If one were to believe Fox News and other right-wing pundits, Cliven Bundy is a victim of the federal government. You’d believe the feds are a bunch of totalitarian thugs forcing a poor rancher to do their bidding. That could not be further from the truth.
You see, Bundy is well-known in his neck of the woods, and he’s what you might call a one-percenter among the Nevada ranchers. In other words, he is rich, he is powerful, and he’s used to getting what he wants. Sure, his family has been ranching the land since 1877, but even then, his family did not own the land but had grazing rights going back to his 19th-century ancestors.
Grazing rights do not equal land ownership, but that’s not what this issue is about. At least not to Bundy. He claims this is a fight against the federal government, an entity he does not even recognize as existing. Ironically, he only defers to the state of Nevada. The state's own constitution says otherwise. Article 1, Section 2 of the Nevada constitution states:
“No power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair, subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States. The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existence, and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”
Bundy is in direct violation of both the federal government and the Nevada state constitution he claims to recognize. The man clearly does not know or understand his state’s history, and has failed to understand its authority. He simply made up his own set of rules and expects others to play by them.
Bundy claims this is about more than just cattle. He claims it’s a sovereignty issue, a freedom issue. Last week, he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity:
“Well, you know, my cattle is only one issue – that the United States courts has ordered that the government can seize my cattle. But what they have done is seized Nevada statehood, Nevada law, Clark County public land, access to the land, and have seized access to all of the other rights of Clark County people that like to go hunting and fishing. They’ve closed all those things down, and we’re here to protest that action. And we are after freedom. We’re after liberty. That’s what we want.”
It’s the usual chest-thumping, flag-waving pseudo-patriotism design to make him appear to be a champion of liberty for the people. The federal government hasn’t taken anything away from Nevada. It has not infringed on anyone’s rights. What it really boils down to is money. That’s the core of his battle: Bundy didn’t want to pay a fee for his cattle to graze on BLM land.
In 1993, the Bureau of Land Management changed its rules for grazing and assigned a fee of $1.35 per head of cattle, including heifer and calf pairs. Bundy took issue with the rule change, which was meant to protect the endangered desert tortoise from overgrazing. Since then, the defiant rancher has racked up more than $1.2 million in fees, including those incurred when the BLM took him to court and won in 1998.
Since then, the agency has done everything in its power, short of arresting him, to get Bundy to pay what he owes. Bundy believes that federal ownership of the land is illegal, but the truth is, federal ownership means we, the people own the land, and Bundy is supposed to pay the fee to his fellow citizens to use the land. By refusing to pay the fee, he is denying payment to the very people he claims he’s helping.
According to right-wing media, this whole issue stems from’s son’s affiliation with a Chinese solar power firm. Pundits like Hannity, Dana Loesch and the like would have people believe that the land Bundy is poaching is the very same land that the Reid’s son wants for the solar panels. In fact, the land Bundy is disputing is not the land designated for the solar plant.
On March 22, members of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians helped break ground on a 250 megawatt solar power generator meant to replace the Reid Gardner coal plant. First Solar Inc. plans to install photovoltaic panels on a 2,000 acre portion of the tribe’s land. This patch of land, according to Wildlife News, is about 10 miles closer to Las Vegas than the disputed area where Bundy’s cattle are grazing.
Let’s drop the conspiracy theories pointing to Reid and the Chinese for a moment and focus on one thing: Bundy is breaking the law. He is not only breaking the law, but the state and nearby communities have lost money and sustained damage due to his belligerence.
A cached version of the BLM’s website includes damage done to local property as a result of his cattle.
In a future installment, I’ll touch on more of the pertinent issues regarding this case, including the loss of funding and damage to the environment Bundy is directly responsible for. He may have won this battle, but the war is far from over.