- By Larry Huss
The gap between what is right and what is legal is often a chasm of cultures. – Anonymous
Recent events involving Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are a case in point. The BLM seized Mr. Bundy’s heard of cattle that were grazing on BLM land in an effort to collect nearly $1 million in back grazing fees. A confrontation ensued between federal law enforcement, Bundy and local citizens and supporters from surrounding counties and states. It is easy to dismiss this kerfuffle as wing nuts creating a dust-up, but that glosses over several relevant points.
Bundy may be part of the sovereign citizen movement; he has used language and rationale akin to their pronouncements. I am not. He may be a part of the militia movement, which has appeared in support of his cause. I am not. He may be a member of the Tea Party, which has have sounded off in support of him. I have been supportive of many efforts of the Tea Party. Or he may simply be a citizen expressing his outrage at an overbearing federal government that too often sacrifices the well-being of its citizens for the ambitions of its politicians and bureaucrats. In that, we are one, and I am not the only one. Bundy was joined by state officials from Nevada and surroundings states and even members of Congress during his protest.
I don’t pretend to know what drives Bundy, but there are two major issues that lie at the center of this conflict. The first is the corruptive influence of an overbearing federal bureaucracy and the second is the hypocrisy of a government’s willingness to prosecute its citizens for disputes over the fairness of a law, while at the same time choosing to ignore laws that it deems unfair.
A third issue might also be the wisdom of the federal government to own and administer such a substantial portion of America’s landmass. The BLM administers approximately 1.8 Billion acres of land. For those forced to endure a teachers’ union-dominated public education in the Portland Public Schools, that is 2,812,500 square miles – roughly 28.5 times the size of Oregon. Most of it lies west of the Mississippi River and in Alaska, yet most of the decisions relating to its administration are made by faceless bureaucrats in D.C. Most of them wouldn’t know a cow from a cockroach. I take that back; cockroaches are one of the few animals that thrive in D. C. But they sure as hell couldn’t pick out a desert tortoise from a pet store box turtle. Yet they disrupted the historic grazing use of the land in question for the tortoise – an animal that has co-existed with cattle, coyotes, mountain lions and other large mammals on this land for over a hundred years with no adverse effects. But in the bureaucrats’ one-size-fits-all world, no regard is ever given to the effects on adjacent humans or their livelihoods.
Here lies the distinction between what is legal and what is right. There is no question that it is legal for the BLM to “manage” the land in ways that limit permissible uses in favor of the tortoise. That does not make it right, particularly absent evidence of actual harm to the tortoise population on the land in question or that such specific harm is detrimental to the population generally. Nor is there any shortage of examples in the history of the republic of protests being used to highlight the difference between what is legal and what is right.
As a person raised in the West who has lived with and owned guns virtually all of my life, I am less than enthused by the fact that many chose to bring arms to the protest. I understand that absent the threat of armed conflict the BLM agents would simply have ignored all and had their way with Bundy and his cattle, using their own show of arms to intimidate those who protested. This must be weighed against the inherent danger and heightened risk of sparking violence should one fool with his own agenda decide to act out his freedom-fighter fantasy. Most of the farmers and ranchers present own firearms and most, like me, have grown up respecting them and their use. But there is also an element amongst those in attendance that neither respects the use of weapons or the devastating toll they can exact.
On the other hand, that most, not just a few, of the protesters should have taken up arms is a clear indication of the growing frustration citizens feel toward a government that neither listens to nor cares about their concerns. The faceless bureaucrats who have such a devastating impact on the lives of those of us in the West remain studiously ignorant of the size, shape and use of the lands they are charged with administering. Worse, they remain studiously ignorant of the very people they are supposed to protect – choosing instead to yield to the chorus of well financed special interest groups who use the government to impose private agendas on the public at large.
The second aspect of this dispute has come more brightly into focus under President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Under their watch, they have refused to enforce the Voting Rights Act against the Black Panthers, immigration laws against Hispanics, federal drug laws against marijuana growers, and on and on. They have chosen to capture and surveil the phone calls and internet usage of citizens and our allies, exact punitive measures through the IRS on their political opponents, stonewall legitimate Congressional inquiries into a host of issues, and unilaterally alter the terms of Obama’s singular legislative achievement – Obamacare. More than any president since Richard Nixon, Obama has chosen to ignore laws that he does not favor and impose laws by executive fiat that he is unable to convince Congress to adopt, at the same time bringing the full weight and resources of the federal government to bear against those the administration opposes.
Among those protesting at the Bundy confrontation with the BLM were any number of people who do not believe that the federal government, particularly in the form of the BLM, should exercise jurisdiction over such vast swathes of the West. They believe that the land should be ceded to the states and that state governments are closer to the people where such lands lie. They believe that the states should have that choice in administering those lands and that the West is under siege by federal land regulations – regulations by many who have never journeyed west of the Adirondacks, let alone the Mississippi. The vast expanses of BLM land yield little in net revenues to the government. They are held in isolation to ensure the primacy of the federal government rather than the well-being of its citizens. There needs to be a change.