So, now what?
Now that the Bureau of Land Management has stopped enforcing a federal court order to gather Cliven Bundy’s illegally grazing cattle, because of the presence of armed protesters, what’s happens next?
Nothing has really changed: Bundy still hasn’t paid his 20-year-overdue grazing fees, and owes the taxpayers of the United States of America more than $1 million. The so-called trespass cattle are still grazing on federal lands. The court order to impound those cows is still in effect.
About the only thing that’s different is that a bunch of armed would-be insurrectionists have gotten the message that if they show up with tough talk and loaded long guns, there’s a good chance the government will back down. And that’s not a very good message to send.
The BLM signaled that it’s not giving up on the case: It’s new leader, Neil Kornze, said in a statement that the government would continue to pursue administrative and judicial remedies to the situation.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, speaking to KRNV-Channel 4 in Reno on Monday, said there’s more to come: “Well, it’s not over. We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over,” he said. (Reid added on Tuesday that he thought the BLM had made the right decision at the time, however.)
And, as Rob Mrowka, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity noted, leaving things as they are now is not a viable solution: “The BLM is setting a dangerous precedent announcing that it will pick and choose who has to follow federal laws and who it will reward for violating them,” he said in a statement. “It [the BLM] has a moral responsibility to not let armed thugs and threats of violence seize hundreds of thousands of acres of public land for their own.”
I also like the way St. George News columnist Dallas Hyland put it in a piece published Sunday: “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,” Hyland wrote.
And that’s what we’re speaking of here: anarchy. This is not, as some have mistakenly characterized it, a battle over the First Amendment. (The BLM’s ill-considered and absurd creation of “First Amendment areas” for protesters was supposed to preserve public safety, but was rightly criticized. They proved so ineffective, they were later taken down.)
Also, this isn’t a battle over grazing rights, or a conflict between the Western ranching lifestyle and federal regulations. Bundy is clearly in the wrong, having refused to pay his grazing fees. He challenged the government in federal court, where his arguments were heard, considered and dismissed. Bundy is not standing his ground on righteous principle; he’s a scofflaw who simply refuses to pay the fees that other ranchers pay.
And Bundy himself is no hero, no “impressive general,” as one particularly ill-informed protester called him. Bundy has not only said he doesn’t recognize the authority of the BLM to manage public lands and make arrests, he’s also said he doesn’t “recognize the United Stages government as even existing.” Further, he’s demanded that county sheriffs across the nation “disarm” federal officials.
Those who rally to Bundy’s defense are not freedom fighters in the next American revolution, and they won no victory by obstructing federal officers serving a lawful court order (in potential violation of 18 USC 111 and 18 USC 1509). They’re not patriots or foot soldiers, or any kind of soldiers. They’re enablers of a welfare cowboy with wrongheaded political beliefs, who’s more than willing to let them help him out of a tax problem. Anybody who thinks otherwise is deluding himself.
But the question remains: Now that Bundy (and his newfound armed friends) have, temporarily at least, faced down the feds, what’s next? Will it be anarchy or will it be law and order?
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.