The gap between what is right and what is legal is often a chasm of cultures. –
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 herd of cattle that were grazing on BLM land in an effort to collect nearly $1 Million that it claims is due and owing from Mr. Bundy. A confrontation ensued between BLM officials and Mr. Bundy, local citizens and supporters from surrounding counties and states. It is easy to dismiss this as another wing nut adventure but that misses the relevant points.
Mr. 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 – they have appeared in support of his efforts – I am not. He may be a member of the Tea Party – they have appeared in support of his efforts – I have been supportive of many of the 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. Mr. 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 Mr. Bundy and I, therefore, cannot subscribe to whatever his motives may be. But there are two major issues that are emblematic of this conflict. The first is the corruptive influence of an overwhelming and 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 final issue should 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 of you forced to endure a teachers union dominated public education in the Portland Public Schools, that is 2,812,500 square miles – roughly twenty-eight and one-half times the size of Oregon.) According to the BLM, most of the land lies west of the Mississippi River and in Alaska. And yet most of the decisions made relating to the administration of the land are made by faceless bureaucrats in Washington, 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 can be found in Washington, D.C. and apparently thrive there – something to do with “birds of a feather.” But they sure as hell couldn’t pick out a desert tortoise from a pet store box turtle. And 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 one hundred years with no adverse effects. But in the bureaucrats’ one-size-fits-all world, no regard was given to the effects on adjacent humans or their livelihoods. It was that decision that became the linchpin for Mr. Bundy’s entanglement with the BLM.
And it is here that the distinction is drawn between what is legal and what is right. There is no question that it is legal for the BLM to administer the land, including the right to limit its use in favor of the tortoise. That does not make it right and in this case absent a showing by the BLM of actual harm to the tortoise population on the land in question and that such specific harm is detrimental to the population generally, it is not right. Protests have routinely been 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 bulldozed their way into seizing and loading Mr. Bundy’s cattle as retribution. They would have, in fact, used their own show of arms to intimidate those who protested. But the opportunity for violence could escalate dramatically by one person with his own agenda choosing that opportunity to exercise his own demons. 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.
But the fact that protestors would take up arms – not just a couple but seemingly the majority – is an indication of the frustration of citizens with a government that neither listens to or 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 yet 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.
Mr. Bundy’s son, Ammon, in noting a government that is out of control stated:
“It’s going to take the people standing up, making it right. One man standing up can get buffaloed, but when the people stand together, they get it right.”
The Bundys are right in that regard. Government is too large, too intrusive and too insulated from the people it serves. We have migrated from “a government of the people, by the people, for the people. . .” to a people of the government, by the government and for the government.
The second aspect of this dispute has come more brightly into focus under President Barack Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder. Under their watch, they have refused to enforce Voting Rights Act violations 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 our 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 Mr. Obama’s own singular legislative achievement – Obamacare. More than any presidents since Richard Nixon, Mr. Obama has chosen to ignore laws that he does not favor and impose laws by fiat that he does favor but to which he is unable to convince the Congress to adopt. We have become not a nation of laws, but rather a nation of men – one man, Mr. Obama.
And yet, when Mr. Bundy protests a law that he does not favor, Mr. Obama and his administration bring the full weight and resources of the federal government to bear. There is an imbalance in the relationship between the government and the governed and the imbalance is not for the good.
And finally, 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 they believe 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.
[Ed note: orig ver had editing error with ‘Burton’ instead of ‘Bundy’ in a few places.]