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Leaders need to encourage calm, not pander, in BLM controversy

In times of peril, people will occasionally show you whether they can be trusted with the mantle of leadership, and whether they can’t. The controversy over the seizing of cattle illegally grazing on federal lands near Bunkerville is one such time.

The best example of leadership so far came early from Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who summarized the situation thusly: “I’m always concerned when there are situations like this where there is so much emotion. I hope calmer heads will prevail like they normally do,” the sheriff said. “You’re talking about rounding up cattle. You have to keep that in perspective. No drop of human blood is worth spilling over any cow, in my opinion.”

And that’s exactly right: We are talking about rounding up cattle, an action, by the way, that’s the result of a long, bitter court fight that rancher Cliven Bundy lost. And he lost it by failing to pay grazing fees — like every other rancher does — for about 20 years. So now, the federal government is seizing cattle Bundy claims to own from lands that every single American owns, under the care of the Bureau of Land Management.

Bundy has done his best to inflame the situation, speaking of a “range war.” And that’s why we need leaders to keep things in perspective.

Sadly, Gov. Brian Sandoval did not, at least not at first. His Tuesday statement targeted not the law-breaking Bundy or angry protesters, but the Bureau of Land Management for its ham-handed attempt to close huge swaths of publicly owned land to members of the public and confine protesters to “First Amendment areas” designated by rangers.

“Due to the roundup by the BLM, my office has received numerous complaints of BLM conduct, road closures and other disturbances. I have recently met with state legislators, county officials and concerned citizens to listen to their concerns,” the statement reads. “I have expressed those concerns directly to the BLM. Most disturbing to me is the BLM’s establishment of a ‘First Amendment Area’ that tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“To that end, I have advised the BLM that such conduct is offensive to me and countless others and that the ‘First Amendment Area’ should be dismantled immediately. No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans. The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly.”

Really, governor? It’s the BLM that needs upbraiding, and not, say, angry protesters intentionally obstructing government officers in the lawful exercise of a federal court order? Yes, the “First Amendment area” was stupid. But is it not also stupid (and even dangerous) to feed into the anger of a mob looking to provoke federal officers into a confrontation?

Sandoval apparently realized — but not for two more days, and only after the above-linked video was shot and posted — that it might be time to call for calm. His revised and extended remarks, sent Thursday afternoon just after 5 p.m.: “Earlier this week, I advised the BLM not to limit or hinder the constitutional rights of Nevadans and be mindful of its conduct. The ability to speak out against government actions is one of the freedoms we all cherish as Americans. Today I am asking all individuals who are near the situation to act with restraint. Although tensions remain high, escalation of current events could have negative, long lasting consequences that can be avoided.”

Negative, lasting consequences like somebody getting shot and dying for absolutely no reason whatsoever. One would have thought that would have been apparent from the start, but better late than never.

Unfortunately, some of Sandoval’s fellow elected officials failed to experience his same epiphany. (And this is to say nothing of the bizarre remarks of Democratic Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins.)

Adam Laxalt, running for the Republican nomination for attorney general, released this statement. My annotations are in italics.

“Like many Nevadans, I am disturbed by events that have transpired near Bunkerville. The men and women involved are ranchers, friends and fellow church-going residents of our state. These individuals appear to be peacefully asserting the fundamental truth that there are, in fact, constitutional limits to the power of our federal government. In response, the BLM over-reached, launching a military-style invasion against a small Golden Butte area rancher. Meanwhile, the BLM simultaneously designated “First Amendment Areas” nearby.”

There are indeed constitutional limits to the power of our federal government. But the management and protection of federal land is not only well within those powers, it is an obligation of the federal government. Rangers of the BLM are acting to effectuate those constitutional powers. Yes, the “First Amendment zone” was silly, and yes, people should be able to peacefully observe, film and even yell at BLM rangers if they chose to use their First Amendment rights in that fashion. But they may NOT obstruct those rangers in the performance of their duties, and if they do, they risk arrest, citation or incarceration. Does Laxalt, an attorney, not understand any of that?

“Our federal government derives its power through the liberty that each of us yield to it. Therefore, it should not unnecessarily use force to intimidate its citizens while simultaneously playing lip service to their right to free speech. It is my hope that cooler heads will prevail, that our laws and our constitutional protections will be fully respected. I urge the BLM to reconsider its approach.”

Again, it is not the BLM that started this; it was Cliven Bundy who started it, 20 years ago, when he stopped paying fees that every rancher pays. Rangers are simply doing what the court has ordered, after Bundy fully availed himself of the due process that every American gets. At the very least, protesters should be urged to cool their heads as well as BLM officers.

“And finally, this is yet another example of why it’s important for Nevadans to gain more control over our lands and the decision-making process in how it is managed. When the federal government owns and regulates seven of every eight acres of our state, confrontations on bad policy, regulation and management are going to continue. It’s how we ended up in the Jarbidge dispute, the fight over Yucca Mountain, numerous debates over endangered species protections and countless other battles.”

