Cliven Bundy – Folk Hero or Scapegoat?

Media Manipulation in the Age of Instant Messaging

Cliven Bundy

Cliven Bundy

Cliven Bundy is a 67-year-old rancher and organic melon farmer, whose family has had ties to southeastern Nevada since the late 19th century.

He’s also become a national celebrity, either famous for standing his ground against an overweening and abusive federal government bureaucracy or infamous as an allegedly racist anti-government wing-nut, depending on one’s ideological perspective, or which news media one frequents.

Unfortunately, however, there seem to be only two camps, each propagating an extremist view of Bundy, with no middle ground, no subtlety, no shades of gray. Dubya Bush famously declared, “You’re either with us or against us”, and both the Left and the Right seem to ascribe to this simplistic, dualistic and antagonistic mindset.

It’s a sad state of affairs when the mainstream media and pundit coverage and discussion of Bundy’s resistance offers so little nuance or philosophical reflection on the real issues involved, but instead seeks only to either lionize or demonize the protagonist.

It’s sadder yet that any commentary on race has become such a “third rail” phenomenon in America, that even Bundy’s staunchest political and media supporters went running for the shadows when he was (I assert, wrongly – see below) portrayed as racist or white supremacist.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Joseph Isaac "Ike" Clanton

Joseph Isaac “Ike” Clanton

Though apparently a good deal more mild-mannered than his infamous predecessor, Cliven Bundy bears some remarkable resemblances to Ike Clanton, born in Missouri in 1847, settled in Tombstone AZ in 1877 (before it was even a town), and known as a fierce proponent of the open range and of a man being a law unto himself.

The Clantons and their ranch hands were known as The Cowboys, with a reputation for banditry and renowned for facing off with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday at the OK Corral, where Ike’s little brother and two other gunmen were killed while Ike, unarmed, removed himself and let others fight his battle.

The Backstory

“I’ve lived my lifetime here. My forefathers have been up and down the Virgin Valley here ever since 1877. All these rights that I claim, have been created through pre-emptive rights and beneficial use of the forage and the water and the access and range improvements”, Bundy said.

Bundy repeated a similar claim: “My family has preemptive, adjudicated livestock water rights filed with the state of Nevada. They were established in 1877 when the first pioneers entered the valley. Among those first pioneers were my grandparents from my mother’s side. My father either bought or inherited his Nevada state livestock water rights and I, in turn, have done the same.”

Such claims are only partly correct and ignore previous history.Since 1492

The local Paiute Indians were forced into reservations by federal troops in 1875. Two years prior, before any Bundys arrived, the tribe was promised the same land on which Cliven Bundy now grows his melons, and grazes his cattle.

Ironically, Cliven’s son Ammon Bundy was recently at the Clark County Sheriff’s office demanding an investigation into BLM actions. In addition to the Freeman Institute version of the US Constitution in his shirt pocket, he was wearing this button:


Bundy Ranch

Clark County property records show Cliven Bundy’s parents moved from Bundyville, Arizona (just over the border about 50 miles to the southeast) and bought the 160 acre ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada in 1948 from Raoul and Ruth Leavitt. Water rights were transferred too, but only to the ranch, not the federally managed land surrounding it. Court records show Bundy family cattle didn’t start grazing on that land until 1954. County records show the earliest construction on Bundy’s ranch was in 1951. Since 1994 the ranch has been jointly owned by the David A. and Bodel Bundy Trust and the Bundy Revocable Trust.

“My rights are before the BLM even existed, but my rights are created by beneficial use. Beneficial use means we created the forage and the water from the time the very first pioneers come here”, Bundy said.

Federal grazing districts were established with passage by Congress of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. The Las Vegas area grazing district was established Nov. 3, 1936. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was formed in 1946, the year Cliven Bundy was born.

Although no Bundys lived in their present area of Bunkerville, Nevada in 1930 or 1940, according to Census records for those years, Cliven Bundy’s mother Bodel and her parents, John and Christena Jensen, lived in neighboring Mesquite in the early 20th Century. Census records from 1930 indicate that John Jensen was a Mesquite farmer originally from Utah whose parents were from Denmark.

