When Your U.S. Senator Is an Idiot

What do you do when your U.S. Senator is, apparently, an idiot? An acquaintance of WC’s here in Idaho, concerned about the Bundys’ armed occupation of the headquarters at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, wrote to U.S. Senator James Risch (R, Idaho). Here is his reply to her letter, with her name blocked out.

Risch_letter re Malheur

WC has very, very low expectations of Republican senators. Most have sold their small, mean souls to the Koch brothers, which as far as WC can tell involves hocking their critical thinking skills as well. But let’s parse Senator Risch’s letter to see just how far out in right field Idaho’s junior senator has drifted.

“I recognize your concerns about the protestors camping out on a national refuge.”

They were never “camping out.” They were engaged in an illegal, heavily armed occupation. They were excluding others, including government officials, from using the Refuge. They made multiple threats of armed violence. Long before February 15, the date of the letter, the whole world knew they were rifling through computers and physical files. They committed vandalism. And, of course, they were subsequently indicted for their conduct, and about a third of them have already plead out. Senator Risch’s characterization of the Bundys’ actions and conduct so understates what as going on as to be delusional.


Let’s suppose that the Bundys, instead of Oregon’s remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, had selected the Russell Senate Office Building as the target for their armed occupation, excluding Senator Risch from his office. Do you think he would be as phlegmatic – “camped out” – as he is about Malheur?

“Protestors are protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech.”

Did you see him slip the ace into that deck? The Bundys weren’t “protestors,” they were armed thugs threatening violence against the government. It’s the difference between a peaceful and a violent protest, and no one with any knowledge of the law believes that a violent protest is protected by the First Amendment. And Senator Risch is lawyer. In fact, he is a former Ada County prosecutor. These thugs were never protected by the First Amendment.

“Our citizens are free to express their opinion on any topic.”

Again, the Senator’s presumption is that an armed occupation of federal property with threats of violence is protected speech. It would be an extraordinarily broad interpretation of the First Amendment to extend its protections to folks seizing federal property under force of arms.1 There is no case law supporting such an interpretation. Senator Risch knows that.

“I will always fight to defend the free exercise of this right.”

A classic straw man argument. We’d all of us agree we have to defend the First Amendment. But the First Amendment isn’t what’s at issue. The Bundy group, by the date of this letter, had long since crossed the line between protected First Amendment speech and criminal activity. Senator Risch’s claim addresses an irrelevant issue.

“Conversely, if the protestors cause damage to public property, they should be appropriately reprimanded.”

By the date of the letter, Senator Risch knew that the Bundy group had committed vandalism. In fact, they had bragged about it, perhaps attempting to create a violent confrontation. And when you damage public property, you don’t get “appropriately reprimanded,” you get charged with a crime, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. Remember, Senator Risch is a former prosecutor. He knows that last sentence is so wrong as to be silly. The criminal behavior is so clear that a third of the indicted criminals have already plead out.


So why was Senator Risch trying to be coy? Did he really support a fringe group of armed thugs trying to extort valuable assets from the United States? Is he so worried about offending his right wing constituency that he plays coy in communications with another constituent? That’s perilously close to violating his oath as a U.S. Senator to uphold the constitution and laws of the United States.

Naw. He’s just an idiot.


  1. Oddly enough, Senator Risch’s extraordinarily broad definition of free speech doesn’t extend to the public knowing that the U.S. illegally tortures illegally held persons. He voted against releasing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Report on the CIA detention and interrogation program – the Torture Report, p. 682. We can conclude Senator Risch must also have an extraordinarily flexible definition of “free speech.” 

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