The Tea Party and those who believe states’ rights trump the federal government have hailed Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as a “freedom fighter” and an “American hero” for standing against the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. But the fact is, by the definition of Mitt Romney, he’s just another one of the 47 percent – a “taker” who relies on federal government largess.
As a cattle rancher, Bundy benefits from numerous federal subsidies to support his cattle business. He and other ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands receive $100 million annually in direct subsidies. Such ranchers receive federal subsidies for losses from drought. They are eligible for low-cost federal loans. Their private properties are taxed at a lower, agricultural rate. There are government subsidies to provide emergency feed for cattle stranded by blizzard. Even the fences needed to contain the cattle are built with public money.
Worse, like most ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands, Bundy is greatly contributing to the destruction of our ecosystem. According to Mike Hudak, author of Western Turf Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching, “Among 1,207 plant and animal species that are endangered, threatened or proposed for listing, 22 percent are affected by cattle grazing…” This is especially true on arid lands such as those used by Bundy. Such grazing damages the area’s water supply. Cattle pollute streams, destroy riparian and forest habitats for wildlife, and cause erosion.
In addition, such ranchers are often given permission to kill predators the ranchers believe are preying on their cattle. (The Arizona legislature is currently considering a bill that would allow ranchers to kill one or more of the 90 Mexican wolves that remain in the wild.) Yet, although ranchers like Bundy have a large impact on sensitive lands, they have little impact on our food supply or our economy. They represent only 2% of America’s cattle producers and only 2.8% of the nation’s beef supply.
Despite the consequences, the BLM continues to make public lands available to ranchers for a modest annual grazing fee…a fee that Bundy has refused to pay for more than 20 years. As a result, Bundy now owes more than $1 million for unpaid grazing rights. Bundy’s only defense for his refusal to pay is that the government changed the grazing rules in order to protect an endangered tortoise. He refuses to accept the government’s authority to make changes, saying his family has grazed cattle on those lands since the 1800s. So what? Native Americans hunted on those lands for many thousands of years. Should that give them the right to hunt Bundy’s cattle? My ancestors farmed in Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland for generations. Does that give me the right to take produce from those lands without compensating the current owners?
Even after the BLM was awarded judgments by the federal courts, Bundy still refused to pay. As a last resort, BLM officials finally decided to seize Bundy’s cattle by removing them from federal lands and holding them until Bundy made restitution. Not surprisingly, Bundy and his government-hating friends went nuts. (Well, that’s not entirely true. They likely were already nuts.) Militias and Tea Party parasites swarmed to the area to make a stand against such “injustice.” They came armed with semi-automatic pistols and assault weapons. They waved their American flags and their “Don’t Tread On Me” flags. They screamed and shouted. They blocked roads. They threatened and assaulted BLM officials.
Never wanting to miss a good photo op and the opportunity to denounce our government, Tea Party congressional and legislative officials from several Western states, such as Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, flocked to the area to rally the resistance. Afraid that the incident might lead to more violence, the BLM eventually released Bundy’s cattle, packed up and left. The question is: Why? Not only did Bundy act in contempt of court, his gun-wielding militia friends are guilty of transporting weapons across state lines in support of civil disorder. Should other American citizens be allowed to defy the law by threatening violence? What message does this send to the more than 18,000 other cattle owners who pay for permits to graze their cattle on public lands?
Imagine what would have happened had the Occupy Wall Street crowds armed themselves with assault weapons and refused to obey orders. Do you think the local, state and federal agents would have shown such restraint? Would government officials show such restraint when confronted by a group of armed individuals who refuse to allow the arrest of an individual guilty of other crimes, such as drug sales, especially in a minority neighborhood? Would Fox News, Americans For Prosperity and the Tea Party support them?
You know the answer.