I can imagine how angry I would be if the federal government forced me off land I felt belonged to me. All the more if it was land my father ranched, and his father before him; land I raised my children on; land containing generations of blood, sweat and tears my family had spent maintaining and improving.
I’d be angry to have that land taken away, particularly for the supposed purpose of protecting a tortoise that most city-dwellers will never see or care about once the media cycle has turned—a tortoise that was endangered enough to confiscate my land, but not so endangered that the government approved construction of a solar power facility nearby; a tortoise for which there is no scientific proof that cattle ranching is incompatible.
Cliven Bundy doesn’t have to imagine all this; he’s living it. This situation made him angry enough to defy the government—swat team, helicopters, hired guns, snipers and all.
Who Owns the Land?
Bundy is the Nevada rancher battling the Federal Bureau of Land Management (blm) to keep his cattle on public land his family has grazed since 1877. His case has raised questions about government overreach and states’ rights—or lack thereof. Is Nevada even really a state if the federal government “owns” 85 percent of the land within its borders? Bundy asks.
Bundy poses an interesting question: Why should the people of Nevada have less right to their land than those in New York or Illinois? This isn’t about money, he says. It is about who the land belongs to, which in his mind is the state of Nevada, not the feds.
Bundy and his family ranched in Nevada’s Gold Butte for almost 70 years before the blm even existed. The Bundys, like many other ranchers, were induced to settle the area with the promise of free grazing land with no fees or limitations. It was part of the government’s plan to develop the West—and the Bundys did their part. It was a win-win situation.
Then, according to the Bundys, the government changed the terms of the deal.
Bundy says there used to be 51 ranchers in Gold Butte; now he’s the last one. Why? His answer: The feds regulated them out of business.
Yet there are two sides to every story.
The land the Bundys run their cattle on is federally owned. Bundy’s emotional connection to it doesn’t make it his. Two courts rejected Bundy’s claims. The last judge found no merit to his argument: that the land in question should really belong to the state and therefore the blm doesn’t have jurisdiction. Bundy reportedly defended himself in court because no lawyer could make that case.
Bundy’s problems started in 1993, after the desert tortoise was put on the endangered species list and the blm ordered Bundy to remove most of his cattle. He refused. The blm responded by levying fines. Bundy then decided to stop paying his grazing permit fees, saying something to the effect that it didn’t make sense to pay management fees to an agency that was trying to manage him off his land. At that point he gave up his rights, say lawyers, and began stealing from the public.
But the problem festered. Twenty years of fines added up. The blm says his tab comes to over $1 million. Bundy hasn’t paid a dime. Meanwhile, his cattle continue to forage on public land for free. Bundy’s detractors say he is nothing but a “welfare king” stealing from the people. By the letter of the law, they might be right.
Eventually, environmental groups picked up the Bundy story and forced the blm to take action. A judge ordered Bundy’s cattle rounded up.
And a range war, unlike any other in U.S. history, erupted.
This is when this story changes from one about a stubborn rancher refusing to comply with a law he sees as unjust, to one about an increasingly militarized government, and politicians that selectively enforce the law. It becomes a story about militias and people willing to travel across the country and put their lives on the line to defend a rancher they have never met—and a nation primed to erupt with racial violence.
Army vs. Cows
On March 27, about 200 blm employees and contractors swooped into Clark County, Nevada—helicopters, off-road vehicles, fixed-wing aircraft and all. They closed down a whopping 322,000 acres of public land to track down 500 head of trespassing cattle. From then on, these federal bureaucrats were the law in town.
But not everyone agreed that the blm army should be the law. People wondered: Why did the blm send an army to confiscate some cows? Why did the rangers need attack dogs? More importantly, why do unelected, government-appointed bureaucrats have their own private militarized police force that supposedly supersedes the authority of local police? Why didn’t the blm solve this problem through regular law-enforcement channels?
Then the blm began putting up fences delineating “protest zones” and “First Amendment areas” where protesting would be “allowed.” According to the blm, the rest of the 1,200 square miles of public land, including public highways, was now off limits to everyone. It even decreed a 30-day no-fly zone.
That didn’t go over well either.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said the corral-like protest zones were “offensive,” and that they trampled upon “Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution.”
People ignored the First Amendment corrals anyway. Confrontations resulted. In the age of camera phones, it definitely didn’t make the bureau look good. YouTube videos show blm officers tasering, physically assaulting, pointing guns at and siccing an attack dog on protesters. One 50-year-old woman was football tackled from behind when she refused to move from in front of a truck. Some of the protesters didn’t act so civilly either.
About that time, militia groups from around the country started arriving.
Brink of Another Revolutionary War
Militia members from the Oath Keepers (the organization made up of military and law-enforcement members who pledge allegiance to the Constitution but not to the government), the iii Percent Patriots (which gets its name from the claim that 3 percent of Americans fought in the American Revolution), the Arizona State Militia and several others were present.
