Sunday, July 20, 2014 | 2 a.m.
In April, rancher Cliven Bundy created a dangerous standoff in Bunkerville, as he and a group of self-styled militiamen faced down federal law enforcement officers trying to carry out a handful of court orders.
The ugly situation centered on Bundy’s refusal to remove his cattle from federal land. For more than two decades, he has refused to pay to graze his cattle on federal land because he doesn’t acknowledge the federal government. Instead, he uses the land as if it were his own.
The Bureau of Land Management moved this spring to remove Bundy’s cattle but was met with force. The confrontation ended after federal officers retreated in the face of heavily armed militia types clearly willing to engage in battle.
Unfortunately, this situation is bigger than one rancher; it’s the sign of a growing movement of anti-government extremists in the West. A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center outlines the dangers as well as the views of some of Bundy’s supporters. Recent comments by Sheriff Doug Gillespie also sound the alarm.
The question is how society will respond. It is baffling to us to see continued arguments in favor of Bundy and his supporters. Consider:
The report: The Southern Poverty Law Center said there has been an incredible rise in anti-government extremist groups. When President Barack Obama took office, the center counted about 150 groups. The number now surpasses more than 1,000. And judging by the news, they are active.
The sheriff: In an interview this month with The Sunday, Gillespie blasted the BLM, saying the agency failed to follow his advice and failed to de-escalate the situation. It seems difficult to argue that point, but Bundy’s supporters came ready to fight. And Gillespie noted that the “percentage of people today that are quick to challenge authority has grown.”
Violence: There have been 17 shootings since 2009 between police and anti-government extremists, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Sadly, two people who were in Bunkerville to support Bundy shot and killed two Metro Police officers and one citizen in cold blood not long after. The shooters held anti-government views and claimed their actions were the start of a revolution.
Bundy’s argument: Bundy and his supporters indeed see this as something like a revolution. They talk of “taking back” the land and the government. But the arguments Bundy makes have been defeated in court, in his case and others going back decades. It’s not his land, it’s the government’s, and he has no claim to it. Other ranchers pay fees, as expected.
Enforcement: Gillespie said the federal government could have gotten a lien against Bundy, noting that trespass of federal land isn’t a violent crime. But Bundy doesn’t recognize the government or the courts, so what would a lien do? And this is more than a civil matter. Bundy has been trespassing on federal land for decades and has threatened a “range war” against anyone who tries to stop him.
The Bundy cause: Militia and anti-government groups have claimed this as a victory, saying that Bundy intimidated the federal government. The possibility that these people are rallying around a “victory” could pose a danger of more similar incidents.
The bottom line: Americans should be seriously concerned. The movement outlined in the Southern Poverty Law Center isn’t one of protest but insurrection and anarchy. It denies the authority of the government and undercuts law and order.
As a society, we must come together to stand against this. If Bundy is allowed to continue as he has, what’s to stop others from doing the same closer to home?