On the EDge: Recapture Canyon ATV protesters should receive minimum sentence

OPINION – The trial of four men who led an ATV protest ride through Utah’s Recapture Canyon a year ago has ended with two of the men acquitted and two found guilty of misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and driving on public lands closed to motorized vehicles.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and blogger Monte Wells now await sentencing for the organized protest on Bureau of Land Management property that is closed to ATV traffic. They face up to a year in jail, fines of up to $100,000 and restitution for damage to the area.

Not surprisingly, the incident has sparked a lot of commentary on social media and in the mainstream press.

And, not surprisingly, it continues to carve at the ever-growing political chasm that has divided the nation.

One of the most incredulous comments I read on social media came in the midst of a discussion about protests and protesters.

A part of the thread questioned a friend of mine about why, seemingly, he could support the protesters who rioted in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland and elsewhere yet was critical of Lyman and the ATV protesters and, of course, the boiling pot that was the Bundy Ranch confrontation between the feds and a scofflaw rancher.

One of the comments in the thread was: “One difference is that there is no rioting or looting when conservatives protest.”

While I think the statement is not apt for the conversation – there is a world of difference between protesting the suspicious deaths of young men and skirmishes between anti-government factions and the feds – it does touch on something that, in fairness, should be addressed, and that is the legal right to assemble.

I am no fan of the Bundy family, and I think the ATV ride was nothing more than an attempt to jab the feds in the eye with a rather dull stick. I also do not condone violence, whether it is in the form of poor, black protesters taking to the streets or ranchers who decide to draw down on federal agents with weapons.

But, I do support the idea that whether I agree or not, these divergent groups have not only the right, but the responsibility to stand up for what they believe, as long as no harm comes from the assemblage.

That’s why I am hoping that the verdict in the Lyman-Wells case is some kind of probation and restitution for any damage caused by the illegal ride through Restoration Canyon.

It is the right thing to do, not because Lyman is an elected official or that it was a conservative populist protest, but because we have seen protesters who have chained themselves to the gates of nuclear facilities or endangered trees receive minimum sentences because going in, officials realized it was a test of the system, which is supposed to work for all of us regardless of race, creed or political persuasion. In other words, the First Amendment swings both ways.

And, while I can find no agreement with some positions or protesters, I would never deny their right to assemble and make a point, as long as nobody gets hurt. We cannot condone actions by the side we agree with while scoffing or disregarding the opinions or positions of those from the other side. That’s not democracy; that’s not freedom. Just as it is impossible for me to justify the drawing of weapons on federal officers at the Bundy Ranch, it is impossible for me to justify the violence in Ferguson or Baltimore.

Most of the protests during the depths of the Vietnam War started out as passive events of civil disobedience. Protesters knew a good number of them would end up in jail for their efforts and were willing to do so. Usually, most protesters would be taken to the police station, issued a citation or notice to appear and ordered to pay a small fine. Some, of course, ended up with cracked skulls when either their contemporaries or aggressive cops decided to escalate the incident.

There is no room for violence in dissent. That is the stuff of juntas and coups.

The idea of revolution is also not unique and, in some instances, not distasteful but is usually fueled by the gun.

Perhaps we do need a revolution of sorts in the United States, a revolution of decency and humanity, a revolution of political means that would release freedom from being held hostage by the influence of money and power.

Not many people are happy these days, not many see opportunity or fairness in a nation that feeds on greed instead of need.

It is not only our right, but our duty to rediscover and stand for those things that once placed the United States at the forefront of world leadership and respect

We’ve drifted too far, forgotten our purpose, but most importantly, let go of the humanity that was once in the nation’s collective soul that cried out for fairness, justice, respect.

The nation was built on protest and dissent; the backs of rebels unafraid to stand against what they deemed as the oppressor.

But, from that protest and dissent, there was a growing unity, which was needed to birth a new nation that would emerge as, for a brief moment in history, a beacon and example for the rest of the world to follow.

So let’s not be so shallow as to rush to judgment and harshly punish those who use protest and dissent as a means to get their point across.

As long as they do it in a nonviolent manner.

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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  • My Evil Twin May 7, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    Forty years ago Ed, you and I could not have found anything in common. However, the older I get, the more sense [some] 😉 of your columns make!

  • BIG GUY May 7, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Ed, another thoughtful and well reasoned article. Good show! The line about “…a nation that feeds on greed instead of need” was a little overwrought but can be ignored given all the rest that should resonate with most thoughtful readers.
    You and I are finding more things to agree on these days. Either we’re mellowing or the topics you’ve chosen lately are ones that cut across political boundaries. I’m looking forward to next week’s edition.

  • fun bag May 7, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Well, if they give them a minimum sentence then it was a whole lot of dog and pony show for nothing. To make it worthwhile they need to make an example out of those two clowns … still waiting for them to throw old man Bundy in prison too…

  • CHJ May 7, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    I completely agree with your comments about the legal right to assemble. And this would have been true if this group had assembled outside the legally closed area and protested at such a location. However, this was a legally closed area they entered. It was closed to protect resources that can be easily destroyed or damaged. Your examples of the Vietnam War demonstrations is only applicable to a certain extent. When those demonstrators entered some locations, tried to peacefully demonstrate, and were arrested, e.g., the White House or Pentagon. They were arrested and did face serious charges. Also when they went beyond peaceful demonstrations and caused damages or threatened to damage property, the penalties were not mild fines. Your argument can only stand if one assumes the area was closed for some artificial reason.

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