A couple of protests took place this past week in Southern Nevada. One made big news.
The first has generated so much national media attention that it’s created a household name. It’s the tale of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, his “trespass cattle,” and the fallout from a botched roundup by the Bureau of Land Management.
For some reporters, the image is impossible to resist: A broad-brimmed hat, scuffed boots and a tie to the land that reaches back to 1877. A quiet fellow with a copy of the Constitution in one hand and a Bible nearby, that’s Bundy. Or, at least that’s how he’s been portrayed by some.
The other side of the story is his 20-year refusal to pay his grazing fees, something almost every other rancher ponies up, and his argument that the federal government has no jurisdiction over the federal land on which his animals graze.
Not surprisingly, he consistently has lost his legal argument. But in some minds that only makes his cause more righteous, more worthy of support.
It’s not the cattle or the approximately $1 million in fees he owes, many of his allies argue. It’s the principle of the thing. The government is picking on the stoic Nevada rancher. And the fact the Bundy protest drew not merely hundreds of peaceful supporters but dozens of heavily armed members of citizen militias from across the country is downplayed.
The mix of armed federal employees and armed militia members held all the potential for bloodshed last week before a crisis was averted by turning loose 400 of Bundy’s cows.
Rarely one to mince words, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada on Thursday called the armed militia types who were seen pointing rifles at federal officers “domestic terrorists.” At the Review-Journal’s Hashtags and Headlines event, Reid shot from the hip: “Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They’re nothing more than domestic terrorists.”
It should surprise no one that a multi-jurisdictional task force is being formed to resolve the Bundy issue. While his friends pledge their undying support to his cause, allies offer alternative legal defenses on his behalf, and conservative media burnishes his image far and wide, the 67-year-old rancher continues to travel a path he can’t win.
But the flag-waving, Constitution-quoting Bundy brouhaha wasn’t the only protest around these parts this past week. Just a couple of hours away, a much quieter one took place amid the noise from Bunkerville.
On Wednesday morning, at the gates of Creech Air Force Base outside Indian Springs, nine anti-war activists from the Nevada Desert Experience were arrested after they attempted to serve a “war crimes indictment” on the military installation’s commander, Col. James Cluff. It was, of course, a symbolic gesture meant to spotlight their concern and highlight their cause.
They also sought to draw attention to allegations leveled most recently in The Guardian newspaper that the CIA drone missions from Creech into Pakistan were being flown by Air Force personnel. Innocent lives were being lost regularly in the bombings, the protesters said. The CIA is supposed to collect intelligence, they said, not operate its own war.
All that drew a collective yawn in the press.
Standing up against war appears to fit into no one’s particular political agenda or definition of news.
A peaceful assembly by activists willing to be jailed for their cause is pretty boring compared to a mass of anti-government “patriots” armed to the teeth.
Members of one group were willing to be arrested in the name of peace.
Members of another group indicated they were willing to kill in the name of protecting a rancher’s cows.
We can’t forget freedom.
All I know is, it’s Easter Sunday. Afoot or on horseback, that makes it a good day to pray for peace.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.