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Rob Horowitz: Cliven Bundy: No American Hero

Thursday, May 01, 2014

 

As a great old Willie Nelson songs goes, ‘My heroes have always been cowboys.” The American cowboy courageously doing what it takes to stave off attacks on his home and property is a hardy staple of American mythology—the subject of countless Western movies and television shows.

This romantic attachment to cowboys, which has far outlasted the end of the American frontier, explains some of the misplaced initial sympathy for the reckless and truly ignorant lawbreaker Cliven Bundy. But Bundy is no John Wayne. Unfortunately, his story brings back echoes of a more recent, all too real, and profoundly disturbing past where tragedy and loss of life was the result in places like Ruby Ridge, Waco and Oklahoma City.

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to seize 500 of Cliven Bundy’s cattle was not sudden or arbitrary. For twenty years Bundy has refused to pay the routinely charged grazing fees for his use of federal land, owing the federal government more than $1 million as a result. Further when his grazing rights were finally revoked, Bundy flouted the law by continuing to use the land defying federal court orders.

Bundy’s response was to enlist his allies in the militia movement and greet federal employees just trying to do their job with a rag tag army of self-described ‘citizen-soldiers’. As the Los Angeles Times describes the scene, “Scores of grim citizen militia men in combat fatigues-semi-auto weapons slung over their shoulders, ammunition magazines at their belts — patrol from a base they call Camp Tripwire.” Mindful of past violent tragedies, the federal government ended up backing off at least for now, releasing 350 of Bundy’s cattle back on to public land and making no effort to seize any other property on his Nevada ranch.

Some conservative commentators, most prominently Sean Hannity, and office holders including Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Rand Paul(R-KY), praised Bundy and his militia allies for standing up to what they characterized as an overreaching federal government They did so despite Bundy’s provocative rhetoric and his armed response to an attempt to enforce the law.

Even before Bundy’s disgraceful racist screed at the end of last week, in which he wondered whether African-Americans would be better off if they were still slaves among other choice comments, finally caused most of his mainstream conservative allies to abandon him, the Nevada rancher was making some truly outrageous comments. For example, on the Alex Jones radio show, according to Media Matters, Bundy expanded on his past call for the disarmament of BLM agents and predicted that if local sheriffs did not take guns from ”bureaucratic armies, then civil war will occur.” On the same show, Bundy reportedly added that federal law enforcement should be disarmed by sheriffs “one county at a time.”

On Special Report with Brett Baier, the conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer strongly criticized the conservatives who rallied around Bundy:” …And why conservatives, or some conservatives end up in bed with people who, you know, he makes an anti-government statement, he takes an anti-government stand, he wears a nice big hat and he rides a horse, and all of a sudden he is a champion of democracy. This is a man who said that he doesn’t recognize the authority of the United States of America. That makes him a patriot? I love this country, I love the Constitution, and it is the Constitution that established a government that all of us have to recognize. And for him to reject it was the beginning of all of this.”

Just about 19 years ago, on April 19, 1995, militia movement ally Timothy McVeigh used a truck of explosives to blow up the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, resulting in 168 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries. In the wake of this national tragedy, President Clinton said, “We know that words have consequences, so I say to you that even as we defend the right to speak freely and to say things with which we disagree, we must stand up and speak against reckless speech that can push fragile people over the edge, beyond the boundaries of civilized conduct to take this country into a dark place.”

President Clinton’s words still ring true. There is and certainly should be a robust debate about federal land policy in the West. This can be accomplished, however, without embracing and encouraging a reckless law breaker like Cliven Bundy, especially while he is openly threatening violence. We must all stand up against the demonization of federal workers and law enforcement officials just trying to do their job. All of us in the public square, Sean Hannity included, have a duty to be responsible.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

Editor's Note: An previous column this week was incorrectly attributed to Rob Horowitz.

 

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