Christena Jensen’s parents were originally from Utah. This is the side of the family where Cliven Bundy claims long-standing livestock water rights in Nevada.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Cliven Bundy’s maternal great-great-grandfather was Myron Abbott, who left Ogden Canyon, Utah to join Edward Bunker, Sr., in forming the United Order or Mormons, serving as the second counselor to Bunker who was made bishop of the community. After the United Order dissolved, Abbott spent his time plowing and tending farmland in addition to transporting salt from St. Thomas to Santa Clara, Utah. His son, William Abbott, married Dudley Leavitt’s daughter Mary Jane Leavitt at the St. George Utah Temple in 1890, and Bundy’s maternal grandmother Abigail Christena Abbott was their child. William Abbott traveled through the United States on Mormon missions, and served as the bishop of the Mesquite Ward from 1901 to 1927

Bundy’s other maternal great-great-grandfather Dudley Leavitt was a Canadian who moved to Utah after joining the LDS Church. After marrying wives in Utah in 1853, 1855, 1859, 1860, and 1872 and selling his Gunlock, Utah property, he moved to Bunkerville, Nevada. The original location he settled was south of Mesquite, 2½ miles northeast of present Bunkerville.

Bunkerville NV 2

Bundy’s maternal great-grandmother was Mary Jane Leavitt. After the United Order communal property was divided up, Dudley Leavitt moved across the river to Mesquite by 1881. When the Virgin River flooded, he moved again and was contracted to carry mail across a 180 miles round trip distance from St. George, Utah to St. Thomas, Nevada. He placed his five families in various locations along his route, and Mary Jane’s family was kept at Leavittville, Arizona.

Abigail Christena Abbott married John Jenson, who was born in Utah, and their child was Bundy’s mother, Bodel Jenson, who married David A. Bundy from Arizona and lived in Mt. Trumbull (Bundyville), Arizona until at least 1940. Their son, Cliven Bundy, was born in Bundyville, Arizona in 1946. They all moved to their present location in Bunkerville, Nevada after they bought the 160 acres in 1948 and built the ranch in 1951.

It is the typically complex genealogy of western settlers, but it demonstrates that there was no continuous line of family births and habitation in Bunkerville/Mesquite from Cliven Bundy to the few ancestors who settled the area.

Ranching History

Cliven Bundy

Cliven Bundy’s family has been grazing cattle on public land since 1954, but it was only after 1993 that Bundy stopped paying the token grazing fees and the BLM revoked his permit. Since that time, Cliven Bundy has been a scofflaw, using public resources without either permission or payment. He considers himself civilly disobedient.

Grazing fees are assessed per “animal unit month” or AUM, based on the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. The grazing fee for 2014, based on market conditions, is $1.35 per AUM – the lowest it can be set under federal law.

For most of the past three decades, BLM has charged $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM). That covers only a fraction of BLM’s costs in managing the program. In 2009, for instance, it covered less than one-quarter. The BLM fee is also well below the grazing fees charged by the private sector. As of 2004 (the last time the Government Accountability Office looked into this), private businesses charged in the range of $8 to $23 AUM – the equivalent, after inflation, of $10 to $29 today. State governments charge more, too: In 2004, state grazing fees ranged from $1.35 to $80 AUM, or the equivalent of $1.69 to $100 today.

The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, like Bundy, complains about “federal regulations [that] have infringed on … public land grazing rights and the multiple use management principle”. But, unlike Bundy, the Association says “However, in accordance with the rule of law, we must use the system set forth in our Constitution to change those laws and regulations… Nevada Cattlemen’s Association does not condone actions that are outside the law in which citizens take the law into their own hands… Nevada Cattlemen’s Association does not feel it is our place to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter. Additionally, NCA believes the matter is between Mr. Bundy and the Federal Courts.”

Bundy says he recognizes only state and county authority, not Washington’s. But the Nevada State Constitution acknowledges the authority of the federal government, stating that “the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States…”

Regarding the 85% of Nevada that is federal land, the state constitution says: “The people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare, that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

This makes it obvious that one can’t accept the Nevada Constitution without at the same time accepting Federal ownership and control of the unincorporated lands, as the latter is based on the former – Nevada statehood was based on the relinquishment to the federal government of all wildlands.

Confrontation Timeline

1989: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the desert tortoise as an endangered species. A year later, its designation was changed to “threatened”.

Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise

1993: Bundy stopped paying grazing fees, and The BLM, which oversees about 800 grazing areas in Nevada, responded by revoking his permit. Bundy has not applied for a new one.

1998: Nearly 200,000 acres of the Gold Butte, the area the Bundys graze their cattle, were designated off-limits for the “critical desert tortoise” population.


bundy-and-his-allies-dont-seem-to-care-much-for-federal-authority-over-public-lands1998: A federal court issued an order permanently enjoining Bundy from grazing his livestock on the former Bunkerville Allotment, ordering him to remove his livestock no later than November 30, 1998, and pay damages to the United States in the amount of $200 per day per head for any remaining livestock on the allotment after November 30, 1998.

