Las Vegas Sun

December 20, 2014

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Sun editorial:

Bundy is no victor

Bunkerville rancher defied the rule of law, picking and choosing what he’d obey

In the aftermath of the standoff in Bunkerville between the Bureau of Land Management and rancher Cliven Bundy, Bundy and his supporters declared victory.

Evoking romantic images of the Old West, they describe this as a David-and-Goliath battle in which the lone rancher takes on an overreaching federal government.

But that narrative is fiction. Bundy is no victor; he is clearly wrong, as the facts show.

Since 1993, he has refused to pay grazing fees, as thousands of other ranchers do, and since 1998, he has been in violation of a string of court orders by continuing to run his cattle on federal land. Along the way, he has made vague threats about the BLM and what might happen should it ever move to enforce the courts’ orders.

Early this month, the nation saw he was serious after the BLM moved in and started to move his cattle off federal land. Bundy and heavily armed self-appointed militiamen from throughout the country provoked a dangerous situation, confronting officers trying to uphold the law.

The pictures were frightening, particularly one of a man perched in a sniper pose, his rifle facing down toward law enforcement officers.

After the BLM wisely backed off, Bundy and his supporters gave air to views that this was a range war over states’ rights and federal land management. Those are issues that should be discussed but not in this case. This wasn’t a matter of a rancher pushing back against the government or a show of patriotism by Bundy and militia types; this was an open act of rebellion against the rule of law.

Bundy had his day in court and lost. He has actually had years in court, and he has laid out his arguments several times. Bundy claims that he has a right to the land and says the federal government doesn’t own it. But each time, a judge has denied Bundy’s claims, pointing to the law, the facts and decades of court cases that all contradict the rancher. Indeed, the federal government has controlled the land long before Bundy’s family arrived on the scene.

Still, after years of loses in court, he had options. He could have gone to Congress to try to change the law and rally political support. He could have tried to work out a deal with the BLM. He could have staged an act of civil disobedience to garner help.

Instead, Bundy, who proudly says he doesn’t “recognize” the federal government, became his own law and has followed his own beliefs as to what was right.

What he and his supporters are really doing is dismissing the American form of government.

Consider that Bundy hit a trifecta of sorts: He violated the laws Congress made, ignored the judicial branch’s orders, and defied the executive branch’s efforts to enforce those laws and orders.

It is deeply troubling that people, particularly some politicians, fail to see the seriousness of this and have tried to paint Bundy as a heroic figure. What they are saying is you can pick and choose which laws and court orders to follow, and with enough force, you can get away with it.

In the end, Bundy isn’t the victor; anarchy is. The rule of law, and society as a whole, lost.

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