As the ill-advised occupation of a wildlife refuge headquarters by a bunch of so-called freedom lovers drags on into yet another week, it’s time to put an end to this running travesty.

If the so-called occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were led by anyone other than members of Nevada’s notorious Bundy clan, it might be a little more tolerable.

But to have a group so closely identified with ranching become the focal point of this ridiculous takeover is unacceptable. Ammon Bundy and the rest of his motley crew are disgracing all of animal agriculture by association.

It’s bad enough that these cowards chose federal property that is — literally — miles from nowhere for their “insurrection,” or that they picked the New Year’s holiday weekend when no one was around to conduct their raid.

There is no purpose, no agenda, no rationale for this gang of armed yahoos to be squatting inside of the wildlife refuge office building. For what? To “reclaim” a bird sanctuary for “the people?”

As a measure of how little support the occupiers have, there are now more than a dozen counter-protesters converging on the scene, demanding that federal lands remain open for everyone.

Of course, that group include environmental activists, but according to a New York Times report, there are also some retired federal employees and even a couple of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts among those present.

At a news conference on Thursday, one of the counter-protestors held up a sign reading, “Keep Public Lands Public,” and as the Times reported, Pete Santilli, one of the occupiers, “grabbed the edge of an American flag that was suspended nearby and tried to cover the sign. [The protestor] moved the sign to keep it in camera range. Santilli moved the flag. The men jostled.

“ ‘Don’t touch me,” Santilli snapped, loudly enough to be heard by reporters. ‘If you touch me once, I am going to defend myself.’ ”

That sounds about right.

Constitutional ignorance

The Bundy clan is all about “defending” themselves from the big, bad federal government and proclaiming their allegiance to the Constitution, which in practical terms is pretty much limited to a literal interpretation of the Second Amendment. All the rest of that noise about “Legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes and Duties and to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers?”

Poppycock, to be willfully ignored in service to a belligerent, self-centered machismo that reinforces the warped ideology of might makes right.

No matter how you slice it, the Bundys are deadbeats and criminals, not “patriots.” They’re no different from any other perpetrators holding people or property at gunpoint.

If these so-called “militiamen” really believed in their hollow rhetoric about the sanctity of “We the People,” they would acknowledge that above all, what makes America exceptional isn’t its armed citizenry, it’s the primacy of the law.

We don’t conduct military coups when we disagree with government’s actions. We peaceably elect opposition candidates.

We don’t form armed gangs when there is a dispute over property or access to land or resources. We adjudicate the matter in a court of law.

And we don’t use threats of violence to lend credence to our political positons, we articulate them to the citizenry to be judged on their merits.

For all the hot air Bundy and friends keep spewing about “freedom” and “patriotism,” they need to recall a page from the history of the very territory they now claim to occupy.

Back in the 19th century, which is where these fools like to pretend they still live, when the citizens of the boom towns across the Wild West demanded the restoration of law and order, the first order of business for the marshals and sheriffs brought in to end the violence was to order everyone to check their guns when they came into town.

I applaud the FBI and local law enforcement for their restraint in dealing with the Bundy gang. I only hope that when this occupation finally ends, they’re all arrested and prosecuted for their illegal actions.

That’s the only way to put a stop to this nonsense once and for all. □

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator