Well, who saw that one coming?

So, erstwhile members of The Bundy Bunch, how do you like him now?

Now that rancher Cliven Bundy, the genial old crank who declared he didn’t believe the federal government even exists, has morphed into a stone racist, suggesting “Negroes” had it better in the days of slavery, things have sure changed at the Bundy place.

One-time supporters (including Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and our very own Dean Heller, who called the armed militia wanna-bes who rallied to Bundy’s cause “patriots”) are running for the hills. Right-wing commentators who were fine with Bundy attacking the federal government and trafficking in Internet rumors are desperately trying to change the subject back to the alleged “overreach” of the Bureau of Land Management. And every comment from now on must begin with the obligatory, “I don’t agree with Bundy on race issues, but…”

And of course, they’d have to say that. Who could agree with these quotes, reported by Adam Nagourney in the New York Times:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Nobody, that’s who. It’s probably why Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith said her boss not only “completely disagrees” with Bundy but condemns his comments “in the most strenuous way.” Not just the usual strenuous way, mind you. The most strenuous way!

It should be noted that Bundy’s racism has nothing whatever to do with his legally discredited claims to be able to graze his cattle on public lands without paying for the required BLM permits. In America, you are allowed to harbor racist thoughts and say racist things and still graze cattle. You can bear arms and yell unkind things at federal officers who are simply trying to do their jobs enforcing a long-overdue court order and be well within your First and Second Amendment rights. Bundy’s thoughts may be repugnant to all people of goodwill, but his essential crime remains exactly the same: He failed to pay his grazing fees, the government moved to seize his trespassing cattle and he rallied a coalition of under-informed, paranoid government-haters, some armed, to his cause.

But seriously, that one black Oath Keeper pictured in a Twitter photograph at the Bundy ranch has really got to be scratching his head right now.

And let’s not forget about the other Nevada political figures, who if they didn’t support Bundy at the very least expressed some sympathy for him. That left them wide open for a Democratic broadside, which party spokesman Zach Hudson was only too happy to provide:

“These comments are reprehensible, and every Republican politician in the state of Nevada who tried to latch on to Cliven Bundy’s newfound celebrity with TEA Partiers and the militia movement should be ashamed of their actions. If Dean Heller, Cresent Hardy, Niger Innis, Michelle Fiore, Adam Laxalt and every other Republican politician who tried to attach themselves to this man seemed desperate a week ago, now they look downright pathetic. Every Republican elected official who risked inciting violence to gain political capital out of Cliven Bundy now owes the people of Nevada an apology for their irresponsible behavior of putting their own political future ahead of the safety of Nevadans.”

That, it turns out, was not a good calculation.

The letter

Meanwhile, a coalition of five state lawmakers released a letter calling for an investigation by the interim Legislative Committee on Public Lands, chaired by Assemblyman Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas. Here’s most of the text, with a hat tip to my colleague Jon Ralston for obtaining the letter in the first place.

As you are aware, a situation raised its ugly head last week in Bunkerville, Nevada, that easily could have escalated into something where scores of people may have lost their lives. It is our belief that this incident was handled incorrectly by the Federal agencies that were placed in charge and that an abuse of authority like this must never be allowed to happen in Nevada again.

While the situation was defused before anyone got hurt, we, the undersigned Legislators, feel that the people of Nevada must have a public inquiry, specifically by the State of Nevada, to find the root causes for these actions in order to ensure that there is never a repeat of this dangerous situation.

(Remember, what we’re talking about here is a long-delayed federal action that occurred after Bundy willingly and intentionally stopped paying grazing fees because he disagreed with conditions that federal land managers placed upon his ability to graze cattle on federal lands. Bundy has his day — many days, actually — in court, and lost. It was only then that BLM rangers acted to serve a duly issued court order.)

Although we do not feel Mr. Bundy is without blame, there are many unanswered questions as to why this situation took place, including but not limited to:

1. Who ordered the armed incursion?

2. At what decision-making level was this ordered?

3. Were any elected officials involved in this?

4. Who was on the ground as far as Federal law enforcement? What was their authority and what jurisdiction did they have and who conveyed that power, especially in light of 43 U.S.C. § 1733(c)(1) …

5. What was the root reason for the incursion? If it was for unpaid fees, why would the Federal Government spend more money to collect the cattle than they would be able to recoup from the sale of such?

6. Why was a lien not placed on the proceeds from Mr. Bundy’s cattle sales, or property, instead of an armed incursion?

7. If this was an attempt to conserve the desert tortoise as reported, how does one explain the fact that the tortoise and the cattle have lived in harmony for over 100 years on that particular range? Also, how does one explain the fact that the BLM has euthanized hundreds of tortoises citing a lack of funds for their care?

8. It has been reported that the BLM destroyed many guzzlers and other water systems in the area during their seizure operation in violation of state law. If this is the case, can criminal charges be filed against these offenders?

9. There have been many rumors concerning interests outside the government being involved in this dispute. These need to be thoroughly vetted in a public hearing for validity.

(This list makes several things unmistakably clear: First, the undersigned lawmakers have no interest in an investigation; they’re simply using this letter to make political points. Second, they fail to understand or acknowledge even the most basic facts about this case — again, Bundy has no rights to graze cattle on federal lands without permission — and are interested only in ramping up rhetoric. The “armed incursion” came when protesters arrived to obstruct federal officers in the performance of their duties, not when duly authorized BLM rangers — who are, like most law-enforcement personnel, authorized and even required to carry weapons — showed up to serve a court order. Third, ancillary issues such as the desert tortoise have nothing whatsoever to do with Bundy’s unpaid fees, and the consequences of his ignoring them over a period of two decades. And finally, the reference to “rumors concerning interests outside the government being involved in this dispute” is nothing but paranoia fed by false Internet narratives, which grown-up state lawmakers should be smart enough to disbelieve.)

Therefore, we the undersigned Legislators are requesting that an investigation be conducted by the State of Nevada into the situation that took place between the BLM and Cliven Bundy. We not only request that this situation be investigated, but also request that the State publish a report with explanations as to actions that can be taken by the Federal Government and the State of Nevada that will ensure a situation like this never happens again. We respectfully request this public inquiry be handled by your Committee given the powers of investigation and subpoena accorded to that Committee under Nevada statute. We also call for a simultaneous investigation to be conducted by the Attorney General’s Office. A similar letter is being sent to the interim Legislative Committee on Public Lands.


Assemblyman Jim Wheeler

Senator Don Gustavson

Assemblyman Ira Hansen

Assemblywoman Michele Fiore

Assemblyman John Ellison

(Remember those names, voters. They are lawmakers who have safely demonstrated they should not be taken seriously in the future, and should probably be directed to a less damaging field of enterprise at the earliest opportunity.)

UPDATE: Given an opportunity to clarify his remarks, Bundy simply repeated them. Meanwhile, Rep. Steven Horsfordsays Bundy supporters should denounce his remarks or own them, a jab aimed at one of Horsford’s Republican congressional foes, Niger Innis. Innis says he called Bundy and took issue with his remarks, prompting Bundy to apologize in private. In public, however, the rancher has stood by and even repeated his remarks.

UPDATE 2: In a bizarre interview Friday morning with CNN, Bundy concludes that if he can’t say “Negro” without people taking offense, well, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has simply not done his job.