In the past week, the Bundy ranch incident has quietly split the American conservative movement. Was the arrival of armed Americans in defense of the Bundy ranch and its cattle a fundamentally American reaction to government overreach? Or was it the wrong action at the wrong place at the wrong time?
The Bundys have very little legal footing. They have grazed their cattle on public land since the 1870s. Properly speaking it is federal land, although ranchers since before the Civil War have chafed at the overwhelming amount of land owned by the government. Since the 1980s, ranchers grazing on federal land have agreed to pay grazing fees intended to maintain the land. The Bundys contend that the fees have started funding policies that undermine their ability to compete and decided to stop paying. Somewhere along the line a turtle got involved.
Government officials, after 21 years of litigation, sent a small army complete with automatic weapons to rustle the Bundy family's cattle. In opposition, a small army of fellow ranchers and others brought weapons and horses, surrounded the federal agents who then relented.
Opponents within the conservative movement see the ranch militia as a different kind of Occupy movement. They fear that it will put a radical face on conservatism that could make it less appealing. Also, they point out that the federal government has the property rights in this case. So they see the arrival of armed citizens as a hysterical overreaction, despite conceding that the federal agents themselves did the same.
A problem of understanding comes from regarding this as a single incident. If anyone looked simply at the Boston Tea Party, they would wonder why Americans so irrationally opposed a small tax on tea. Only looking back over the course of the preceding years would reveal the logic of the colonists' rage.
Same here. Americans just do not decide to go down the road to put themselves in the way of armed federal agents. Not even in Nevada do Americans in large numbers go out spoiling for a gunfight.
The Bundys are likely in the wrong. But dismissing the anger that led to the reaction is a huge mistake. Also, the men and women who showed up in Nevada included property owners, veterans, former elected officials. Not the floatsam and jetsom of society, but its foundation.
Why? Why so much anger? Decades of a government that refuses to leave the people in peace have done this. Farmers in California with fields dried up, irrigation cut off due to a salamander. Power plants in West Virginia about to shut down because of the EPA. Farmers facing fines because the government says they have too much dirt. Federal agents spend $1 million, mobilize a SWAT team, and trump up drug accusations to stop a farm from selling raw milk.
The anger is real. Agree or disagree with the reaction, but there is logic and there are years of reasons why this happened. You can't build a country's foundation on rebellion against tyranny and not expect resistance to the federal government pushing the people too hard.
Lest anyone forget, this was a peaceful protest. No one fired a shot.