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Words from Winterbilt

Who is the Patriot?

Shannon Bohrer

(7/2014) For many people, the image of a cowboy riding horseback in open country carrying an American flag, waving in the breeze, looks patriotic. For others, depending on the circumstance, it may not be. A Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy, has been grazing his cattle on federal land for 20 years, never paying any grazing fees. When the government attempted to seize his cattle, Bundy was in the news as he opposed the federal government’s right to take his cattle, still refusing to pay grazing fees. Bundy’s defense was that he did not recognize the federal government and the land his cattle were on belonged to the state of Nevada. A number of self-proclaimed members of various militia groups traveled to Nevada to help Bundy to defend himself and his cattle.

When the Bureau of Land Management tried to seize Bundy’s cattle, a confrontation came close to being violent. The Bundy family members and dozens of supporters, all openly armed, angrily confronted a group of federal park rangers. At one point, the women and children on the Bundy side (there were no women and children on the government side) were put out front, between the two groups. A militia member explained that if any shooting took place they wanted the world to see that the government would shoot women and children. That does not seem patriotic.

When first reported, the news was generally limited to the facts just cited. That is until the talking heads and experts weighted in on the topic. A number of "experts" sided with Bundy in opposition to the government. When someone opposes the government, there are individuals and groups that will agree with that position, no matter the facts. We all know that the government is not perfect and we all understand the complexities of a bureaucracy. Mistakes are made. However, there is also a sub-culture in our society that really believes that the government is at the root of all our problems. For some in that sub-culture, no form of government would be acceptable.

The support for Bundy also included politicians and celebrities. Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Dean Heller of Nevada and well-known news personality Sean Hannity, were supporters, just to name a few. It seemed that a good number of "known" individuals wanted to show their support. The support seemed to slow down when Bundy was interviewed and made vile comments about black people and how they might have been better off under slavery. In a later interview he lost more support when he said he did not understand the uproar over his comments suggesting that blacks were better off when they were slaves.

To some the issue is simple: a 67-year-old rancher is fighting against a federal government that is trying to take his cattle. Bundy is perceived as a folk hero who is not politically correct and speaks his mind. As one of the militia leaders said: "It's tyranny in government," and he also added: "It’s stealing people’s cattle." A banner used by the protesters stated: "Has the West been won? Or has the fight just begun?" The issue is apparently so real to some of the supporters that they have threatened BLM Workers driving pickup trucks with BLM markings. Are the threats real? Some BLM employees have had windows shot out at their homes.

From the perspective of the Federal Government, and many others, Mr. Bundy is an outlaw of sorts who owes U.S. taxpayers more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees. According to National Park Service, Bundy’s cattle have been grazing in trespass on public lands in Southern Nevada for more than twenty years. According to The Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service they have tried to resolve the issue administratively and judicially. Mr. Bundy was taken to court multiple times which resulted in multiple court orders to remove his cattle from the federal lands. The government’s position is that the attempted seizure of the cattle was their last option.

Is this a liberty and freedom issue? Is this the actions of a tyrannical government? Is this an issue of a person that trespasses on property? Maybe this is an issue about someone that won’t pay the grazing fees that others pay, using the excuse that the government is taking away our freedom. The language used by the Bundy camp includes: "It's about freedom and liberty and our Constitution," "I am standing up against bad laws which dehumanize us and destroy our freedom," and "I invite all people in America to join in our peaceful revolution to regain our freedom." From my perspective, paying land rent does not equate to dehumanizing someone and does not destroy any freedoms.

After Mr. Bundy’s remarks on race, many of the supporters like Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Dean Heller withdrew their support, yet many of the earlier supporters had called Bundy and his supporters "Patriots." If you believe that someone is a "Patriot" and is being wronged by our government, does the patriotism stop if they use racist remarks? Maybe we should question someone that says they don’t believe in the U. S. Government and they still wave the flag. Maybe we should also question politicians that jump to a cause and tell us how bad our government is. They are speaking ill of the the very government that they themselves run.

If the government was seizing the property of a minority female farmer, because of taxes owed, would that be a freedom and liberty issue? Would the militias and politicians rush to her defense? Would they rush to her defense if she wore a cowboy hat and rode a horse? Bundy questioned the happiness of minorities, inferring that they were unhappy because they were on the government dole. According to Bundy’s logic, he should be unhappy since he has been on the government dole for 20 years, because he refuses to pay a $1.35 a month for each animal. $1.35 per animal, per month, that is cheap. Only the federal government would rent grazing land that cheap.

The issue of a tyrannical government abusing its citizens is always a valid concern, just look at history. But not in this case! If anything the government is partly at fault for not pressing the issue earlier. Allowing the illegal grazing to continue for 20 years might be inept, but it is not tyrannical. And historically there have been incidents where "Patriots" broke laws – BUT THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer