Let’s concede that Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy is a scofflaw – and, as it turns out, a crank with offensively retrograde racial views.
And the Bureau of Land Management claims he owes it more than $1 million for grazing his cattle on federal land without permission.
But everything else regarding events in the desert near Las Vegas last week appears debatable.
• How lawless is Bundy? At a time when the president of the United States rewrites statutes at his sole discretion; his attorney general authorized a gun-running scheme that resulted in the death of a Border Patrol agent and remains in contempt of Congress for not giving it documents to which it is entitled; and a senior official of the Internal Revenue Service pleads the Fifth Amendment so as not to incriminate herself – cows eating federal grass seems about as significant as a cowflop in a stampede.
• Yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who has been in “public service” all his working life but still has amassed a fortune totaling in the tens of millions, calls Bundy a “domestic terrorist” for resisting the BLM.
That, as National Review Online columnist John Fund wrote this week, is “astonishing rhetoric, given the White House’s characterization of the mass shooting by a genuine terrorist, Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 Americans at the Fort Hood Army base after yelling ‘Allahu Akbar!’ (‘God is great!’). Rather than labeling Hasan’s actions ‘domestic terrorism,’ the Obama administration is prosecuting him for having committed ‘workplace violence.’ ”
• True, Bundy was defended by a hundred or so people who showed up with legally owned firearms. But consider that the BLM itself had previously moved in armored vehicles and a small army of agents wearing combat gear and toting military-grade weaponry.
As Nevada state legislator Michele Fiore said on MSNBC, “We will not allow governance at gunpoint” when merely putting liens on Bundy’s cattle and land would have covered the grazing-fee issue.
• What was the purpose of the armored vehicles, camouflage uniforms and M-16s? Indeed, why does a land management agency need its own mini-army at all?
It’s understandable, as Fund notes, that Homeland Security, the Secret Service and the Bureau of Prisons have heavily armed Special Weapons and Tactics units.
But what makes them appropriate not only for the BLM but also “the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service”?
Brian Walsh, a senior legal analyst with the Heritage Foundation, says it is inexplicable why so many federal agencies need to be battle-ready:
“If these agencies occasionally have a legitimate need for force to execute a warrant, they should be required to call a real law-enforcement agency, one that has a better sense of perspective.”
• Fund questioned the BLM’s rationale that the land Bundy’s cows are grazing on needs protection because it is the habitat of the rare desert tortoise.
The BLM has already engaged in “mitigation” under the Endangered Species Act by moving tortoises from land given over to alternative energy projects supported by state and national Democrats, including one run by Sen. Reid’s son, he noted. But the way environmental laws are written, it is almost impossible for individual Americans to prevail in a court fight over them.
• Finally, the confrontation highlighted an already-scheduled gathering in Utah of lawmakers to discuss the vast federal control of land in their states.
The feds control from 25 percent to 80 percent of most Western states (compared to 1 percent of Maine). While some of that includes national parks, forests, monuments and other special sites, most of it does not.
So, as The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday, “More than 50 political leaders from nine states convened for the first time to talk about their joint goal: wresting control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands away from the feds.”
“It’s simply time,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, a Utah Republican, who organized the Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands along with Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder. “The urgency is now.”
The daylong closed-door summit was addressed by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Lawmakers and legislative leaders from Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington also were present, the paper reported.
Bundy isn’t even remotely in the right here. But he isn’t Timothy McVeigh or Nidal Hasan, either, and shouldn’t have been treated as if he were.
If the state lawmakers get their way, such needless – and dangerous – confrontations could become a thing of the past.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org