HARRY REID, ROBERT REICH, AND THE POLITICS OF CHARACTER ASSASSINATION
Neither Harry Reid nor Robert Reich know Cliven Bundy personally, yet both have condemned him publicly. The 67 year old Nevada rancher besieged by the Bureau of Land Management only recently became a national figure when he boldly refused to relent to BLM demands that he stop ranching. His defiance became a cause celebre for Western anger and disgust over the over forty year effort of the BLM and National Park Service to remove all ranchers, loggers, and miners from the West.
It is indeed remarkable that some 2,000 people, most of them members of state militias, ultimately flocked to Bunkersville, Nevada, to stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of Cliven Bundy and his ranch and to put their lives on the line. Facing the risk of a blood bath and political fall-out for Harry Reid, the Reid family, and former Reid aide, now BLM Director, Neil Kornze, the BLM backed down, withdrew their snipers, armed agents, contracted cattle rustlers, and assault vehicles, and returned most of Bundy’s cattle (they shot some and two dozen others are presently missing). While the BLM occupied lands adjacent to Bundy’s ranch, they committed petty crimes of considerable cost to Bundy, piercing his water tanks and water lines and wrecking his fencing, and they disassociated calves from cows, threatening the survival of the calves, and they shot several calve bearing cows. In short, as they have repeatedly in the past, the BLM and National Forest Service proved themselves unbeholden to the rule of law and dedicated to the tyrannical use of brute force to wrest land out of the hands of the last remaining Western ranchers.
Characteristic of the common and petty tendency of unscrupulous politicians to engender hate for their opponents through campaigns of character assassination, Senator Harry Reid and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich have chosen to attack the character of Cliven Bundy and his supporters. Their charges, while utterly false, are calculated to cause those not intimately familiar with the details, to view Bundy not as the victim of abuse that he is but as deserving of mistreatment. This tactic is not new, since ancient times demagogues have publicly spewed venom against their enemiesto engender mass reactions of hatred to mask the harsh realities of state tyranny.
Reid described Bundy supporters as “domestic terrorists.” The charge is very nearly obscene. A terrorist is a coward who murders the innocent, the most vulnerable, or the unsuspecting in a particularly heinous manner so as to inspire mass revulsion and horror along with a feeling of helplessness. A terrorist is not one who defends his own property against an assault by others.Cliven Bundy and his supporters are not terrorists; they are red blooded American citizens defending their property against government bureaucrats who are demanding that they turn over what they own to a rapacious federal government. Who among us would not fight if the federal government demanded that we give up to federal agents all that we own? Certainly our Founding Fathers who pledged their lives in defense of rights to life, liberty, and property, would not. Bundy and his supporters are quintessentially American patriots, not murders of innocent men, women, and children. They are the victims of federal abuse of power, not the perpetrators of mayhem and mass genocide.
In this instance, over a decade ago, BLM informed Bundy that he must pay for grazing permits for his cattle but that the permits were limited for use by only a fraction of his herd. BLM demanded that he reduce his herd by about 90% and placed restrictions on his own water rights and land appurtenant thereto as well as on the rights of way over federal land by which his cattle could travel for feed and water. Bundy understood those demands for what they in fact were: efforts to destroy his entire ranch. He could not afford to remain in business with 90% of his cattle eliminated and with access to his own water and lands appurtenant thereto severely restricted. For over a century, the federal government had provided his family virtually unrestricted rights of way to federal lands adjacent to his ranch so as to permit cattle ranching development.
