Nel's New Day

April 16, 2014

Extremists Hope to Find Martyr in Cliven Bundy

Conservative constantly talk about deporting and even killing immigrants because “they’re breaking the law” They claim that following the law much be done at all costs. Other laws aren’t as important to them, however. A showdown this week in Nevada gives a very different impression of the law-abiding Tea Party members.

It started 20 years ago when the federal government asked rancher Cliven Bundy to stop grazing his cattle on federal land about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Farmers and ranchers must obtain permits and pay for each head of cattle that they put on federal lands. Bundy refused to pay his fees or remove his cattle. His permits were revoked, and he didn’t apply for any more.

Five years later, in 1998, the government issued a court order telling Bundy to remove his cows from the land and pay fees and a fine. The court order also included a charge of $200 per day for each head of cattle that stayed on the federal lands. Bundy did nothing.

Fifteen years later, in October 2013, the federal government went back to court because Bundy had not followed court orders.  The new order gave Bundy 45 days before the United States had the right to impound the cattle. By that time, Bundy had not followed the earlier court order, but he had extended the range of his grazing, trespassing on more federal lands. A court order gave the government the right to impound those cattle that Bundy refused to remove.

Bundy’s position is that “I don’t recognize [the] United States government as even existing.”  Government officials collected about 400 head of cattle before heavily armed extremist conservatives, including two Nevada affiliates of the Koch brothers Americans for Prosperity, gathered around Bundy’s ranch. They threatened to kill the government officials if they didn’t turn the cattle loose. U.S. officials backed off to maintain public safety and released the cattle, approximately half the number that Bundy was running on federal lands.

Extremists went away with the message that they can block the enforcement of U.S. laws and court orders by facing them down with a self-appointed armed “militia.”

There will undoubtedly be more to this story. Bundy and his extremist friends may think that they have won, but this was just a battle. The war is yet to come. Future battles, easily lost by Bundy, can include voiding his auctioning license and sales permits or lein his property. They can even pick off his cattle from a safe distance.

Another future for Bundy and some of his supporters could be jail, possibly followed by prison.

  • Contempt of Court: Bundy refused to follow court orders for almost two decades in “an act of disobedience or disrespect towards the judicial branch of the government, or an interference with its orderly process.” He also rallied supporters to put up armed resistance to keep the law from enforcing the orders. A judge could jail him until he complies with the court’s order.
  • Threats To Federal Officials: Anyone who “threatens to assault, kidnap, or murder, a United States official, a United States judge [or] a Federal law enforcement officer . . . with intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with such official, judge, or law enforcement officer while engaged in the performance of official duties, or with intent to retaliate against such official, judge, or law enforcement officer on account of the performance of official duties” may be fined or imprisoned for up to 10 years.
  • Bringing Guns To Nevada: According to state law, people bringing weapons into the state, “knowing or having reason to know or intending that the same will be used unlawfully in furtherance of a civil disorder,” may be fined or imprisoned for up to five years. A civil disorder is defined as “any public disturbance involving acts of violence by assemblages of three or more persons, which causes an immediate danger of or results in damage or injury to the property or person of any other individual.” At least one militia member said he was at the ranch to provide “armed response” against “the tyrannical government.” Right-wing websites published this statement about the members’ decision to “mobilize to Nevada”:

 “All men are mortal, most pass simply because it is their time, a few however are blessed with the opportunity to choose their time in performance of duty.”

As Ken Cole wrote:

“The simple truth of the matter is that Bundy is a freeloading, welfare rancher who has an inflated sense of entitlement. It also appears that he and his supporters’ use of threats and intimidation likely violated several federal laws. Inasmuch as they used (such as pointed) weapons to cause the government back down, it can be considered an armed insurrection.”

The United States owns the property where Bundy grazes his cattle. Nevada was formed from parts of the Washoe, Utah, and New Mexico territories, land that the federal government gained from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1849 through the “Mexican Cession” after the U.S. won the Mexican-American War. Private land ownership, allocated under mining and farming claims, was later expanded under the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909. Because the nation never sold the rest of the land, it maintains ownership in trust of the land as part of the commons.

