OPINION – Mark Twain famously said, “Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government when it deserves it.” Until today I had always been one to lean on the improbability that the government ever really deserves it. But when the government chose to back down to avert the bloodshed of innocent life, while Cliven Bundy shamelessly put innocent life in harms way for his own agenda, I knew to whom loyalty belonged.
As Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie announced the stand-down of the Bureau of Land Management’s round up of Bundy’s cattle from federal land, there was reported to be a collective sigh of relief. It was over.
The round up, which began last week, which was adjudicated by federal court order and was being carried out by the BLM as well as adjoining agencies and civilian contractors, drew supporters for Bundy ranging from sympathetic ranchers and citizens to armed militias who mingled throughout out the crowds in the area.
The spirit of de-escalation was however short lived.
Cliven Bundy came forth after Gillespie, spoke and betrayed the terms of the stand-down announcing a series of demands that included but are not limited to the disarming of federal agents, and the removal of gates to national parks. This is consistent with the statements made last Wednesday by his son Ryan Bundy on the Perspectives Show with Bryan Hyde and Kate Dalley.
Later, Bundy gave the order to the militia which led to a tense standoff in a wash with dozens of Las Vegas Metro Police. The militia took their stand surrounded by women and children also in protest and demanded that the cattle be released.
Deputy Chief Tom Roberts, of Las Vegas Metro, then made an agreement with Bundy’s son Ammon, to release the cattle held there within 30 minutes if the crowd agreed to disperse.
Advocates for Bundy are hailing this a victory for not only Bundy, but for America as a whole and inferring that this is in fact a demonstration of the power of peaceful rebellion. Of civil disobedience. Despite that, there was nothing peaceful about it.
In actuality, this has perhaps done something quite different.
The stand-down gave a symbolic victory for radical anti-government militia groups, but more importantly, this event has changed the collective definition of the meaning of civil disobedience in America for the worst.
In an article in The Southwest Journal, a compelling case for the distinctions between criminal behavior for selfish gain and civil disobedience for the greater good of people is made.
The main thrust of such distinctions is that a true act of civil disobedience is marked by an emphasis by the disobedient acquiescing to the knowledge that they are breaking the law and accept the penalty for it in the interest of the common good.
Bundy does not think he has done a single thing wrong and furthermore, revealed his true character in the matter when in lieu of not getting his innocuous demands for a version of government take down and overthrow, he simply demanded people take back his cattle. Perhaps his sole motive all along despite alluding to some fashion of patriotism.
But beyond such distinctions another compelling case can be made for the media’s role in ratcheting up the fanaticism that ultimately was the cause of the breakdown of the agreement made between the BLM and Bundy as well as the decision to cease the roundup.
Furthermore, Bundy himself is responsible for doing less for the cause of putting into check a presumed-overbearing federal government. Instead, he appealed to the nature of mob rule and incited potential violence – even when peace had been brokered.
In a 1968 article by Delbert D. Smith, the case for the deterioration of meaningful and effective civil disobedience as well as the media and general public’s culpability thereof, some 35 years later, still holds an almost prophetic weight. Smith writes:
One difficulty that the courts face with cases of civil disobedience is that the techniques are constantly changing because of the necessity of attracting public attention and notice. The ‘news’ content of the event and its adaptability to television or magazine coverage have become important criteria for determining the nature of civilly disobedient acts. It can be argued that the most undesirable forms of civil disobedience have developed as a result of the irresponsibility of our mass media.” However, the alternative course of action, which would be to prescribe some form of news management, seems equally undesirable. News suppression would not be viable in any event since the news media are able to ‘color’ an event simply by their use, non-use or placement of a particular article.
