We were prepared, not too long ago, to endorse William Perry Pendley’s nomination to serve as director of the Bureau of Land Management on the cynical premise that no matter who is put in charge of the agency, the policy agenda is unlikely to change.
U.S. senators, who will consider his nomination, have no shortage of criticism at their disposal to question Pendley’s suitability for the job. His baggage is well-known. As president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation, he consistently questioned the existence of public lands. “The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” he wrote in a 2016 piece for the National Review.
As recently as January 2019, Pendley tweeted that the president could sell public lands to pay for the border wall.
These are views that don’t square with running an agency responsible for managing multiple uses on 245 million acres of public lands and preserving them for the benefit of future generations.
Yet, Pendley has managed to distance himself from his own views on public lands by saying they’re not relevant. He’s often said he’s a former Marine who knows how to follow orders — that his job is to carry out the administration’s priorities.
We could continue to argue that it matters little who is sitting in the BLM director’s chair. If it’s not Pendley, it’ll be some other bureaucrat who will execute the president’s vision. Perhaps most importantly, moving the BLM’s headquarters to Grand Junction was a stroke of genius because it requires whoever holds the director’s title to live with those who are most affected by BLM policy.
But Pendley has managed to disqualify himself from the position. More disqualifying than his identity as a sagebrush rebel, in our opinion, are his views on the Black Lives Matter movement.
A June 29 story by E&E News focused on a 2017 column Pendley wrote in the Washington Examiner “in which he dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement as based on ‘a lie that spread like cancer through inner cities endangering men and women in blue and the citizens who look to them for protection.’ ”
The “lie” is a dispute whether the unarmed Black victim of a 2014 police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., actually said, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” — a phrase that became a national slogan against police brutality.
What is Pendley’s purpose in fixating on the provenance of the phrase (which he’s revisited as recently as May 2019)? He seems to be suggesting that the Black Lives Matter movement has no legitimacy whatsoever because a single, small detail in a complex and still-unfolding narrative wasn’t corroborated.
So what? Whether the victim said it or not, the phrase captured the essence of the fear many Black citizens have experienced when dealing with police. The recent death of George Floyd while in police custody has only reinforced that Black Lives Matters is a just cause.
Pendley has been the face of a fringe movement against federal ownership of public lands, only to be nominated as one of the country’s chief custodians of public lands. He’s the last person who should be criticizing other movements given the incredible pass he’s received thus far over what many consider disqualifying positions on public lands policy.