Cliven Bundy reminds us to keep putting cameras on law enforcement

On April 12, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy won the battle, if not the war, to keep his cattle and keep them illegally grazing on federal land. In the face of angry militia members and Tea Partiers, the armed Bureau of Land Management agents stood down, and even returned the cattle they had begun to collect from Bundy, who denies the legitimacy of federal authority.

Bundy’s family tasted victory. But as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose district is Nevada, put it “We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”

All through the week, as the standoff became national news, the media wrung its hands over whether the temperamental Bundy and the frustrated feds might clash and turn into another Waco. April 19 will be 21 years since the fire that ended the standoff between followers of the sect leader David Koresh and federal authorities who had spent the entire day pumping CS gas into the the Branch Davidians’ home. That, plus the previous year’s disaster at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, became the two signs of the “90s right-wingers” fears come true.

When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Building two years later, he didn’t just kill 168 people in Oklahoma City, he also overshadowed the tragedies he had foolishly hoped to avenge. Now mainstream leftists like Rachel Maddow or the makers of CNN’s shockingly one-sided documentary on Waco from 2013 need only mention the latter or Ruby Ridge to imply some kind of menacing militia ties among folks still angry about the events.

Half the folks predicting that Bundy Ranch would become a new locational shorthand for federal and fringe standoffs and bloodshed were waiting for their worst fears about the government to come true. The other half were waiting for Maddow and her ilk to be able to crow, I told you so! Look at these violent, gun-toting kooks!

Bundy, in short, is playing a dangerous game that he may win if only because too many cameras can now be turned onto the BLM agents and other folks. By contrast, in Waco the press was kept more than a mile away from the action.

Bundy might be wrong about federalism. But in a country where nearly half the West is owned by the feds, and 87 percent of Nevada is as well, it seems like he might have a good policy point at the end of the day — and damn the endangered tortoises.

In terms of cable news drama, though, there is another reason to cautiously support him. Bundy’s family is testing the restraint of a government that badly needs reminding that it is works for us, not the other way around.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie recently raised the reasonable point that some supporters of Bundy may not be as keen on him if he were a radical, gun-toting minority, or, say, a member of the black radical leftist group MOVE, But the question must be asked, even if he were, would Bouie not assume the feds or police were in the right?

Liberals who broadly brush over Waco anger as the same thing as McVeigh sympathies, or right wingers who use it as a battle cry but have never heard of MOVE are not an excuse for either incident. Bouie might be right about some hypocrisy among Bundy supporters, but that is all the more reason to keep consistent principle. Does Bouie know — as many lefties don’t seem to, since it’s now a right winger’s cause — that the Branch Davidians were not “white separatists” and in fact nearly half of them were black? Does he rally around the Black Panthers and their gun-toting protests of the ‘60s, or is that too hardcore?

And that’s the point about Bundy — which is the same point about David Koresh’s crew, Randy Weaver’s family at Ruby Ridge, and MOVE — the fringe is fringey for a reason, and not always a good one, even for supporters of small or no government. Still, one needn’t support the cultism and child molestation-tolerance of the Davidians, the apocalyptic racism of the Weavers’ Christian Identity religion, or the left and loud radicalism of MOVE to support, well, not law enforcement.

Footage from last week of Bundy’s supporters screaming at and antagonizing BLM agents is strongly reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street or other leftist protests you could mention. Depending on the cause, and depending on whether the protesters are armed, the right and the left do not look so different once they start pushing back against authorities.

Reasonable people do not protest with guns. Reasonable people always disperse or put their hands up when law enforcement demands it. To be reasonable. Bundy should have paid his grazing fees twenty year ago and been done with it. He certainly shouldn’t have declared the beginnings of a “range war.”

And if Randy Weaver had been a sensible man, he would have gone to court on his firearm charges and not lost his wife and son to an FBI sniper and a U.S. Marshal respectively. Certainly, David Koresh could have saved his followers by going outside Mt. Carmel and turning himself in to the ATF or FBI.

That knowledge doesn’t diminish the fact that the federal authorities in those cases at best completely and utterly fell down on the job they should have — to diffuse violence, and to even risk their own lives to make sure situations stay peaceful. The weird politics and religiosity of the groups does not diminish the tragedy of their deaths, contrary to what the Rachel Maddows of the world imply.

Whether Bundy is entirely in the right is not the point. The rule of law is very well and good, but it doesn’t end the conversation about environmentalism, land rights or the long arm of the feds.

All of us should, if not support the Weavers or the Bundys, or the MOVErs and Occupiers, consider what happens to most people who resist law enforcement and consider keeping a closer eye on these folks who task themselves with keeping the rest of us in line.


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