Cliven Bundy is a thief who steals from the public. He is a wealthy rancher, but his own lands are not enough for him. He also grazes his cattle on public lands in Nevada. Until 1993, Bundy paid the proper fees for grazing rights. But then those lands were designated protected habitat for the desert tortoise, and Bundy declared that he did not recognize federal jurisdiction. Since 1998, a series of judges have ruled that he must remove his cattle. Bundy’s reply was, “I abide by almost zero federal laws.” Last year, a federal court warned Bundy that if he did not comply, the Bureau of Land Management would remove his cattle.
Early this month, the BLM sent federal agents to round up the trespassing cattle. Bundy called for armed rebellion. He sent out for support from the militia movement, who reject the authority of the US government. Dozens of armed men arrived at his ranch to confront federal officials.
“We're about ready to take the country over with force!” Bundy said. Armed Bundy supporters shut down nearby Interstate 15, backing up traffic for three miles in both directions. In a radio interview, Bundy said, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”
Then a surprising thing happened. Elected officials from Nevada and all over the country openly sided with the man who denounced the government they work for. And they’re all Republicans.
First came Nevada politicians. Governor Brian Sandoval said, “No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans.” Nevada Senator Dean Heller called Bundy and his supporters “patriots”.
Then other faraway Republicans, especially those with big ambitions, joined in. Texas Governor Rick Perry told FOX News, “I have a problem with the federal government putting citizens in the position of having to feel like they have to use force to deal with their own government.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz characterized the armed standoff as “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on. . . . we have seen our constitutional liberties eroded under the Obama administration.” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul completely misunderstood the legal background of the case and asserted that “the federal government shouldn’t violate the law” by taking away Bundy’s rights. Mike Huckabee, on the early presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, said, “There is something incredibly wrong when a government believes that some blades of grass that a cow is eating is so an egregious affront to the government of the United States that we would literally put a gun in a citizen’s face and threaten to shoot him over it.”
The stars of the Republican Party lined up on the side of a man who owes us $1 million, illegally grazes his cattle, disdains the whole federal government, and invites armed militiamen to disrupt people’s lives in Nevada. Apparently armed rebellion against the federal government is okay, if the rebels are conservatives.
Then Cliven Bundy opened his mouth again. “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro. They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”
Suddenly his Republican supporters jumped ship. Heller condemned “Bundy’s appalling and racist statements”. Paul said, “His remarks on race are offensive.” Cruz agreed: “Those comments are completely unacceptable.”
Embarrassing. But even more embarrassing is the hypocrisy of the Republican politicians who tied themselves to Bundy’s disdain for the rule of law. All they knew about him was that he offered armed resistance to the government of which they are a part, the powers of which they swore to uphold. Have they gone to the other side?
No. These same Republican politicians are praying for victory in the next election. They want to take over Congress in 2014, and then the Presidency in 2016. What then? Will they line up behind those who resist their powers?
Never. These fair weather friends of Cliven Bundy don’t hate government – they only hate liberal government, government in the hands of their Democratic opponents, who have won recent elections. But they are playing a dangerous game by attacking “government” in general and supporting armed rebels who reject federal authority. Those rebels aren’t conservative. They are racist militants who recognize no law and order except their own. Politicians who support them are as dangerous to our constitutional way of life as Cliven Bundy and his militia buddies.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 29, 2014