January 2016, when he and right-wing militias occupied the Maldives Wildlife Sanctuary in Oregon.

“I plan to get some attention from [Washington] DC,” Grant Knoll said on a radio broadcast in late May. “We will turn on the water and have a direct confrontation.” The tent has been used as a “water crisis information center” for several weeks. There is also a huge metal bucket with anti-government slogans written on it on the site. “We will not be armed,” announced Nielsen. “But there will probably be people who will protect us from outside – and it won’t be the sheriff.”

Oregon Water Scarcity: Is Ammon Bundy Returning For Another Protest?

The authorities justify their decision not to divert the water on with a law to preserve threatened species, as rare fish are native to the basin. If the water level is too low, as has already happened with many fish, they could die. In the past, courts had ruled that the interests of the people upstream took precedence. For an indigenous tribe, one of the endangered fish species has “spiritual significance,” reports The Guardian.

Ben DuVal, president of the Klamath water users’ association, thinks the demonstrators are “idiots who have no business there”. They would use the crisis to “advance their agenda”, even if they claim to stand up for farmers’ rights. It is not yet clear whether the protest will develop into a movement as large as it was in 2016. However, the posters promise that “Ammond Bundy is coming soon”. (Lukas Rogalla)

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