Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center have
identified 1600 extremist groups that are presently operating throughout the
United States. The vast majority of these groups espouse white supremacy, a
return to Southern antibellum "states rights," or are hostile to exercise of
government authority over their persons and property, particularly by the
federal government which many of these rightwing ideologues view as a usurper
and tyrannical. Cliven Bundy's continuing dispute with the federal government is a
case in point.
Chris Swangsgard reported in the Salt Lake Tribune
in 2014 that Bundy refused to pay the Federal Bureau of Land Management the
$1.35 per month per cow fee that the Bureau
assesses for grazing rights on public land administered by it on behalf
of the citizens of the United States. As of 2014, Bundy owed the U.S. taxpayers
a sum in excess of $1,000,000 for refusing to pay for permits and for illegally
grazing his cattle on public lands, but defended his behavior by insisting that
he does not recognize the sovereignty of the United States government. In
November 1998, Bundy made the same nutty argument in the U.S. District Court
decisively rejected Bundy's argument and held "...the public lands in
Nevada are the property of the United States because the United States has held
title to those public lands since 1848, when Mexico ceded the land to the
United States" under Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that ended the
Mexican-American War which was16 years before the territory of Nevada was
admitted into the union as a state.
As a result of that litigation, the court ordered Bundy
to remove any non-permitted cattle from BLM land by the end of November 1989
and the presiding judge issued a judgment that provided that, in the event of
any future violations of the court's orders, Bundy would be fined $200 per day
for each cow without a permit that he refused to remove from federal public
Since 1998, Bundy
has willfully violated the court's orders and he expanded his illegal grazing
onto additional acreage of BLM land. In 2013, the court gave Bundy 45 days to
remove his cattle and authorized the Bureau of Land Management to impound any
cattle Bundy failed to remove. The confrontation reached a crescendo when armed
"militia" gathered on Bundy's ranch and aimed semi-automatic weapons
at Bureau of Land management agents from a bridge overpass.
Bundy's overtly racist remarks became an additional source of controversy, his
expansive interpretation of his private rights - as opposed to his duties as a
citizen - were enthusiastically endorsed by the at least two of the current GOP
candidates for president.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul excused Bundy's theft of
public property and, in a brazen act of demagoguery, accused the federal
government of heavy-handedness and proclaimed that the "federal government
shouldn't violate the law." Previously, in a 2002 letter to the Bowling
Green Daily News, Paul had made a similar ludicrous argument about the U.S.
Fair Housing Act when he insisted that it "ignores the distinction between
private and public property," and "Decisions concerning private
property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a
consequence, some associations will discriminate."
Not to be outdone, Texas Senator Ted Cruz stated that the
ongoing standoff between Bundy and the executive and judicial branches of
federal government exemplified the Obama Administration's "jackboot of
authoritarianism." In a separate interview on Texas radio, Cruz expressed
uncritical support for the heavily-armed thugs who had threatened federal
agents and whom Nevada Senator Harry Reid had rightly denounced as domestic
This past weekend, Bill Morlin reported in Hatewatch
that a group of armed antigovernment militiamen and assorted extremists, who
included the sons of Cliven Bundy, seized an unoccupied federal visitor's
center in Oregon after they failed to convince two ranchers to continue to defy
the U.S. government. Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son, Steven Hammond, 46, who
were both convicted of arson for starting fires on public lands adjoining their
ranch near Burns, Oregon , announced they would report to federal prison this
past Monday to begin serving 5 year mandatory sentences and would not seek
sanctuary from the local sheriff or the self-styled militia and "patriot" groups.
One of Bundy's sons, Ryan Bundy, told the Oregonian
that he and other armed patriots were "willing to kill and be killed if
necessary." Another son, Ammon Bundy, told the newspaper that he and others
occupying the U.S. Fish & Wildlife headquarters were "planning on staying
here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we've made at the last
Sheriff David Ward, who is responsible for policing the
ninth largest county in the United States but has fewer than a half dozen
deputies, lamented that, "These men came to Harney County claiming to be part
of militia groups supporting local ranchers when in reality these men had
alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government
in hopes to spark a movement across the United States."
In the face of this
provocative act of lawlessness and insurrection, the GOP's Presidential
candidates have responded with deafening silence or expressed sympathy. "Why in
fact do these ranchers feel that way? Let's hear their grievances. I don't
condone them taking over a federal building. We have better ways of expressing
our displeasure than that," Ben Carson told CNN. "But the fact of the
matter is there are legitimate grievances. There's absolutely no reason that
the federal government should lay claim to so much land," Carson stated
"We need to respect them, we need to use the regular channels for dealing
with problems that are occurring."
Florida Senator Marco Rubio agreed that the federal
government controlled too much land." There is too much federal control
over land especially out in the western part of the United States," Rubio
stated in an interview with Iowa radio station KBUR that "There are states
for example like Nevada that are dominated by the federal government in terms
of land holding and we should fix it." But Rubio added a caveat: "You've
got to follow the law. You can't be lawless. We live in a republic."
According to the Washington Post, Senator Ted Cruz
stated, "Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak
our minds, but we don't have a constitutional right to use force and violence
and to threaten force and violence on others. And so it is our hope that the
protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent
confrontation." Of course, Cruz's attempt at nuance omitted a recognition
of the obvious - that the occupiers had already committed crimes by threatening
to use force and violence and by unlawfully trespassing on government property.
The alleged grievances that stoke the ire of Cliven
Bundy, his family and the rightwing stem from a shared mythology that views
society as merely an aggregation of private interests that are relentlessly and
enthusiastically competing against one another in a glorious quest to acquire
ever more private property - or stuff in the immortal words of George Carlin.
Government - to the extent to which it seeks to curb the excesses caused by
that mindset and impose restraints - has thus becomes the enemy.
As an early
observer of the newly-created republic, Alexis deToucqueville was prescient
about the deleterious effects that an individualism run amok could have upon
the American project. He noted, "Selfishness blights the germ of all
virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in
the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in
downright selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does
not belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is of
democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality
Bundy's family and the assorted militia of armed, maniacal supporters who have
now seized a federal wildlife preserve in Oregon are low-information,
internet-driven anarchists who are unable to grasp the implications of their
profoundly anti-social and illegal behavior.
Can the same be said for the GOP's presidential
candidates who should know better and who have never hesitated to criticize
President Obama for his alleged timidity?
Why are these candidates afraid to call these criminals
what they are - a group of domestic terrorists who should be arrested,
prosecuted and, upon conviction, imprisoned?