After watching the standoff in Nevada (or is it a bad reality show?) pitting cattle rancher Cliven Bundy against the federal government, anyone who says the West isn’t still wild should be put out to pasture.
His major beef is that he shouldn’t have to pay grazing fees and fines for his herd munching on federal lands. He also refuses (and has for over 20 years) to move his cattle off land earmarked for an endangered tortoise.
The biggest loser is common sense, as both sides did stupid things that only served to enflame tensions.
Bundy latest tussle was overshadowed by his racist diatribe. We won’t dignify his comments. But being a moron isn’t against the law; defying court orders are.
Brief history: Bundy’s herd grazes on federal lands. In 1989, the desert tortoise is placed on the federal endangered species list, whose habitat is on the same lands as Bundy’s cattle. A court orders Bundy to remove his herd. His response: “Hell, no."
Cliven fights a legal battle for 20 years, consistently losing. Yet he still refuses to relocate his cattle or pay $1 million in fines and fees, stating, “I don’t recognize the U.S. government as even existing . . . I abide by almost zero federal laws.”
How convenient. Wouldn’t it be great if no one recognized the government? Except that in a civilized society, we can’t do that. The problem with Bundy and many of his supporters is that they masquerade as libertarians when actually advocating anarchy. Big difference. And the libertarian movement, much of which is rooted in reasonable principles, takes a major hit.
And it’s worth noting that Republican President George H.W. Bush placed the tortoise on the endangered list.
Bundy claims that because his family grazed cattle on these lands in the 1800s, before the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) came into being, he shouldn’t have to pay grazing fees. So if your ancestors lived here before the federal income tax was instituted, you shouldn’t have to pay? Brilliant.
The rough cost for private grazing fees is $18 per animal-unit-month throughout the West, while on public lands in Nevada it is $1.35 per animal-unit-month. Yet Bundy is still a deadbeat. The other 18,000 ranchers using federal lands properly should make Bundy a pariah, since one bad apple can make the whole tree appear rotten.
Many on the Right, led by Sean Hannity, flocked to Bundy’s defense, clearly not grasping the “Is this the hill you want to die on?” concept. Why rally around Bundy? He isn’t a states-rights advocate, but a scofflaw gaming the system. The right should have condemned him, but most didn’t. Now, Democratic campaigns will exploit that PR bonanza. Will the right ever learn?
The government had the right to enforce the court order against Bundy. But it’s not what you do; it’s how you do it. The Waco lesson was to engage targets in low-key fashion. Instead of its raid-like approach, BLM should have had plain-clothes agents quietly apprehend Bundy outside a convenience store, sit him down and outline their terms: Pay up and remove the cattle, or face liens and go to jail until the cows come home (he was in contempt).
But the BLM eschewed common sense, and the standoff continues.
It was a mistake to establish “free speech zones,” which corralled Bundy supporters. So long as folks were not interfering, they had a right to walk freely. Establishing First Amendment restrictions on top of heavy-handed tactics creates a powder keg. Though in fairness to the feds, having rifles trained on them is reason enough to be jumpy.
BLM tactics notwithstanding, the government has shown considerable restraint, as Bundy has been in violation of the law for over two decades (and shortchanging taxpayers). And as tensions flared, the agency halted its cattle roundup until things cooled.
From Sen. Harry Reid calling Bundy supporters “domestic terrorists” to right-wing leaders championing Cliven, this situation has wrongly become a partisan fight. If Bundy doesn’t like the law, he can try to change it.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Freindly Fire Zone Media. Read more reports from Chris Freind — Click Here Now.
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