Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Bundys Back in Federal Court

After a Portland, OR jury nullified the prosecution of the Bundy brothers for their armed occupation and trashing of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a bizarre assertion of phantom states rights, the brothers and their father Cliven are back in federal court in Nevada facing more serious charges relating to an attempted BLM round up of Bundy cattle. The defendants, lead by the Bundys, face 15 counts of assault and threats against federal officers.  The first group to be prosecuted includes Idahoan Eric Parker who was photographed aiming an assault rife toward federal agents near Bunkerville, NV during the tense standoff in 2014. [photo credit: Reuters] 
Mainstream legal experts including US Person agree the Bundy claim that the federal government cannot own land belonging to sovereign states is ridiculous.  Eleven attorneys general in western states found their arguments deeply flawed.  Yet Ammon Bundy's explanation of his family's claims was cogent enough to convince a Portland, OR jury to acquit him and his brother Ryan of federal conspiracy charges arising out of the Malheur take-over. [photo: Ammon at left]  Then again, the unofficial motto of that city is, "keep Portland weird". Admittedly the conspiracy case was a difficult one to prove, and when it was revealed in trial that nine "occupiers" were FBI informants, the conspiracy case was severely weakened.  The defense was aided by strategic jury selection from the entire state, not just the liberal metropolitan region. Oregon is notoriously conservative outside of its urban centers. The brothers' acquittal rattled federal prosecutors. Now there is information that  felony charges against other Malheur defendants may be dropped in exchange for a plea to misdemeanor trespass. 

Cliven Bundy stopped paying federal grazing fees over two decades ago.  The BLM took Cliven Bundy to federal court which first ruled in the federal government's favor in 1998.  Years of settlement negotiations over payment of $1.2 million in back grazing fees failed to produce a settlement.  A frustrated BLM finally began seizing hundreds of Bundy cattle in 2014, but when hundreds of militant supporters showed up at the ranch to protect Bundy property, the agency backed down and returned the seized livestock.  

Cliven Bundy's interpretation of federalism is extreme. [photo credit: D. Becker] He told interviewers a radio audience that, "I don't recognize the United States government as even existing."  That statement directly contradicts Nevada's state constitution which expressly recognizes the paramount power and jurisdiction of the federal government.  In fact, Nevada achieved statehood in 1864 because its framers were overwhelmingly Unionist, and Lincoln wanted more electoral votes to guarantee his reelection and pass the 13th Amendment.  He signed the bill authorizing an official constitutional convention for Nevada statehood.  All of this explicit Nevada recognition of supreme federal authority came two decades before scofflaw Cliven Bundy's antecedents settled in the state.

The denouement of the latest "Sagebrush Rebellion" may occur in the Bundys' Nevada trial.   The history of western resentment of federal authority has a long, sporadic history.  The modern eruptions started in the 1970's during the administration of Jimmy Carter, but the movement was diffused by the election of Ronald Regan and appointment of private property advocate James Watt as Secretary of Interior.  Watt did not support wholesale divestment but his rollback of federal land ownership and regulation was enough to stave off further widespread protests, and change the direction the agency's iconic buffalo seal was facing from left to right.  The rebellion was also led by some high-profile right-wing Senators, including Orrin Hatch, Barry Goldwater and Ted Stevens.  They headed LASER, or the League for the Advancement of States Equal Rights.  Ronald Regan claimed to be a "sagebrush rebel" and courted their support.  Nevertheless the political rhetoric was no match for economic reality and the rebellion fell apart by the early 1980s.  

Colorado had its own anti-conservation revolt against federal forest reserves in the 1890's that also faded. Federal agents sent to Denver in 1907 by Teddy Roosevelt faced down rebels gathered at a public lands convention convened by the Colorado legislature.  The founder of the federal Forest Service Gilford Pinchot told the conventioneers in no uncertain terms the federal government was right, that it would not back down, and that it would enforce its land rights.  The insurgents had no where to go.  Former Colorado Governor Lamm observed in his 1982 book The Angry West, "by asserting, even flaunting, a regional independence that never existed, the proud West becomes the foolish West. Worse, by continuing to act today as though it still has no need for the federal government, even as it continues to profit from federal largesse, it compounds its hypocrisy and undermines its credibility."  Why these battles over federal supremacy have to be repeated periodically is something of a mystery to US Person, especially after a bloody Civil War over "state's rights" was won by a federal Union.  People like the Bundys should read their US history more closely, and not allow their greed to blind them from reality.