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“Anti-Government Shindig”: Cliven Bundy Hosts ‘Freedom Celebration’ One Year Later

It’s hard to forget the armed confrontation between federal law enforcement and Cliven Bundy’s well-armed supporters in Nevada. In fact, the standoff, which the Obama administration, in the interest of public safety, chose not to escalate, was exactly one year ago.

The L.A. Times noted that the controversial rancher, who claims not to recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, threw a “shindig” over the weekend – a “freedom celebration” to honor the anniversary.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of when federal agents swooped onto the public lands near Bundy’s ranch to round up hundreds of cattle that the 67-year-old had been grazing without permits. The land is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The raid didn’t go well: Hundreds of supporters – self-named citizen militiamen, many with semiautomatic weapons – rallied around their new leader, creating at tense standoff between two armed camps. In the end, on last April 12, the federal government backed down, released the cattle agents had corralled and – poof! – vanished.

The underlying dispute has not been resolved. Bundy has still ignored multiple court orders and still owes the United States more than $1 million after he was fined for grazing on protected land.

Bundy’s posture, as a long-term proposition, remains unsustainable – a fact he seems to realize. “It’s hard to tell, but the feds, they’re probably going to do something,” Bundy told the L.A. Times. “[T]hey’re probably just standing back, looking at things.”

He added, however, in reference to the Bureau of Land Management, “They know if they make a move, they’ll upset America. And I don’t think they want to do that.”

It’s an ominous choice of words from a fringe activist who may not enjoy quite as much support as he thinks he has.

Remember, Republicans and conservative media personalities quickly elevated Cliven Bundy to folk-hero status early last year, right up until some of his racist views came to light.

Suddenly, the right was forced to reevaluate whether they were prepared to stand behind a racist lawbreaker who doesn’t recognize the United States and whose supporters pointed high-powered weapons at American law enforcement.

I’m reminded, in particular, of Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) who said last April, “I am very quick in calling American citizens ‘patriots.’ Maybe in this case, too quick.” Around the same time, the Nevada affiliate of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity started scrubbing their online messages offering praise for Bundy and his radical campaign.

In April 2014, Bundy was a cause celebre for the far-right and anti-government voices. In April 2015, his “freedom celebration” enjoyed less national support. If he’s assuming “America” will be “upset” if there are consequences for his defiance of the rule of law, he’s probably going to be disappointed.

Postscript: ThinkProgress noted a bill in the Nevada legislature, sometimes referred to as the “Bundy Bill,” intended to empower the state to seize federal properties Nevada wants to control. The legislation seems to be a brazenly unconstitutional scheme, but it’s nevertheless working its way through the Republican-led legislature.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 13, 2015

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Anti-Government, Bureau of Land Management, Cliven Bundy | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Fox News’ Demented Poster Boy”: Why Angry Rancher Cliven Bundy Is No Patriot

The latest right-wing media poster-victim, Cliven Bundy, is just the latest in a long line of desert dwellers who thinks he or she should not have to follow the law and has a god-given right to unlimited use of public resources, in this case, rangeland.  I know the mentality well, because I grew up in rural Nevada and clung desperately to such beliefs until only a few years ago.

Bundy has not paid grazing fees in close to 20 years, while the federal government has, with painful, stupid moves, tried to somehow deal with him. Bundy also faced restrictions because he continued to graze cattle on a slice of public land reserved for the endangered desert tortoise.  He was invited to talk to Sean Hannity (of course) about the “standoff.”

“We want freedom,” Bundy said. I don’t know what freedom Bundy’s talking about. He does not own the land nor does he even pay the modest fees required to use it. Thousands of ranchers across the West pay fees for their businesses, but Bundy thinks he should get to use public resources to make a personal profit.  Cliven Bundy, far from being a patriot, is also clearly a straight-up communist.

Bundy is using the language of freedom, patriotism and outright paranoia to further his business interests. He succeeded wildly in drawing other “patriots” to his slice of contested desert. I don’t know these exact people, but the words and phrases they used were the nursery rhymes of my childhood. I’ve been listening to ignorant people bitch about the federal “gub’met,” since I could crawl, and I’m weary of it. I can’t bear to hear poor people rally to the defense of moneyed interests like mining and ranching, like well-trained, bleating sheep. As tired and silly as I find his language, clearly it worked. He so inflamed the lunatic militia movement, that many rallied to him, often from out of state, with guns and naked threats. They created a real possibility that someone might get killed, so the feds backed down.