September 17, 1999: After Bundy failed to comply with the court’s earlier order, the court issued another order directing Bundy to comply with the 1998 permanent injunction.

May 2012: BLM filed a complaint in a federal court in Las Vegas seeking another injunction against Bundy, and relief for Bundy’s trespassing on a new set of additional lands not covered by the original 1998 ruling.


December 21, 2012: As the case dragged on, the BLM moved for summary judgement.

July 9, 2013: An order signed by Judge Lloyd D. George (nominated by President Ronald Reagan on April 18, 1984), permanently enjoined Bundy and his cattle from trespassing on the Bunkerville Allotment, the Gold Butte area, and parts of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and authorized the United States Department of Interior to seize and impound any trespass cattle after 45 days.

August 2013: A court order gave Bundy 45 days to remove his cattle from federal land.

October 8, 2013: Another order was issued which allowed the United States to protect the land from Bundy and to seize any of his cattle that remain in those areas. The federal district court ordered Bundy not to “physically interfere with any seizure or impoundment operation”.

March 15, 2014: After nearly 20 years, the Bureau of Land Management sent Bundy a letter informing him that they plan to impound his “trespass cattle”, which have been roaming on 90 square miles of federal land.

April 5, 2014: After decades of trepidation, federal officials and contract cowboys start rounding up what they think are Cliven Bundy’s hundreds of cows (some branded, some not). The operation was going to cost $1 million, and last until May. The BLM contends that Bundy owes $1 million in fees, and will also have to pay the round-up expenses.


April 12, 2014: BLM decides not to enforce their court order: “Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.”

April 14, 2014: BLM also pledges that this isn’t done. A spokesperson for the bureau said, “The door isn’t closed. We’ll figure out how to move forward with this.”

The Fallout

Whether invited by Bundy or on their own, supporters and defenders of individual and states’ rights gathered at the cattle impoundment area to confront the federal officials, many of them arriving armed and prepared for a confrontation.


One militant Bundy supporter, former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, declared: “We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front. If they are going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers.” For some, a bloody confrontation like Waco or Ruby Ridge seemed to be the goal.


Bundy, himself, was nearly as militant, insisting “We’re not ready to negotiate …We’re going to stand and be ready to fight.” One of his sons, Ammon Bundy, said “You know, this battle’s been going on my whole life, almost. And if death were our main fear, we wouldn’t be here today. Freedom is much greater than death. People have to understand that.”

In an interview with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, Bundy explained:

“Well, you know, my cattle is only one issue – that the United States courts has ordered that the government can seize my cattle. But what they have done is seized Nevada statehood, Nevada law, Clark County public land, access to the land, and have seized access to all of the other rights of Clark County people that like to go hunting and fishing. They’ve closed all those things down, and we’re here to protest that action. And we are after freedom. We’re after liberty. That’s what we want.”

For the Bundy family and their rag-tag supporters, the battle was ultimately a defense of personal liberty and the sovereignty of the states against the excesses and infringements of the federal government.

Because of this classic individual vs. Big Government contest, Republican and conservative pundits and politicians voiced support for Bundy’s battle, including Kentucky Senator and likely presidential candidate Rand Paul, and Dean Heller, the junior Senator from Nevada. Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the senior senator from Nevada, called Bundy’s supporters “domestic terrorists”.

The standoff in the desert ended, at least for now, on April 12, when the BLM stopped the cattle gather, but the complexion of the confrontation changed abruptly on April 23, like a cowboy too long in the desert sun, when the New York Times published a selectively-edited version of an address that Bundy gave to his supporters the previous Saturday.

Charges of Racism Stick like Hot Cooked Oatmeal

Under Fire

According to the Times article by Adam Nagourney, the Saturday news conference “drew one reporter and one photographer, so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.”

While noting that “for 55 minutes, Mr. Bundy held forth to a clutch of supporters about his views on the troubled state of America – the overreaching federal government, the harassment of Western ranchers…”, the article quoted only two paragraphs of the address.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids – and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch – they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.”

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Almost immediately, all of Bundy’s mainstream supporters ran for the desert hills.

Fox News host Sean Hannity ripped what he called the “ignorant, racist, repugnant, despicable comments”.

