Wednesday, April 23, 2014

If you think Cliven Bundy is a hero, you're wrong ...

A 20 year legal dispute appeared to have reached near violent levels during the past two weeks when agents from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) confronted rancher Cliven Bundy at his home in Nevada. The BLM claims that Bundy owes more than $1 million in grazing fees to the federal government, because he has simply refused to pay them.

Bundy's cattle have been grazing on lands in Clark County, Nevada over the last two decades despite the federal government receiving no payments for the required fees. The BLM responded by rounding up any of Bundy's cattle they found, which drew the ire of the emboldened 67 year old rancher.

Bundy claims the federal government has no authority over the land, which truly belongs to the state of Nevada (to whom he does pay taxes and other grazing fees). He lost a federal court case in 1998 over the same issue, where a Las Vegas judge ordered him to remove his cattle from public lands until he paid fees. Bundy has ignored this court order and continued allowing his cattle to graze on public lands. Moreover, Bundy has claimed that he does not recognize the existence of the federal government in any capacity and sees the BLM has thieves who have stolen his cattle.

On April 11th, agents of the BLM and rangers from the National Park Service came to the Bundy ranch to enforce the federal court's decision of removing cattle from federal lands. They were met by Bundy and hundreds of self-described 'militiamen,' armed with various sorts of firearms claiming they were prepared to open fire on federal agents.

The Old West styled drama unfolded in a milder way than many would have anticipated. Though Bundy's adult son was tased by federal authorities, no gunfire was exchanged, and the BLM left the ranch and released hundreds of Bundy's cattle that had been previously confiscated in roundups. Bundy and the militiamen who came to his defense claimed victory over the federal government, believing they had won the day.

However, the standoff at the Bundy definitely isn't over, and we should be cognizant of significant issues being brought to light in Nevada.

First, Cliven Bundy will not be permitted to continue breaking the law. I realize that Bundy believes himself victorious over the federal government, but it's a Pyrrhic victory, at best. While it was the BLM who backed down last week, they will return, and in greater numbers. Does Bundy believe the government will allow him to live in defiance simply because he refuses to recognize federal authority?

Ironically, Bundy claims to be willing to follow the laws of the state of Nevada, but apparently hasn't read too much of its own constitution, which specifically recognizes the supremacy of federal authority over states. It reads:

But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair, subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States. The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existence, and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.

Bundy, nor any Nevada citizen, can refuse to recognize the existence (and superiority) of the federal government in light of their own state's documentation.

Also, Bundy noted that his family had been working the lands of Clark County since the 19th century and the Nevada's introduction into the Union. Did no one remind him that his home state's founding was predicated upon the idea of federal supremacy? Nevada's statehood came amidst the Civil War, where citizens of the Silver State were decidedly pro-Union, emphasizing federal authority over the states.

I'm also shocked at how many people have publicly defended the actions of Bundy and his volunteer militia. Since when do citizens have the right to arbitrarily determine what laws and court orders they will or will not obey? Would we permit a wanted murderer to remain at large because he didn't feel obligated to the laws of the land? Or to sidestep justice because he had well armed friends?

American citizens do not have any right or privilege to subvert the will of the elected leaders of the state or federal government under the Constitution or any law or statute. If any of us is unhappy about a court ruling or piece of legislation affecting our life, there is a remedy for that. We pressure our political leaders, or replace them if they prove ineffective. But our problems do not preclude us from obeying the law.

Furthermore, these militiamen picked the wrong place to make a stand against the federal government. Does the federal government overreach in the scope of its power and authority from time to time? Yes, and it's the job of American citizens to hold them accountable for those errors. However, what these armed citizens did at the Bundy ranch amounts to obstruction of justice. They stood in the way of government agents enforcing a court order. Bundy willfully broke the law for 20 years and these rogue citizens want to help him because they hate the federal government. They should have saved these sort of efforts for a legitimate complaint, but I doubt they will receive much sympathy from other Americans due to this fiasco and their tactic of placing women at the front of the ranch. They were hopeful that if federal agents opened fire, that deaths of women at the ranch would fuel the anger of Americans. If anything, it causes me to despise them even more for such a cowardly action.

Some defenders of Bundy might attempt to use an argument comparing him and the militiamen to the colonists of yesteryear fighting against British tyranny. This analogy is weak, considering the colonists had no representation in Parliament and were robbed of rights to demonstrate and speak out against the Crown. Americans have the ability to make changes to government through peaceable means.

The militiamen who defended Bundy fall well short in their effort to play revolutionary hero. They have every tool of implementing change at their disposal and choose to skip straight to a violent provocation as a means of achieving their goals. Paul Revere and John Adams, they are not.

Finally, I'm baffled by the idea that people believe they should be free to do anything they wish. Yes, we live in a free country — but there are limits to that freedom. A completely 'free' nation would mean every person would be able to make decisions based only on his or her own determination of right and wrong. While that idea is appealing, we all have differing standards about what is right, and thus, we must agree to a set of standards for society we can live with. Choosing those standards through democratic processes means that some people will ultimately be disappointed with the laws we enact. We must respect the results of our democratic system even when we are on the losing side of an issue. To abandon this is to abandon one of the core ideas of the American way of life.

The federal government will return to the Bundy ranch, and carry out its enforcement of the law. And they will be right in doing so.

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