Indeed, beginning in 1866, federal law and policy encouraged Bundy’s forebears and thousands of other enterprising Americans to settle the vast, wide-open West, to develop the land, and to establish enterprises that would foster economic growth and prosperity. In that year, Congress passed Revised Statute 2477, which protected those traversing federal lands (most land in the West is owned by the federal government) from any charge of trespass. The statute read simply: “the right-of-way for the construction of highways across public lands not otherwise reserved for public purposes is hereby granted.” In the 1970s, BLM and the National Forest Service began a dedicated campaign to undo the rights protections afforded by RS 2477 and to squeeze out of existence all private ranchers, loggers, and miners in the West. The aim was to “return” the Western range to an uninhabited state dominated by wild life. Truth be told, from time immemorial, man has been a part of the ecosystems in the West, but BLM and the National Forest Service subscribed to the view that man was an alien to the earth of the West and needed to be plucked out by hook or by crook.
In 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act which repealed RS 2477 but left in place a profound caveat in Section 701(a) which reads: “Nothing in this Act, or in any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed as terminating any valid lease, permit, patent, right-of-way, or other land use right or authorization existing on the date of this Act.” The rights of way over which Bundy’s family had historically driven cattle to grazing areas and water were, thus, protected by Congress. The BLM and the National Forest Service had other intentions, however, and in flagrant violation of the plain and intended meaning of the statute they went about shutting down rights of way and rolling up the West, pushing rancher after rancher, logger after longer, and miner after miner off the land.
Against this backdrop of tyrannical abuse of power by autocrats in the federal bureaucracy comes former Clinton era Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Adding to Reid’s denunciation, Reich (who, like Reid, has never met Bundy and has no knowledge of him personally) calls into question Bundy’s patriotism, also deeming those who support him “thugs” for good measure. Reich said: “In what world is Cliven Bundy, the 68-year old [he’s actually 67] rancher who refuses to pay his tab for grazing cattle on federal lands, a patriot?” [He would pay but BLM demands that he reduce his herd by 90 percent and, thus, go out of business] [Bundy’s reverence for property rights is of the same kind held by America’s Founding Fathers who most regard as “patriots”] “He drapes himself in the American flag but says ‘I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing,’” [Reich’s quote is taken out of context, Bundy was referring to his nemesis the BLM, not departments of the federal government which abide by the rule of law and the Constitution] “while attracting a collection of thugs with assault rifles” [those who stood shoulder to shoulder with Bundy were brave, never fired their weapons and would not except in self-defense, and are the very people who protect their neighborhoods from random acts of violence by street gangs and thugs] “in the Nevada desert to force the Bureau of Land Management to back down from a court ordered confiscation of his cattle” [as Thomas Jefferson put it, “law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual”].
In sum, without the slightest personal knowledge of Bundy, Harry Reid and Robert Reich pronounce him one who advocates “domestic terror” and one who is not a patriot but a criminal (one who fraternizes with thugs and breaks the law). From Wayne Hage, another Nevada rancher who has spent three decades fighting against BLM and National Forest Service efforts to dislodge him from his ranch (Hage also had his cattle seized by the BLM), the real Bundy emerges.
Hage has known Bundy since they were children. He was with Bundy at the Bundy ranch when BLM seized Bundy’s cattle, and he was with him when the militia arrived, and he was with Bundy when the BLM relented and returned most of his cattle. Hage describes Bundy as a man who loves his country, loves his family, and works hard, very hard, to keep his cattle ranch running. He describes Bundy as very physically strong and as a person who does not tolerate injustice. Hage sees Bundy as a man, like himself, who has been coerced and cajoled unremittingly by agents of the federal government intent on forcing him out of business and taking his land. He sees Bundy as brave and as a defender of his property and liberty.
The Constitution of the United States was supposed to limit the federal government to those powers enumerated within the document and to provide through the Bill of Rights protection against the arbitrary use of government power to deprive American citizens of their lives, their liberties, and their property. Cliven Bundy deserves our praise and support, because he bravely stands against a federal agency that has become an enormous Leviathan, devouring the West and making it an inhospitable place for the very people who defined those lands, the cowboys, the ranchers, the miners, and the loggers. Unless we halt and reverse the actions of the BLM and the National Forest Service, the West will largely become a vast wasteland of desert depopulated but for an occasional jack rabbit, horned toad, Joshua tree, and tumble weed.
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