It is asinine in our age that an armed group of idiots can thwart reasonable government action. Bundy is not a hero, a victim or innocent in any way. Just think of real injustice of America, like people spending life in jail for marijuana charges. It’s hard to imagine the “militia,” a mostly fat, white and ignorant group, showing up to defend a kid in the inner city who was arrested for no reason. Also think what would happen to you, if you opted not to register your car for 20 years. Bundy exploits the most sickening version of white privilege to justify what amounts to theft.

The basic facts of this story obfuscate the decades of history, animosity and lies between the federal government and the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion that started in the late ’70s. The movement is centered in Elko, Nev., a town next door to Battle Mountain, the much smaller town where I grew up. If you’ve not spent time in the rural desert, you’ll have a hard time understanding the vast spaces in play. Lander County, where Battle Mountain is located, is the geographic size of Vermont but has no more than 5,000 people.

I grew up on 40 acres of brown sagebrush. Particularly when I was a child, cattle roamed carelessly across our property.  They even had right of way on my father’s land unless he fenced the entire lot with four-strands of barbed wire, an expensive and ugly option. This is the freedom for which patriots are fighting: for cows to trump personal property rights.

In some ways, Nevada has a legitimate beef with the federal government that owns 87 percent of all of Nevada’s land. That’s land that can’t be developed or sold, which cuts into Nevada’s tax base. However, that land is far from empty. People ride horses and recreational vehicles on it.  They hunt it and file mining claims, and, yes, when appropriate a vast amount of it is open to grazing. Without “public” land, there would be no ranching of the kind that allows Mr. Bundy to make a living. There would be less “wide open” for which the West is famous.

We could argue about whether the land should belong to the federal government, but what is not in dispute is that Bundy has no ownership of it.  He won’t even pay fees to use it.  In short, he refuses to pay rent, like thousands of other ranchers do dutifully every year.  Again, I’d like to observe if Bundy is not a communist, he’s at least an aggressive socialist.

Bundy’s foundational argument is that he “has been using the land for generations.” He claims to have “ancestors” who worked the land since the late 1800s. If Bundy wants to make this argument, he’ll need to chat to a Native American or two from one of the many different tribes in Nevada who were here far before Bundy’s ancestors. Also, I thought America was about building wealth through capitalism, rather than depending on your daddy to pass on his membership into the landed aristocracy. Bundy seems to think himself a member of the neo-nobility.

What is missed in this nonsense is that the land should not be managed based on feelings or business needs or family connections. In my Nevada experience, history and family too often trump concerns about what’s best for society and the public good. From where I sit, attitudes are changing for the better.

Bundy, like the sagebrush rebels who came before, has co-opted the language of the oppressed, wrapped in neo-Confederate sensibilities. The crazies have been loosed for good or ill, waving yellow flags and screaming the word “patriot,” none of which has anything to do with subsidizing one man’s business. Even some of my close friends and family are outraged over this latest assault on “freedom.”  I’m not far enough removed from this opinion to forget how it feels. You feel powerless and angry. I can hear my former inner voice: We live out here, not them. We should get to decide how to use the desert. It is as understandable as it is ill-informed and misguided.

I have to concede that certain employees of the federal government can be stupid and ham-handed dealing with people like Bundy. In this case, the feds probably should have removed Bundy’s cattle when he stopped paying grazing fees. The agencies involved also fumbled some parts of the latest tactic, playing into fears of government overreach with “Free Speech Zones” for protesters. So often the feds seem to botch the details, but one must give them credit for backing down in the end. No one, perhaps other than the raging right, wanted actual shooting. Perhaps now, quietly, the federal government can work with Bundy to get him to either pay his grazing fees or remove his cattle without creating a spectacle.

Bundy has no right to public land. The federal government and other land managers can and should consider the interests of ranchers, just as they should consider mining, recreation and the needs of wildlife, but Bundy is not the only person who has lived in the desert. His should not be even close to the final vote. He can whittle, spit and reminisce, while the rest of us build a modern, cooperative state worth living in.

