How do you like your “patriot” now, Fox?
No matter where you get your news, you’ve probably heard or read about Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who refused to pay public grazing fees for his cattle for 20 years. If you read a straight news version, you learned about a man who withheld the heavily subsidized rate of $1.35 per cattle unit per month and now owed the federal government $1 million, having racked up quite a bill. But if you get your news with a right-wing tilt, you got 24/7 coverage of a “patriot” who had been “wronged” by evil federal agents.
Despite losing at every level, from government appeals to the courts, Bundy refused to pay. He had multiple opportunities to make good, just as countless other Western ranchers have done. But Fox News and others in conservative media land — not to mention several prominent Republican politicians — touted the deadbeat Nevada rancher as a “patriot,” comparing him to the Founding Fathers, Gandhi, and Rosa Parks.
This saturated coverage stirred up armed militia members in neighboring states to come to join Bundy’s fight. Assault rifles in hand, they lined highways, ready to shoot it out with those evil feds who were trying to enforce the law by removing Bundy’s cattle from federal land. Those militia members were only too happy to explain to the cameras how the federal government has “no right” to demand payment from Bundy. It was “the people’s land,” after all. They were “sovereign citizens” who “didn’t recognize” the existence of the United States. And they did this all while waving American flags.
Of course, it turns out Bundy is a racist windbag and a liar. In video shown widely on Thursday, April 24, he is seen ranting against “the negro,” suggesting that African-Americans might be better off as slaves picking cotton. No surprise there — that kind of thinking goes hand in hand with the militia movement, as it has throughout its history. As explained thoroughly in a segment on The Rachel Maddow Show the same day, the militia movement really started when white Southerners wanted to keep federal forces from coming South to protect black citizens after the Civil War. The idea of posse comitatus, or “power to the county,” means that “sovereign citizens” don’t need to obey federal and state laws, only the county sheriff. Other laws don’t apply to these loons. Don’t pay your income taxes? No problem. Drive without a license plate? Don’t need one. Refuse to get a state ID? You can print your own from the Internet from a URL conveniently supplied in an ad from the back of an Aryan Nation magazine.
“I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing,” Bundy said.”If I get a letter from the federal government, I don’t even open it.” (But you’re certainly happy to get that free mail delivery, aren’t you, Mr. Bundy?)
Bundy claimed that his family had been ranching the land since the mid-1800s, and they never had to pay anything for grazing cattle on public land. Land records, however, showed that his father didn’t buy the ranch until the 1950s. The Bureau of Land Management started the grazing fee program in Nevada in the 1940s.
Of course, ol’ rancher Bundy just can’t keep his mouth shut. On CNN on April 25 (why are news organizations still giving this nutjob a microphone?) he said this: “If I call — if I say negro or black boy or slave, I’m not — if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offended, then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done then yet.”
Well, of course, Martin Luther King is dead, shot and killed by a white supremacist. So he was kind of stopped in his tracks before he could get his job done, wasn’t he?
Once Bundy’s repugnant racial views were made public, the right-wingers couldn’t run away fast enough. Indeed, “repugnant” seemed to be the favorite term used by Sen. Ron Paul, Fox News and radio host Sean Hannity, and many others. Texas Gov. Rick Perry made an early comment still supporting Bundy, then quickly realized his error and backtracked quickly.
You’ve got a lot to answer for here, Fox, National Review, and others. You backed the wrong horse in this fight, Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Dean Heller. Those like Democratic Nevada Sen. Harry Reid were right on the money when they called this crowd “domestic terrorists.” What else would you call a group of people who refuse to follow federal laws and call for the dissolution of the nation?
U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford (D, Nev.) represents the state’s Fourth congressional district, which contains the Bundy ranch and the federal land in question, as well as many surrounding communities. Horsford, who ironically is African-American, appeared in a segment of the same Rachel Maddow Show Thursday night. He described how he had been meeting with constituents and listening to how frightened they were of the gun-toting lunatics on Bundy’s ranch. Children are afraid to walk to school. Families are afraid to go to church on Sundays because the towns are full of armed militia members. Other ranchers, who have paid their bargain grazing fees (the same fees on private land can be nearly $20 per month), have no sympathy for Bundy and his crowd. They all want the militia members to leave so they can get back to their lives.
Look, you want to have a debate about federal overreach, fine. You want to talk about states’ rights, go right ahead. But use an argument based in fact, not with examples of armed scofflaws who are frightening their neighbors with their heavy weaponry and militant rhetoric.