Sen. Rand Paul, who originally supported Bundy’s case, issued a statement that: “His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”

GOP Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada earlier called Bundy’s supporters “patriots”, but later the senator’s office said he “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements”.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who had not weighed in on the land dispute, said Bundy’s words were “beyond the pale”.

The left-leaning media and blogosphere, needless to say, went viral with “BUNDY IS A RACIST” headlines and commentary, thereby “proving” that these range war protesters were the epitome of the right-wing, white supremacist extremists that liberals and “progressives” love to hate.

What the NY Times, Media Matter and other left-leaning outlets did to Bundy was reminiscent of what the mainstream media did to George Zimmerman through even more pernicious selective editing of his phone conversation with the police dispatcher, making it appear that Zimmerman volunteered Trayvon Martin’s race, rather than simply responding to the question, “Is he white, black or Hispanic?”. The difference here is that, while some prominent right-leaning outlets tried to correct the record with MSNBC’s libel against Zimmerman, even the right-wing media, such as Fox News, is complicit in maintaining the misdirection in regard to Bundy.

What Bundy Really Said


The Times, the “newspaper of record”, however, failed to bookend those comments with the context which would paint them in a very different, and almost opposite, light:

“… and so what I’ve testified to you – I was in the Watts riot, I seen the beginning fire and I seen that last fire. What I seen is civil disturbance. People are not happy, people are thinking they don’t have their freedoms, they didn’t have these things, and they didn’t have them.

We’ve progressed quite a bit from that day until now, and we sure don’t want to go back. We sure don’t want the colored people to go back to that point. We sure don’t want these Mexican people to go back to that point. And we can make a difference right now by taking care of some of these bureaucracies, and do it in a peaceful way.”

[quoted section…]

“Now, let me talk about the Spanish people. You know, I understand that they come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders. But they’re here and they’re people – and I’ve worked side by side a lot of them.

Don’t tell me they don’t work, and don’t tell me they don’t pay taxes. And don’t tell me they don’t have better family structures than most of us white people. When you see those Mexican families, they’re together, they picnic together, they’re spending their time together, and I’ll tell you in my way of thinking they’re awful nice people. And we need to have those people join with us and be with us, not, not come to a party.”

In context, Bundy’s comments, while clumsy and perhaps historically ignorant, seem to reflect support for the desire of blacks for freedom, acknowledge racial and social progress, and make clear that “we sure don’t want to go back”. Bundy was downright admiring of Hispanic family cohesiveness, even stating that they have stronger family values than white folks, and inviting both minority groups to join in his struggle for freedom and rights.

One of Bundy’s “bodyguards”, black US Army veteran Jason Bullock, said “I would take a bullet for that man if need be”. Bullock further said, “I look up to him just like I do my own grandfather… Mr. Bundy is not a racist. Ever since I’ve been here, he’s treated me with nothing but hospitality. He’s pretty much treating me just like his own family.”

Jason Bullock

Jason Bullock

Another black soldier, a U.S. Marine calling himself Charlie Delta, penned an open letter in defense of Bundy:

“One thing he definitely isn’t – a racist. I found his comments to not only be NOT racist, but his own view of his experiences. He posed a hypothetical question. He said, ‘I wonder IF’ … Hell, I’m black and I often wonder about the same about the decline of the black family. Bottom line is that we are all slaves in this waning republic, no matter our skin color. Mr. Bundy could have used any racial demographic as an example: Native Americans on reservations, whites in trailer parks, etc. He noticed the crippling effects of receiving government “assistance” and the long term result of accepting handouts. It’s not progress at all.”

Charlie Delta with Bundy

Charlie Delta with Bundy

In an exclusive April 24 interview with CNN’s Bill Weir, Bundy was asked to elaborate on his remarks. He explained he’d been simply “wondering whether (blacks) are that much better off in the situation we’re in now.”

In an April 25 interview on CNN’s “New Day”, Bundy stood by his remarks, saying he’s not a racist but only somebody who speaks his mind, perhaps using politically incorrect language.

“Maybe I sinned, and maybe I need to ask forgiveness, and maybe I don’t know what I actually said, but when you talk about prejudice, we’re talking about not being able to exercise what we think. … If I say Negro or black boy or slave, if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be (offended), then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done yet,” he told anchor Chris Cuomo, adding, “We need to get over this prejudice stuff.”

On April 25, the Bundy Ranch Facebook page elaborated on the rancher’s “New Day” comments, and concluded with these sentences:

“I am doing the same thing Rosa Parks did – I am standing up against bad laws which dehumanize us and destroy our freedom. Just like the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, we are saying no to an oppressive government which considers us to be slaves rather than free men.