Bundy claims that he owns the federal land because his family used is since the 1870s. Citizens gave up all claims to unappropriated federal land in the Nevada state constitution, dating back to 1864. He does not have the “right” to graze BLM lands. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 confers permits to graze a specific number of cattle on public lands but does not confer right to graze or right to own the land. The Supreme Court backed this up in its 1976 ruling of Public Lands Council v. Babbitt. About 16,000 farmers and ranchers use Taylor grazing land.

The conservative media not only fanned the flames but also threw gasoline on them. Fox network Sean Hannity hosted Bundy and said that his actions “keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer.” In 2013, Taylor Grazing cost ranchers $1.35 per unit per month, meaning that each head of cattle cost Bundy $16.20 per year—a vast increase from what he would have paid in 1993 when he stopped paying.

Glenn Beck complained that the people confiscating the cattle were armed, and National Review Online’s Kevin Williamson called the agents “inflammatory” and described their actions as a “siege.” American Thinker (now there’s a misnomer!) accused Attorney General Eric Holder of being racist by enforcing the law. Alex Jones wrote that the government wants to “enslave us in an [United Nations] Agenda 21 future where we have no property and no rights.” He also said, “So your bottom line, like Paul Revere, you’re making your stand, you’re telling folks we’re being overrun by an out of control tyranny.”

Bundy’s responses were equally rabble-rousing as he used his presence on Alex Jones’ show to urge supporters to “go in there with force” and to stop the agents’ proposed auction. He agreed with Jones’ answer that “[the force] could be how the shot heard round the world happens in this case” and warned that “this could turn into 1776 very quickly.”

To protect themselves, the militia planned to sacrifice the women. Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff, said that the protesters planned “to put all the women up at the front.” That way they would be shot first.

Jamelle Bouie brought up an interesting question.  Would the faux militia of the Tea Party defend a group of black farmers or rancher or anyone against federal officials? Would the Fox network approve of black militia aiming guns at white bureaucrats?

The conservative support may be fading. One Nevada conservative activist pointed out that Bundy failed to pay his grazing fees for 20 years while other ranchers pay their own share. GOP legislative leadership say they haven’t followed the case that much, a statement that usually means “we’re staying out of it.” GOP strategist Brad Todd thinks that the story “won’t override Obamacare,” and Republican strategist Kevin Madden agrees.

In the National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke calls Bundy’s actions “indefensible.” Powerline’s John Hinderaker tried to defend Bundy’s actions but admitted that “legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” that Bundy’s claim that the federal government does not own the land is flagrantly incorrect, and that Bundy has been relegated to defending himself because “no lawyer could make that argument.” As Cooke said, Bundy only wanted to win with no consequences to himself. Cooke explains the triviality of Bundy’s goal:

“I would not stand idly by quoting John Adams if a state reintroduced slavery or herded a religious group into ovens or even indulged in wholesale gun confiscation. But Bundy’s case is not remotely approaching these thresholds. Are we to presume that if the government is destroying one’s livelihood or breaking one’s ties with the past, one can revolt? If so, one suspects that half the country would march on Washington, with scimitars drawn, and that West Virginia would invade the Environmental Protection Agency…. This is a republic, dammit — and those who hope to keep it cannot pick and choose the provisions with which they are willing to deign to comply.”

And that’s a response from a conservative!

Unhappy that the situation has been temporarily resolved, Sean Hannity tried to convince Bundy in last night’s interview that the federal agent may show up in a midnight raid and kill him and his children. Hannity’s actions were made even more inexcusable because of Bundy’s near incoherence. In his attempts to make Bundy into a martyr, Hannity may cause the deaths that federal agents tried so hard to avoid.

No one died on the Bundy ranch last night. We’ll just watch to see what the Fox network decides to do next.

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