While it is possible to assert that the mass media manufacture pseudo-events by over-dramatizing incidents involving civil disobedience, and it may be that some racial problems have been accentuated because of uncritical and ‘sensational’ news coverage, it is also true that the frustration of nonviolent demonstrations by denying them press coverage may have the effect of precipitating violent demonstrations. The emotional effect of the newspaper, since it reports events that have occurred in the past in a formal manner that people have come to expect, is minimal compared to live television coverage which many times searches for the most dramatic (and possibly most unrepresentative) incidents that make for interesting visual imagery at the expense of balanced coverage. If obtaining publicity is one of the major inducements to acts of civil disobedience, and violent demonstrations receive more coverage than nonviolent ones, it is probable that the frequency of the latter form of demonstration will increase.
Further, the easy designation of every protest movement as an act of nonviolent civil disobedience by the mass media without any concern for particular factors such as the public nature of the act, its illegality, or its conscientious nature may lead to the creation of a false public impression of the permissible limits of civil disobedience and one that is at variance with that found in the courts. The community standards that result may create difficulties in law enforcement that would not result if these standards accurately reflected a more sophisticated concept of what constituted civil disobedience.
As each act of so-called civil disobedience witnessed on the mass media is struck down by the courts, people will begin to lose faith in the legitimacy of civil disobedience as a socially tolerable form of protest.
The Bundy Range War was perpetuated by an irresponsible media vying for nothing more than ratings and an ill-informed and willfully ignorant public who, much like a NASCAR fan, come to the race simply in hopes of seeing a crash.
The militia groups, at least some, may have had noble intentions of some sort in the spirit of constitutionally- laden principles, but ultimately appeared to be the disgruntled and disenfranchised fanatical fringe element looking not for a cause to fight for, but a fight to support and glorify their cause.
The Bundy plea for support in a situation where he had clearly no arguable case in law, was a perfect storm of sorts.
The BLM and adjoining agencies in this situation are to commended for their prudence and immense restraint shown in the face of outright lawlessness masked as patriotism.
At the standoff in the wash, the true colors of these people was shown when they used for strategical advantage, the presence of women and children while threatening an armed response to the law.
Cliven Bundy, likely a victim to nothing short of his own pride, is no hero. He is certainly no patriot. He used pseudo-American sentiment to quite successfully create an event in history that perhaps once and for all will change how American ranchers in the west are perceived.
The stand-down was necessary to prevent bloodshed, but it must be recognized that if Bundy and a multitude of his supporters, militia friends, and even family members who broke the law, are allowed to go unpunished, anarchy will follow. Other groups, emboldened by the appearance of forcing a stand-down, will only continue to gain momentum. And furthermore, law enforcement as a whole will be rendered impotent as average people with disputes with current laws begin to wonder if they too can call a militia in to force the police to leave them alone.
And as if to embolden the assertion of the fact, a case in Texas is surfacing that while the facts are just becoming revealed, cannot allow for a repeat of the war Bundy started here.
In the case of Bundy and the Gold Butte designations, the government did it right. They continued to do it right in the face of the lawless behavior of a rancher and his militia henchmen. They earned and deserve our loyalty.
For those who were closest to this event, who were there, who witnessed it first hand, and for everyone afar who will be affected by it, it is of the utmost importance that you speak up in defiance to allowing this stand-down to be the end of this battle. Equal rights under law were attacked, and ultimately defamed by this rancher. We cannot let that stand.
See you out there.
Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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- Letter to the Editor: The spirit of the West; range war
- Letter to the Editor: Bundy forfeited right to graze cattle; counter opinion, range war
- Range war: BLM, Iron County to work together on feral horse issue – Iron County
- Range war: County resolves to solve wild horse problem if BLM prioritizes Bundy cattle – Iron County
- Range war: County Commissioners oppose BLM bringing Bundy cattle to Utah – Washington County
- Range war: Rancher stands defiant as BLM moves to impound ‘trespass cattle’
- Perspectives: The Bundys vs the bureaucracy
- ON Kilter: Trespass cattleman not above the law
- BLM, National Park Service close public lands due to trespassing cattle dispute
- ‘Where’s the line?’ Ivory’s crusade to return public lands to the states
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