 

By: Edwin Lyngar, Salon, April 21, 2014

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Bureau of Land Management, Cliven Bundy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Stetson, A Horse, And A Shotgun”: Bundy Standoff Is A Fox News Costume Drama

One thing about that mangy posse of anti-government crackpots camped out at Cliven Bundy’s place in the Nevada desert: Most don’t know a thing about cattle ranching.

See, it’s calving season across most of the country. No rancher worthy of the name is going to run off leaving his cows to fend for themselves while he fights somebody else’s battles. Particularly not some deadbeat who refuses to pay his grazing fees, and who claims that the same laws that apply to every other rancher in the United States don’t apply to him.

A guy who wraps himself in the stars and stripes while proclaiming “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”

Me, I’m keeping a close eye on the best heifer I’ve ever bred for signs she’s going into labor. Her name is Sarah. Last August I turned down an opportunity to sell Sarah for three times market value because I was eager to breed her. Bernie the bull arrived on our place last July 4th, so it could be any time now.

I’ve spent most of the last three days worrying over Trudy’s newborn calf. Although her udder appeared to have been nursed when I found them back in the pine thicket where Trudy had hidden to deliver, I never actually saw the little heifer feeding until last night. Trudy, see, delivered a stillborn bull calf two years ago, and lost another last spring. Hence my anxiety.

For what it’s worth, I also have a photo of myself that I made for a French friend who’d been teasing me about being a cowboy—white Stetson, horse, shotgun and my best Clint Eastwood squint. Alain didn’t really get the joke, but I could even pass for this Bundy joker in dim light. See, it’s partly a costume drama Fox News is helping this con-man stage.

Although my own little operation is more of a hobby than a business, I do try not to lose money. However, many of my Perry County, Arkansas friends and neighbors are cattle ranchers for real. It’s damned hard making money on cows, but nobody around here imagines they can graze cattle in the Ouachita National Forest for nothing. Every single one pays for his own land, pays property taxes, pays the water bill and pays for any pasture he rents—all things Cliven Bundy takes for free from the U.S. government while styling himself a rugged individualist.

Nationally, some 18,000 ranchers lawfully graze 157 million acres of federally-owned property supervised by the Bureau of Land Management, at subsidized rates. No wonder the Nevada Cattleman’s Association–not exactly a left-wing organization—has stated that while its membership has perennial issues with the BLM, it encourages obeying the law and “does not feel it is our place to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter.”

See, this isn’t land the U.S. seized by eminent domain. Surrendered to the Feds by Mexico in 1848, it never belonged to the state of Nevada, which didn’t yet exist. The U.S. District judge who ordered Bundy’s cattle removed ruled that he “has produced no valid law or specific facts raising a genuine issue of fact regarding federal ownership or management of public lands in Nevada, or that his cattle have not trespassed.”

For that matter, Nevada author Edwin Lyngar points out that without plentiful public cut-rate grazing permits “there would be no ranching of the kind that allows Mr. Bundy to make a living. There would be less ‘wide open’ for which the West is famous.”

No way could Bundy or anybody like him afford to buy the vast acreage he’s grazing for free.  Many westerners only think they’d like to see the feds sell off their extensive properties in states like Nevada, where the U.S. government owns fully 87 percent of the land. But they might feel differently after the likes of Ted Turner, the Koch brothers and various international corporations bought up the range, cross-fenced it, and posted “No Trespassing” signs everywhere.

See, it’s a form of welfare the BLM oversees, but it helps sustain a way of life Americans are nostalgic about. The various “Sovereign Citizen” groups and armed militia types playing soldier in the desert, however, are something else. While the BLM was wise not to confront the mob, the current triumphalism among far-right zealots can’t be seen as anything but ominous.

One wonders, however, how the armies of April will react to a Las Vegas TV station’s revelation that much of Bundy’s personal saga is make-believe. Grazing Golden Butte since 1877? Not quite. His father bought the Bunkerville ranch in 1948; they began renting BLM land in 1954.

