Head ’em Up, Move ’em Out

Posted on April 20, 2014 by


The Cliven Bundy-Bureau of Land Management “range wars” have been all over the news lately—well, all over many news outlets.  Even Harry Reid finally spoke up, and, as he usually does, in an obsequious manner and with such exquisite irony (which he probably didn’t catch).  I now feel compelled to weigh in.  The conservative news media is divided over old Clive.  Some have praised him, while minimizing talk about violations of law, while others have said he doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on, though they are sympathetic to his plight.  My sense is that the apparently different assessments are more matters of emphasis than diametrically opposed opinions. 

If you have been asleep the past few weeks, here is the story in brief.  It seems a Nevada cattle rancher named Clive Bundy owns land abutting an area controlled (owned?) by the Bureau of Land Management, and that some of what was his land is included in the BLM area.  In their infinite grace the BLM allowed Bundy to graze his cattle on some of that BLM land previously owned by him in return for the payment of the required fees.  Bundy argued first that this land had been used for grazing by his family since the 1880s and also that the BLM had changed the rules on him back in the 1990s to protect a supposedly endangered tortoise species.  So he grazed his cattle without paying the fees.  By the way, he also argued that if he owed any fees, they ought to be paid to the county, not to the BLM, since the land really belonged, in his view, to the state.  All this went on pretty much unnoticed, with occasional demands from the BLM for the fees and a couple of court orders, until 2014.  The BLM then escalated the situation, saying Bundy owed them over one million dollars and that his cattle should be removed.  So, in good bureaucratic fashion, the BLM not only began removing cattle but also sending an increasing number or heavily armed and equipped BLM “agents” to the area.  They also apparently roughed up one of Bundy’s sons on a public road.  In response to the presence of agents, conservative groups, including some private militia groups arrived in Nevada, armed.  A confrontation was brewing until the BLM backed down and left the area, returning the cattle they hadn’t already killed.  They also said they would “see Bundy in court” so to speak.

Since then, Senator Harry Reid has offered his assessment (after the fact), and so has his son.  Reid has even gone so far as to label the protesters as “violent terrorist wannabes” and “domestic terrorists” and added that Bundy “didn’t pay taxes (I wonder where he might have obtained that information, if it is true at all?).

Those are the facts.  But how to interpret these facts is a bit puzzling.  As a Christian, who holds to obedience to God’s Word, I have a difficult time justifying the actions of Bundy in refusing to pay the required fees (Romans 13).  But that said, there are bigger issues here.  Why did the BLM send a virtual army to deal with this issue?  This represents a militarization of Federal agencies that goes far beyond what is necessary, and is dangerous to our rule of law culture.  Why does the Federal government own so much land in the United States?  Is there any good reason for that?  Does the BLM manage land better than private owners?  The evidence would suggest otherwise.  Furthermore, why does the Federal government intrude itself so much in the lives of so many people for no real benefit in return?  The BLM owns hundreds of thousands of acres in the West and attempts to regulate use of land through immense and unwieldy bureaucratic structures that are less efficient than private arrangements that would cost less and achieve more.  In addition, the EPA continues to designate the most obscure species as endangered with no actual cost-benefit analysis and then refuses to remove restrictions on land use even when the species has been returned to viability and also even if better proposals are made by state governments.  To put it simply, the Bundy disaster is government failure in microcosm.  We get a perfect picture of how things can be mucked up.  Come to think of it, wasn’t the BLM involved in a few of the decisions during the Fall, 2013 government shutdown to close parks unnecessarily and put on a small show of force against evil runners and bikers and walkers?

What happens now?  Well, don’t count on much change.  That sounds pessimistic, even cynical, but bureaucracy has been growing steadily for many decades now, regardless of who is in power.  And bureaucracies have been militarizing at an alarming rate for several years now, especially during the Obama administration.  Ultimately it will be up to Congress to rein in agencies by taking back its authority to make laws instead of delegating virtually the entirety of legislation to rule-making agencies.

Admittedly I couldn’t help rooting for Bundy in all this, even though I understand the illegality of his actions.  The deeper problem is that his grazing rights were so tightly controlled and even confiscated by big government, no matter how legal that might be.  That is a problem worth our time and energy for the sake of everyone’s liberty.