Hundreds of armed militia members converged on Nevada in recent weeks to join Cliven Bundy, a rancher whose cattle had grazed illegally on federal lands. They backed Bundy in a short-lived standoff when feds tried seizing Bundy’s cattle over millions of dollars in unpaid grazing fees. They called themselves patriots; Sen. Harry Reid called them “domestic terrorists.”
Who is right? Are the feds overreaching? Nearly 20 years after the Oklahoma City bombing, is the militia a threat? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the Red-Blue America columnists, debate the issue.
Don’t worry about the militias. They were a bogeyman in the 1990s and they’re a bogeyman now.
Do worry about the fate of Cliven Bundy. Love him or loathe him, Bundy is right to stand up against an overreaching federal government. But being right doesn’t mean victory without cost, or getting off scot-free.
Morally, Bundy has a compelling claim. His family hasn’t just grazed that land for generations. They’ve made the improvements that his federal grazing fees were supposed to finance.
Whether or not the Bundy family has worked the disputed plot since the 1880s, the late 1940s, or the early 1990s when the current dispute began, the truth is they’ve mixed their labor with the land. They’ve produced something of value. All the federal government has done is take value away.
Legally, however, Bundy’s situation is hopeless. Under a fairly straightforward reading of Nevada’s state constitution and the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, Bundy has no right to graze his cattle. He’s lost multiple cases in court.
As a longtime Nevada resident, Bundy should be familiar with the adage that “the odds are always with the house.” Civil disobedience isn’t cheap. Vindicating his rights likely means losing his freedom.
The best that could come of the case is a shift in public opinion over federal lands. The federal government owns roughly 84 percent of the land in Nevada. In fact, the feds own more than half of the acreage in the western states. That’s an outrage.
Why should all of that land be left unproductive? Not all of it is desert tortoise habitat, after all. Most of that land should be sold or returned to the states – where it belongs.
Beyond a land dispute, Bundy’s struggle is really about the rule of law. The federal statute books teem with bad laws. But until the laws change, we’re bound to obey them or be willing to pay the consequences. So for the sake of liberty and preserving a “government of laws, not men,” Cliven Bundy must lose.
Militias were a bogeyman during the 1990s? That’ll come as a surprise to the residents of Oklahoma City, which saw 168 residents slaughtered in the Timothy McVeigh bombing attack in 1995. Memories are short, so a reminder: Until 9/11, it was the deadliest day of terrorism this country had ever seen – and it was unleashed by our own countrymen, paranoid right-wingers who considered themselves the ultimate patriots.
We’ve seen this story before. It can happen again.
Violence did not ensue at Cliven Bundy’s ranch this month, and we can all thank God for that. But the Bureau of Land Management backed down from its seizure of Bundy’s cattle under the threat of violence. Worst of all, Bundy’s allies tried to bring human shields into the equation, like some petty Persian Gulf dictator.
“We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front,” said Richard Mack. “If (federal agents are) going to start killing people, I’m sorry, but to show the world how ruthless these people are, women needed to be the first ones shot . . . I would have put my own wife or daughters there, and I would have been screaming bloody murder to watch them die.”
Real heroes. Remember when the Founders sent their unarmed wives off to be slaughtered at the hands of the British?
Understand, too, Republicans have helped unleash the militia whirlwind, even if they’re not really ready to reap it. They’ve encouraged tea party talk in recent years, with its hearkening to armed revolution, its talk of how “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” and its fielding actual candidates who talk about the need for “Second Amendment remedies” to federal overreach.
Golly gee. Some people take that kind of talk seriously.
The GOP will continue to trade in the rhetoric of armed violence, then hide when the bill comes due. In the meantime, the militia is a burgeoning problem for the rest of us. Pray the problem doesn’t manifest itself, again, in flames and blood.
Ben Boychuk ([email protected]) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis ([email protected]) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.