Otherwise, the feds have time on their side. They can slap liens on everything Bundy owns. And come July or August, camping out in the Nevada outback won’t seem half so exciting.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 23, 2014

April 24, 2014 Posted by | Bureau of Land Management, Cliven Bundy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Deadbeat On The Range”: The Phony Cliven Bundy Event Has Brought Out The Worst Of The Gun-Waving Far Right

Imagine a vendor on the National Mall, selling burgers and dogs, who hasn’t paid his rent in 20 years. He refuses to recognize his landlord, the National Park Service, as a legitimate authority. Every court has ruled against him, and fines have piled up. What’s more, the effluents from his food cart are having a detrimental effect on the spring grass in the capital.

Would an armed posse come to his defense, aiming their guns at the park police? Would the lawbreaker get prime airtime on Fox News, breathless updates in the Drudge Report, a sympathetic ear from Tea Party Republicans? No, of course not.

So what’s the difference between the fictional loser and Cliven Bundy, the rancher in Nevada who owes the government about $1 million and has been grazing his cattle on public land for more than 20 years? Near as I can tell, one wears a cowboy hat. Easterners, especially clueless ones in politics and the press, have always had a soft spot for a defiant white dude in a Stetson.

This phony event has brought out the worst of the gun-waving far right, and the national politicians who are barely one degree of separation from them. Hundreds of heavily armed, camouflaged supporters of the scofflaw turned out Saturday in Nevada, training their rifles on public employees who were trying to do their job. The outsiders looked like snipers ready to shoot the police. If you changed that picture to Black Panthers surrounding a lawful eviction in the inner city, do you think right-wing media would be there cheering the outlaws?

With their assault rifles and threats, the thugs in the desert forced federal officials with the Bureau of Land Management to back down from a court-ordered confiscation of Bundy’s cattle. One of the rancher’s supporters, Richard Mack, a Tea Party leader who is in the National Rifle Association’s Hall of Fame, said he planned to use women as human shields in a violent showdown with law enforcement.

“We were actually strategizing to put all the women up front,” Mack said in a radio interview. “If they were going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot.”

That’s who Fox and friends are playing with these days — militia extremists who would sacrifice their wives to make some larger point about a runaway federal government. And what’s more, the Fox host Sean Hannity has all but encouraged a violent confrontation.

At the center of the dispute is the 68-year-old rancher Bundy, who said in a radio interview, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” A real patriot, this guy. You would think that kind of anarchist would draw a raised eyebrow from the Tea Party establishment that provides Bundy his media oxygen. After all, wasn’t the Tea Party born in a rant by Rick Santelli of CNBC about deadbeat homeowners? He complained about taxpayers’ subsidizing “losers’ mortgages” and he said we should “reward people that can carry the water instead of drinking the water.” Believe me, Bundy’s cattle are drinking an awful lot of our water, and not paying for it.

But instead, people like Ron Paul have only fanned the flames, warning of a Waco-style assault. Paul and his son, Senator Rand Paul, further showed themselves to be stunningly ignorant of the public lands legacy created by forward-thinking Republicans a century ago.  “They had virtual ownership of that land because they had been using it,” Ron Paul said on Fox, referring to the Bundy clan. “You need the government out of it, and I think that’s the important point.”

No, the renegade rancher has no more right to 96,000 acres of Nevada public range than a hot dog vendor has to perpetual space on the Mall. Both places belong to the American people. Bundy runs his cattle on our land — that is, turf owned by every citizen. The agency that oversees the range, the Bureau of Land Management, allows 18,000 grazing permits on 157 million acres. Many of those permit holders get a sweet deal, subsidized in a way they could never find on private land.

What’s more, the land is supposed to be managed for stewardship and other users. Wild-horse advocates would like a piece of the same range. The poor desert tortoise, which has been in Nevada a lot longer than Bundy’s Mormon pioneer stock, is disappearing because of abusive grazing on that same 96,000 acres.

Ranching is hard work. Drought and market swings make it a tough go in many years. That’s all the more reason to praise the 18,000 or so ranchers who pay their grazing fees on time and don’t go whining to Fox or summoning a herd of armed thugs when they renege on their contract. You can understand why the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association wants no part of Bundy.

These kinds of showdowns are rare because most ranchers play by the rules, and quietly go about their business. They are heroes, in one sense, preserving a way of life that has an honorable place in American history. The good ones would never wave a gun in the face of a public servant, and likely never draw a camera from Fox.

