Time for Nevada rancher to end war with feds before someone gets hurt
The most damaging aspect for the federal government from the standoff between federal agents and the mob of gun-toting protesters summoned to Bunkerville, Nev., by renegade rancher Cliven Bundy is impotence — the government’s inability to assert its authority to enforce the law.
The confrontation at Bunkerville, Nev., between a deadbeat rancher and his armed supporters and the federal government represented by the Bureau of Land Management, reflects a dangerous anachronism that permeates radical Western values and stimulates dangerously irrational behavior.
To diffuse a no-win situation, the federal agents at Bunkerville capitulated to the demands of Bundy and his cohort of armed “patriot” bullies rather than risk bloodshed. Facing a mob with no more strategy than putting women and children out front to assure maximum international outrage if government forces opened fire, what else could they do?
This appropriate decision was not based on intimidation of federal employees by the assembled not-so-well-regulated militia, but in the interest of protecting public safety by damping down the heated rhetoric.
As the Las Vegas Sun editorialized, “Evoking romantic images of the Old West,” the defenders of Clark County rancher Cliven Bundy describe the confrontation as “a David-and-Goliath battle in which the lone rancher takes on the overreaching federal government.”
Played out in thousands of Western novels and movies, the embattled rancher defending his land, family and cattle against every plague from Indians, sodbusters, railroads, oil drillers, land developers, drought and the federal government is the fundamental stuff of popular western myth.
But, the Sun editorial continues, “This wasn’t a matter of a rancher pushing back against the government or a show of patriotism by Bundy and militia types; this was an open act of rebellion against the rule of law.”
Marc Ash points out in a Reader Supported News report, “This episode, this time, involved a private rancher’s self-proclaimed right to graze his commercial herd of cattle on public lands.”
Bundy asserts that he should be exempt from federal regulation and fees because he does not recognize the legitimacy of federal dominion over public lands.
Or, over himself.
He defers, Bundy claims, only to the laws of Nevada.
“The most coherent argument he makes,” Ash charges, “is that his family has owned the adjacent ranch since the 1870s.”
Nothing in the Nevada Constitution supports Bundy’s claims of state sovereignty, and, pointedly, both the state and county have refused to accept fees he has offered them in lieu of paying the federal charges he owes.
For 20-plus years, Bundy has refused to pay his grazing fees to the government and BLM authorities have threatened to confiscate his cattle. Over that time, fees and fines have accumulated from court decisions and fines. Bundy now owes more than $1 million to the government.
To most Americans, including Westerners, the impunity with which Bundy has flaunted his contempt for federal law comes as somewhat of a shock.
However, this particular confrontation was not precipitated by a completely justifiable and legal effort by the BLM to confiscate Bundy’s cattle as forfeit for non-payment of fees.
The cows were rounded up because they were illegally encroaching on a special management area set aside as habitat for the endangered desert tortoise. It is not now, nor has it ever been, part of Bundy’s grazing lease.
It isn’t just about his cattle, Bundy is quoted as telling Fox News agitator Sean Hannity, “what they (BLM) have done is seized Nevada statehood, Nevada law, Clark County public land, and have seized all of the other rights of Clark County people that like to go hunting and fishing.
“They’ve closed all those things down, and we’re here to protest that action. And we are after freedom, We’re after liberty. That’s what we want.”
Translated, that means that not only should Bundy’s cattle be allowed to trample over land set aside as habitat for the endangered desert tortoise, but off-road vehicles should also be allowed to take their toll of both wrecked habitat and crushed carapaces.
An impotent federal government is not just weak, it is dangerous because it encourages the kind of lawless threat to civil order that erupted in Bunkerville.
An uneasy truce has settled over Bunkerville. The federal agents stood down; the vigilantes returned to their homes; the BLM promised once more to seek new federal injunctions against Bundy; and the gnarly old rancher continued to thumb his nose at federal authority.
And life goes on in Bunkerville — until the next time.