Scott Shaw, co-founder of the Oklahoma Volunteer Militia, which boasts 50,000 members, said they were armed with AK-47s, AR-15s, sniper rifles and other military surplus hardware. He told Breitbart News they were prepared to use deadly force if necessary.
As if on cue, stories began popping up about how the blm was also trying to seize 90,000 acres of private land along the Texas-Oklahoma border. And how the blm had once before been found guilty of entering into “a conspiracy, a literal, intentional conspiracy, to deprive [another family] of not only their permit grazing rights … but also to deprive them of their vested property rights,” as recounted by Chief Judge Robert C. Jones of the Federal District Court of Nevada.
With war set to erupt, Reuters published pictures of protesters on a bridge overlooking one protest zone. One man in a military-style flak jacket was shown aiming his hunting rifle at what appeared to be blm rangers. Another man was quoted as saying protest organizers were strategizing to put women and children in the front lines in case firing broke out. Huffington Post reported that there were 1,000 militia members on site.
As the number of protesters grew, tension escalated and blm officers eventually threatened to open fire on the demonstrators, many of whom were armed and on horseback, six-shooters and all. It looked like something right out of the Wild West.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the federal agents backed down. Violence was averted and Bundy got some of his cattle back.
Bundy supporters called it a huge victory for freedom.
Not everyone saw it as a victory for America though. Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said, “Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They’re nothing more than domestic terrorists. … I repeat: What went on up there was domestic terrorism.”
Reid’s comments went viral. It became a rallying cry for the right. Protesters mused: So we are domestic terrorists for protesting a heavy-handed government that is taking away constitutional freedoms—but when Maj. Nidal Hasan actually murdered 13 people at Fort Hood army base, that was just “workplace violence”? To many protesters, Reid’s comments seemed to confirm their worst suspicions.
Reid continued, “We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it.”
“It’s not over,” he said.
Ironically, lawlessness is exactly what the Bundy supporters accuse the government of. As one commentator wrote: “Is he a union that can ask the Obama administration for a waiver for another year? Is he a low-income person who can ask that the mandate (to remove his cows) be delayed another year? Is he from another country and ask not to be deported based on his particular sad story?
“Because this administration has made a mockery of the law through selective enforcement of it, it’s hard to see why it’s necessary to remove some cows, and destroy this family’s livelihood, but it’s not necessary to do the rest of those things.
“We are in a dangerous place with this administration’s selective enforcement. It doesn’t take much for people to ask, ‘Why the law for me, but not for thee?’” (Powerline, April 14).
America is in a very dangerous and volatile place.
And most politicians, safe in their expensive city houses, haven’t a clue what is happening. They don’t see how their action, and the public’s perception of it, is leading people to selectively choose which laws they are going to obey too.
A Dangerous Cocktail
“I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada,” Bundy said. “And I abide by all Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”
Such sentiments are held by more than one militia group. Depending on your definition of militia, there are 270,000 to 680,000 people who belong to these groups. Probably millions more sympathize with them.
Never before in modern times have different militia groups banded together to offer armed resistance against the government like they did at the Bundy ranch, militia experts told Reuters. You have to go back to the Civil War.
Few things get people riled up more than property rights: land and who owns it. Throw in a government viewed as intrusive and unjust—one that only selectively enforces laws—and hundreds of people, militia and non-militia, were willing to travel across the country to defend a little-known rancher they had never met.
Toss in racial tension; armed militias, some with radical views; a distrusted, militarized government; plus a ratings-hungry media—and America faces a future of friction and flame.
For the past couple of years, the Trumpet has warned of the radical spirit of lawlessness in Washington and where it is leading. The administration has taken numerous steps to sidestep Congress to force through a partisan agenda. Congress has become confrontational, and the administration has responded with even more drastic measures. But there is a deeper dimension behind what is happening.
“Do you realize how deadly dangerous this trend of lawlessness is?” asks Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry. “Very few people do. But it gives profound insight into the real nature of the threat facing America today. … This trend toward lawlessness is deadly! And I guarantee, based on biblical prophecy, that it is going to get far worse” (America Under Attack).
In the August 2013 edition of this magazine Mr. Flurry wrote, “Many people are trying to pretend like there is no real problem, and that those who are concerned are overreacting. But this should deeply trouble every American! There is an unparalleled spirit of lawlessness behind all of these scandals! And it is leading to an outcome far worse than most people believe.”
One of the great lessons of history is that the law must be the same for everyone—and even the state must be subject to it. “If exceptions are made,” historian Paul Johnson wrote, “the rule of law begins to collapse”—and ultimately society cannot survive.
Anyone who doesn’t think this is a real problem need to reconsider. For over 200 years America has prospered unlike any other nation in history. Yet now social unrest is flaring and there is an air of tension blowing across the nation. What has changed?
Something dangerous has seized America—far deadlier than people want to believe. The Bible says there is a spiritual dimension to this trend, and you cannot understand these events unless you recognize it. Ultimately, this isn’t about any man or administration: It’s about an evil spirit working to destroy this nation, and why God is allowing it to happen.