 

By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, April 17, 2014

April 21, 2014 Posted by | Bureau of Land Management, Cliven Bundy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fox News’ Dangerous New Hero”: Cliven Bundy Steals From America–The Scary Return To A West Where Guns, Not Law, Rule

The showdown in Bunkerville last week was sensational – a rancher, his cows, and an armed militia resisting the federal government’s roundup of trespassing livestock. With banners pronouncing “Liberty” and “We the People,” these protesters mistook the issue of long overdue grazing fees for an issue of states’ rights and federal overreach. In the end, Cliven Bundy’s 400 cows were herded back onto the Mojave Desert to trample desert tortoise habitat, degrade water quality, crush cultural sites, consume native vegetation and defecate in springs and the Virgin River. The cheering crowds proclaimed, “Freedom!” and “Victory!”

What a disaster.

The public lands livestock grazing program uses approximately 250 million acres of the arid west, with permitted users paying a pittance to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Forest Service for the privilege to do so. And it is truly a pittance. When Bundy stopped paying BLM in 1993, he owed just $1.86 per animal unit month for his mama cows, or $3,348 to use the land year-round. But Bundy refused to pay the fees because he didn’t want to reduce his herd to just 150 animals in order to help save the Mojave desert tortoise, a species given an emergency Endangered Species Act listing, and whose existence is specifically threatened by livestock competition for scarce desert vegetation and direct crushing and trampling of tortoise burrows. Bundy’s non-payment of fees was coupled with non-cooperation about getting his cows off the range. Since 1993, Bundy’s herd has ranged from 550 to more than 900 animals, far more than he was ever legally permitted. His cows have roamed over a much broader area than he was ever legally allowed to use. Without accounting for the legal expenses incurred by BLM and the costs of last week’s failed roundup, Bundy has since racked up a million dollar bill for overdue fees, trespass fees, and fines.

As Bundy musters up an army of supporters for this theft from the American public and the harm to the public lands, taxpayers lose at least $123 million each year that the federal grazing program continues. According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2005, the grazing fee wasn’t nearly sufficient to cover the costs of managing public lands grazing, and we – you and me, but apparently not Mr. Bundy – subsidize the program with $1.2 billion every decade, not counting the additional costs of species recovery, range infrastructure, soil loss, weed infestations, increasing wildfires, and bacterial contamination of water supplies. Despite the efforts of Western Watersheds Project and others, the fee formula has never been revised.

What a disaster, indeed.

The public lands livestock grazing program continues for many of the same reasons that Bundy “won” his range war this week. Federal land managers are afraid to stand up to the undue influence of Bundy and the mythical American cowboy he represents. There are only about 22,000 public lands livestock operators. The BLM and Forest Service place grossly disproportionate value on grazing, and fail to address the varied and severe negative impacts of public lands livestock grazing on the environment and on the federal deficit. Managers who try to rein in rogue permittees are quickly transferred out of their positions, and members of Congress who propose reforming the fee formula or allowing for voluntary permanent retirement are accused of trying to ruin a way of life.

Furthermore, the American public is woefully misinformed about the entrenchment, expense, and ecological harm of this land use. Make no mistake, Bundy isn’t the only rancher ripping off the American public. Every public lands livestock permittee is banking on federally-funded range infrastructure like solar wells and fences and benefitting from federally-funded wildlife killing that targets native predators like wolves and coyotes for the sake of livestock safety. Many permittees benefit from drought payments and disaster payments, seek handouts for “restoration projects” that are really just reseeding the forage species their cows stripped in the first place. And most livestock operations occur at the peril of endangered species, whether it’s the Mojave desert tortoise being nutritionally starved or Greater sage-grouse nests being trampled and their eggs destroyed. How do you calculate the cost of extinction?

Turning Bundy’s cattle back out onto Gold Butte does more than continue his illegal actions; it turns back the clock to a time when the West was controlled by whoever had the most guns, federal laws notwithstanding.

Public lands are valuable lands. The time to reform the public lands grazing program is now.

 

By: Travis Bruner and Greta Anderson, Salon, April 18, 2014

 

April 20, 2014 Posted by | Bureau of Land Management, Rule of Law | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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