For now, all seems to be quiet at the Bundy ranch in Nevada, and I hope it stays that way. Although the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has left the scene amid cheers from Bundy supporters, there have been rumors and rumblings of the BLM waiting until the tension dies down, then coming back quietly for a midnight or early predawn raid on the Bundy ranch. If the BLM carries out such a raid, it could turn very nasty in no time, and a number of people, BLM and Bundy supporters alike, will likely lose their lives in the process.
This story goes back a long way, in fact, to 1989, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the desert tortoise as an endangered species, and in 1993 the BLM designated several hundred thousand acres of land in Nevada for strict conservation efforts. The Washington Post reported at the time that according to the BLM, “Among the conservation measures required are the elimination of livestock grazing and strict limits on off-road vehicle use in the protected tortoise habitat.”
Cliven Bundy protested this, calling it a federal land grab, and continued to graze his cattle on the protected land, meanwhile refusing to pay the fines he incurred for doing so. In 1998, a federal judge issued an injunction against him and ordered him to take his cattle off federal land. Bundy appealed this to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but lost after representing himself instead of hiring legal counsel. By 2009, the BLM had posted signs all across the federally owned land stating that it was off-limits for cattle grazing, but many of those signs ended up knocked down or riddled with bullets.
So this brings us to last week’s confrontation between the Feds and the Bundy family. The BLM went about this in the exact wrong way. Never mind that there are long overdue fines or that Bundy’s cattle were grazing federal land. Showing up with a couple hundred agents armed with M16’s wasn’t a good idea, especially in light of the public’s growing mistrust of the federal government and its continual encroachment on states’ and peoples’ rights. If some of the news reports are to be believed, this contingent of armed agents also included a number of snipers. And, as we’ve all seen by now, it very nearly ended with extreme violence, which would have been pointless, senseless, and would have amounted to a public relations nightmare for the federal government.
On the other hand, it doesn’t appear Cliven Bundy really knows what he’s doing. He’s already proven himself guilty of bad judgment by ignoring his problems with the government, which have been ongoing for many years, and for representing himself in court against government attorneys. After having watched him a number of times in interviews on Fox News and elsewhere, I see a man who apparently doesn’t grasp that the feds are a legitimate authority he has to contend with. Instead, he belabors his own idealistic views about who owns the land and which entity is sovereign. He doesn’t recognize the federal government as having any authority over him, and in fact, he doesn’t recognize the the federal government at all. According to an interview with a St. Louis radio station heard here: http://danaloeschradio.com/the-western-war-last-remaining-rancher-vs-the-federal-govt/ he said as much.
As an example, here is an excerpt from just one interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity from April 15th:
Hannity: “What do you make of the sheriff’s comments, Cliven?” (Referring to former Sheriff Richard Mack of Graham County)
Bundy: “Uh, I really don’t know nothing about that, you know? I can say one thing, we had a beautiful moon last night – I thought, you know, that thing might be fixed up there by the federal government, but I’m not sure… it was different, though, that’s for sure.”
Hannity: “Alright, but let’s put these two things together here; we have Richard Mack, the former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona – he made the comment that he had sources inside the federal government warning that the weekend retreat was only a move to distract attention, diffuse tensions, because a raid on the family’s ranch is being planned. Couple that with Harry Reid’s comments that this is not over. You’ve got to believe that something is brewing here, no?”
Bundy: “Ha ha, well, I got something to say to Harry… I, you know, Harry, uh, Nevada citizens, we the people, elected you to go back to the United States Senate, and uh, take care of United States business, which might be something like, defend us from foreign nations. Harry, get back there and take care of that work and leave us alone here in Nevada, ’cause you have no business here in Clark County, Nevada.”
The entire interview followed along the same general lines. Actually, Cliven Bundy says nothing during on-air interviews that would make a valid case for him, his family, or his supporters, and I really don’t think he can, because he’s clearly in the wrong and may as well admit it. He rambles, he stumbles over his words, and in general just doesn’t sound like he’s well informed at all. Which is sad, really, because he seems like such a genuinely likeable man. Whether or not he recognizes the authority of the federal government is a moot point, though, because the simple fact is that they do hold that authority. Then consider that he’s refused to pay government fees which have been accruing since 1993 and now total over a million dollars. If you want to give him credit for something, I suppose you could say he’s “attempted” to pay what he owes, but he has refused to pay it to the U.S. government – only to the state of Nevada or Clark County. Unfortunately, they can’t do anything with the checks he’s sent them because they weren’t the ones to levy the fines against him.
In that exchange between Hannity and Bundy, the reference to Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, was over comments he made in which he said, “Well, it’s not over. We can’t have an American people that violate the law, and just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”
But Harry Reid’s hands don’t exactly seem to be clean in this matter, either. Senator Reid appears to have been instrumental in getting Neil Kornze, who worked for Reid’s office for eight years, appointed as director of the BLM. Kornze left Senator Reid’s employ three years ago when he went to work at the BLM, and has now been appointed to be the director of that department so quickly? Curious. But not really, because it appears Senator Reid wants someone as head of the Bureau of Land Management that will do his bidding. On top of that, there are also reports that Harry Reid and his son, Rory, may be collaborating with a Chinese company to build a solar farm on the land Cliven Bundy’s cattle have been grazing.
And now that tensions have abated somewhat at Bundy’s ranch in Nevada, yesterday Senator Reid appeared to be ramping up the anti-Bundy rhetoric when he called Bundy and his supporters “domestic terrorists.” Is he trying to ignite a fresh round of tension by using inflammatory language like that? There are only two possiblities – that he was doing just that by baiting the Bundy group, or else it was merely a regrettable choice of words. Much as I’d like to believe the latter, I can’t because Senator Reid was reading from a prepared statement, and went to the trouble to emphasize his words by repeating the accusation that they were “domestic terrorists.”
It’s difficult to imagine just how all this will play out in the days or weeks to come. The feds have incurred the ire of many Americans in their actions of the past week, and in my opinion have painted themselves into a corner. Cliven Bundy hasn’t come off looking good in all this either. Sure, he’s affable, and has been portrayed as just an ordinary Nevada rancher going about his business. The problem is that Bundy has painted himself into his own corner by refusing to see things as they are rather than as he thinks they should be. From my point of view, this looks like a no-win situation for all concerned.
Yes, the federal government has far overreached their constitutional authority in not only this matter, but many others as well – I get that. And to tell the truth, cattle grazing on a protected tortoise habitat isn’t going to drive the tortoises to extinction. But I don’t think anyone is so naive to believe that’s what this is really all about anymore.
For the sake of the BLM agents and their families, and also for the sake of Cliven Bundy and his family and supporters, I hope this situation doesn’t end with shots fired. The fallout from a violent confrontation like that could be massive and widespread.