I’ve been trying to catch up on the saga of Cliven Bundy and his ranch out in Nevada that just resulted in a government standoff. If my understanding of the situation is correct, here’s the lowdown:
Bundy’s family has been grazing cattle in Nevada since 1870. He allowed his cattle to graze onto adjoining land, which was publicly owned. In 1998, a Court ordered him to stop doing so or pay the feds $200 per head per day. Bundy has refused, believing that the federal government has no right to the land and, if he is to pay any grazing fees, they should be to the County. Last year, with Bundy owing over a million in unpaid fines, the feds got a court order to seize any cattle grazing on the restricted land. Last week, they started seizing them with armed agents in tow. Fearing a Ruby Ridge incident, Bundy sent out a call for help and militia groups showed up resulting in a tense standoff. As of today, the Bureau of Land Management has backed down although they are still in possession of several hundred of his cattle.
(There are a lot of allegations flying around, including claims that Harry Reid’s son has a financial interest in the land and that cows were being killed. I am extremely dubious of these claims.)
I really don’t know what to say about this. On the one hand, I do think Bundy is in the wrong here. Whatever one may think of the Federal use of land (in this case, to protect an endangered tortoise) there is not much doubt that it is Constitutional. The federal government does have the power to buy land for public use (and, thanks to Kelo, private use too). Their land use may be stupid, but it’s Constitutional. Is Bundy arguing that the cattle aren’t on Federal land? Is he arguing that the Feds never properly compensated anyone for the land or that it is not a public use? Is he claiming that it was his family’s land and he was not compensated? It’s hard to tell since most of the media are ignoring the story so I only have fragmented reports from the edge of the blogosphere.
That having been said, responding with armed agents and cattle seizures seems like overkill. If Bundy is in violation of federal law, he can be arrested. Peacefully. Simply grabbing his cattle any time they wander onto federal land (or least when federal agents claim they have) seems like a tactic designed to produce a confrontation or to provide a pretext to seizing his land.
The idea that federal agents have their eyes on Bundy’s land is not as crazy as it sounds. There is a history of local and federal agents engaging in spats with landowners or investigating ranchers and farmers in the hopes of seizing their land, albeit usually in the name of the War on Drugs. The most infamous was probably the Donald Scott case, where a man was gunned down during a midnight drug raid. Authorities launched the raid because they thought he had a massive pot operation and they would be able to seize his 200-acre ranch. No drug operation was ever found. Fish and Wildlife has also gotten into confrontations over unfounded allegations of endangered species being destroyed and the Bureau of Land Management has gotten into previous spats over land use.
I’m not saying that’s what going on here. What I am saying is that this might be playing into the thinking of Bundy and his supporters. And you would think the Feds would be wiser than to push on that narrative.
I will post more as events warrant.
Update: A correction to my post. The land has been publicly owned for a long time and the Bundy family grazed on it. Breitbart has a very good and balanced analysis complete with links to court documents (H/T: Biggie).