Here, Laxalt descends into the ridiculous. This is not about federal control of Nevada lands. This is a case of a rancher refusing to pay fees that are entirely legal and which all other law-abiding ranchers pay. Laxalt must know this. But instead of characterizing it properly, he panders to a conservative base in order to get votes. No, that’s not unusual, but it is always despicable.

“It is my hope that this matter before us today is resolved peacefully, while renewing Nevada’s commitment to take further control over our lands and our state’s destiny.”

That’s my hope, too. But if it is resolved peacefully, it will not be because of anything Laxalt said.

But wait, there’s more. Here’s Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Pahrump:

“I am extremely concerned about the aggressive actions by the BLM toward the citizens of Nevada who are protesting in the Bunkerville and Moapa Valley areas,” his statement reads. “I have personally met with Governor Sandoval and conveyed the concerns of the residents of these areas to him. I am confident that he and our state legislators that represent those areas are actively engaged to ensure the safety and security of those exercising their constitutional rights. I have visited the parts of my district that have been affected by this federal overreach and hope that an equitable and peaceful resolution can be achieved. I ask our federal delegation to work together with local and state officials to help resolve this crisis in rural Nevada.”

Is it really so hard for Oscarson or anybody else to simply encourage protesters not to interfere in any way with the BLM? Not to, for example, ride one’s ATV into the path of a truck under BLM escort? Not to surround officers in such a way they’re unable to do their job? Observe, yes. Yell, sure. But stay out of the way of officers exercising a lawful court order.

Instead, we get more pandering.

“The events surrounding Cliven Bundy’s cattle are unfortunate and reflect a long-­standing problem with federal government overreach,” said Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, in a statement. (Hardy is now running for Congress.)

Once again, this controversy doesn’t reflect anything of the sort. It has been long-standing, to be sure. But that is because the federal government took its sweet time before finally rounding up the cattle Bundy claims as his that were grazing on federal land. And that is all this is: Not a metaphor, not a philosophical conundrum. A civil dispute that resulted in the seizure of disputed property. That’s it.

“I have spoken with the governor – he and I share concerns about the manner in which the BLM has handled the matter and I will continue to do all I can to help the governor and local law enforcement seek a peaceful solution to a difficult problem. While this issue involves Cliven’s cattle there are other critical issues at play. From free speech to property rights and from the role of government to Second Amendment rights, a lot is at stake.”

Did Hardy speak with the governor after the governor realized calling for calm was a better approach than simply bashing the BLM? And this issue is entirely about Bundy’s cattle — anybody who wants to make it about free speech, property rights, the role of government and gun rights is willfully ignoring the facts, or intentionally distorting them for political ends. Hey, you don’t suppose this could be about Hardy’s getting criticized by his Republican primary opponent, NIger Innis, recently for failing to stand up for Bundy with sufficient vigor?

Finally, here’s would-be Republican Assembly candidate Chris Edwards, who’s running to succeed Hardy:

“I am very disturbed by some of the reports in the press and of incidents residents have described to me. Reports of agents of the Bureau of Land Management, agents of our own government, intimidating and threatening citizens are very concerning. Our founders instituted our government as a means to protect the rights of Americans. It is the duty of agents and representatives at all levels of government to respect those rights.”

Give that video another look, and let’s just see who is attempting to intimidate whom.

“The concept of a designated “First Amendment Area” is appalling to me. As an American I recognize a First Amendment Area that stretches from our border with Canada to our border with Mexico. As a veteran I fought to preserve these rights for all Americans and it’s very disturbing to hear of agents of our own government violating them. I call upon the Bureau of Land Management to reconsider its posture and actions and to respect the rights of individual Americans.”

As much as we like the sort of wisdom one might find on the blog of a disgruntled curmudgeon who wiles away his days shaking his fist at fate and waiting for death’s inevitable embrace, let’s call this what it is: a stupid plan probably hatched in an attempt to corral protesters out of sight and out of mind. It was a bad idea, and, from what we’ve seen, it didn’t work. Nobody should be arrested or intimidated for observing the lawful actions of federal officers at a safe remove; but interfering with them is another matter.

“I fully support the rights of both Nevada residents and the Americans that have traveled from near and far to peacefully protest how their government chooses winners and losers. I have been a vocal leader in the effort to return more of Nevada’s land currently held by the federal government to the rightful hands of Nevadans and will continue to do so in Congress. In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers are with all involved in this unfortunate situation and will stand with the governor and local law enforcement leaders to do all we can to conclude this stand-­off in a productive and safe way.”

Again, it would kill you to simply say, we have no need of out-of-state protesters; there are plenty of Nevadans available to rant and rave against the man. In fact, inviting or encouraging “militias” coming from out of state to “support” Bundy is actually a recipe for trouble. It’s a shame people either don’t see that or don’t care about it.

Oh, and today, about protesters brought their public tantrum to Metro Police headquarters, where they called on Sheriff Gillespie to intervene and “protect the people.” Sure, why not protest the only guy who’s had it right from the start?

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