The Cliven Bundy ranch standoff may be an important inflection point in our nation’s politics: it is the actual test case for the apocalyptic rhetoric that began with the Tea Party and amplified itself in the conservative dialog. It tracks concepts like Agenda 21, Emperor Obama, and Let It Burn.
What Happened?Thus far, this is what happened (more or less): Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was told in 1993 that he would have to limit his cattle to 150, apparently to protect the habitat of the ‘desert tortoise,’ and pay fees to use the land. He did not pay. He did not limit his cattle. He stated that he did not recognize the Federal Government (he claims the land belongs to Nevada). Now, more than two decades later, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) came to take his cattle and / or collect owed pay. The reasons for this may be because Harry Reid now wants the land for solar / wind power development. Maybe—maybe not. Whatever the case, as the BLM forces (troops armed with Assault Rifles and body armor) moved in, a number of armed citizens moved in to protect Cliven.
The standoff escalated in tensions with scores of armed men on both sides (and, apparently, a plan on the armed citizens to put their womenfolk in the front line of fire so that if the government forces did open up they’d be gunning down women). For now? The Federales backed down. They swear it’s not over yet—but they pulled out. Here is a pretty good time-line.
The Deeper MeaningsThe guy doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on. Despite allegedly not recognizing the Federal Government, he apparently carries a copy of the constitution in his shirt pocket. He also recognizes the state of Nevada (whose own constitution recognizes the US Government). In any event, he isn’t exactly making a legal argument anyway. What he—and his supporters—are saying is this:
- This mess has Harry Reid’s fingers all over it! Harry Reid is dirty, corrupt, and democratic. Since friendship and enemy-ship is transitive if I hate Harry and Harry hates Cliven, I have to like Cliven.
- The law isn’t treating everyone equally anyway. Ranchers are being shut down—alternate energy hucksters are being supported. In the face of unfairness do we have to just shrug at the rule of law?
- George Washington would’ve stood by this guy. Okay—no, maybe he wouldn’t—but Jefferson would’ve. But … Hmm. It’s kinda like the Whisky Rebellion, innit?
- Bundy refused to sign the paper opting into this mess—so he’s magically immune! Also, Wesley Snipes was right not to pay his taxes!
That’s the point: to a lot of people—including people willing to point AR-15s at Federal Agents, this doesn’t feel right. In fact, it feels darn near apocalyptic.
The symbolism in play here is very, very literally a battle between “real America” (in actual white cowboy hats with the signature 2nd Amendment gun) and SWAT-team style Federal Agents. The echoes are Waco Texas and Ruby Ridge. It’s paramilitary armed resistance—a militia if you will—against an overwhelming distant power that a lot of the people in play think is acting extra-legally and with an imperial intent.
This is the Big One.
What Next?Whoever is running the BLM did the right thing: they backed off. There is no urgent time-line in play here. There may yet come a reckoning but there is no reason to play to the script that the guys in baseball caps are writing. During the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran, a lot of people thought we should be sending aid over there—or even troops—to topple the government. What the Obama administration did was make sure that communication and the Internet stayed open—and that systems like Twitter that were being used to organize the resistance remained up.
This wasn’t “much” but it, importantly, did not play into the Regime-Change narrative the Iranian government wanted to stick us with. If we had gone in with force we would (a) have owned EVERYTHING that happened while our forces were in play (and some of that would’ve been horrible) and (b) would have ‘confirmed’ everything they’d said about us to anyone who was unconvinced. It also, probably, (c) would not have helped unless we were ‘all in,’ which would make the cost of Iraq look like something you could buy at the Dollar Store.
So the Cliven Bundy standoff is a chance to actually change the narrative. There is probably no way to “do justice” in the eyes of Cliven supporters save for letting him use the land for free—but there are gradients of force that can be used and dialing it down from para-military is the right answer here and I’m glad they did. That isn’t the big question though—the big question is: Does this happen again?
Does This Happen Again?We don’t know if there will be another escalation involving scores of armed men standing off against Federal Agents—but either way, this is an inflection point. If there isn’t another standoff in, say, the next two years (the end of the Obama administration will be a key demarcation point) then we could say the dialing down of tensions was a success. If it does happen—indeed, if it escalates—we are looking at something else: we are looking at moving from the rhetoric of revolution to the tinder-box and (presently) unlit match of armed resistance. That many, many disparate people could group together to stand up against a perceived injustice on the part of the Federal Government is something we didn’t see after Ruby Ridge. We didn’t see it after Waco Tx. We haven’t seen it for #Occupy Wall Street.
We’re seeing it here—and the appearance of this patter at all is meaningful.
A couple of notes looking at how things have developed thus far:
- The Omnivore has seen Bundy compared to the founding fathers, taking arms against England--or Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus. In both cases the principles they were standing for were either (a) very well and very formally articulated (Founding Fathers) or very straight forward (Rosa Parks). In the case of Bundy it's, thus far, neither. What he has stated (not acknowledging the Federal Government) doesn't make sense--and his position seems to be that he really lives in Bundy-Land, aka a fictionalized state of Nevada. That doesn't mean he deserves to be gunned down--but it also isn't the Founding Fathers. It's maybe more like The Whisky Rebellion.
- This link has a debate between an MSNBC host and a Nevada Assembly woman defending Cliven. The key points she relentlessly comes back to are: (1) Why is the federal government sending men with guns to collect a debt (assuming one is owed). (2) How much does he owe, anyway? Millions? A lot less? (3) If Reid looks so suspicious, why is he heavily involved? In one sense some of these are straightforward--but in another, the optics of SWAT teams descending on the ranch are questionable.
- According to Snopes.com, Reid isn't involved and the solar power thing isn't happening. Do you trust Snopes?
- Vox.com, as usual, has a great set of 'cards' to explain the standoff as they see it (Liberal).