“I invite all people in America to join in our peaceful revolution to regain our freedom. That is how America was started, and we need to keep that tradition alive.”

While some might take issue with Bundy’s comparison with Rosa Parks, his ideology of the tyranny of centralized government is nearly identical to that of the American revolutionaries and Founding Fathers. Unlike them, however, Bundy asks for a “peaceful revolution”.

Never Domestic Terrorism

When Blacks Say it, It’s OK

Ironically, the first person to state, on New Year’s Day 1871, that it did not serve the interests of free black people to be on welfare, was that most famous of abolitionists, former slave woman Sojourner Truth.

“The welfare state has done to Blacks what slavery couldn’t do, and that is to destroy the Black family.” – Walter E. Williams, American economist, commentator, and academic, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, as well as a syndicated columnist and author

“The Black family, which had survived centuries of slavery, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state” – Thomas Sowell, American economist, social theorist, political philosopher and author, currently Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, born in North Carolina, grew up in Harlem, served in the US Marine Corps during the Korean War, bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1958, master’s degree from Columbia University in 1959, Doctorate in Economics from the University of Chicago in 1968, has served on the faculties of Cornell and UCLA, and has worked at the Urban Institute

Derrick Grayson, the only black candidate in the Republican primary for the open Georgia Senate seat, said that he had been making a similar argument to Bundy’s for a while:

“When he talked about black people being enslaved, I have been saying this for the last eight years – by liberal Democrat policies. I don’t understand what the problem is. Oh, I get it. I can say it, but a white person can’t. A white person say it, the press is going to use it. Especially when that white person is engaged in something or involved in something that demonstrates how the government has overstepped its bounds. …”

“Under slavery, families were ripped apart, and it was a desire of black men and black women to be together with their loved ones. Family meant something. Spouses meant something. Well, what did government policies do? It broke up the black family, told the black family: ‘Hey, if you want to receive this welfare check, the man can’t be in the household.’ Huh?”

“Talk about government policies. In 1965, prior to that, illegitimacy in the black community was less than 13%. Today it’s over 70%. Government liberal Democrat policies. The man was just simply telling you the truth. Jesus.”

Dr. Walter E. Williams, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Walter-E_-WilliamsMason University, reports in his book Race and Economics:

Even during slavery, where marriage was forbidden, most black children lived in biological two-parent families. One study of nineteenth-century slave families (The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750–1925, by Herbert Gutman) found that in as many as three-fourths of them, all the children had the same mother and father. In New York City in 1925, 85% of kin-related black households were two-parent households.

A study of 1880 family structure in Philadelphia showed that 75.2% of all black families were nuclear (composed of two parents and children), compared with 73.1% for native white Americans.

In 1847, just one of ten Philadelphia blacks had been born in slavery. However, Theodore Hershberg found that those ex-slave families (80%) were more likely than freeborn blacks (77%) to be two-parent families.

Thomas Sowell has reported that “going back a hundred years, when blacks were just one generation out of slavery, we find that census data of that era showed that a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults. This fact remained true in every census from 1890 to 1940.”

The black rate of illegitimate births was only 19% in 1940 but skyrocketed in the late 1960s, reaching 49% in 1975. As of 2000, black illegitimacy stood at 68% and in some cities over 80%.

Double Standard

Shirley Sherrod, Obama’s Agriculture Department’s director of rural development in Georgia, was forced from her job when a conservative website – Andrew Breitbart’s biggovernment (dot) com – selectively quoted her statement about not serving a white farm family (“didn’t give him the full force of what I could do”), which was then picked up by Fox News.

Sherrod said her remarks to a local NAACP banquet were part of a story about racial reconciliation, not racism. But the NAACP and the Obama administration jumped all over her, and then apologized and asked her to reconsider her resignation. The NAACP said it and millions of others were duped by the conservative website that posted partial video of her speech.

In the case of that liberal black woman, the mainstream, the left and the Obama administration tripped all over themselves trying to backtrack and correct the record and their own mistake. This time, because the victim was a conservative white male who has been pegged as racist, no one seems to want to correct the record, let alone apologize.

What Happened to Honest and Fair Commentary?

Rules & Regulations

One can legitimately disagree with, or even condemn, this conservative assault on “big government” and public welfare programs, but it should at least be done uniformly, rationally and fairly – not ascribing malicious meanings to such beliefs simply because they are articulated by a white man who fits the progressive’s description of a wing-nut.

One of the most radical thought leaders of the Civil War period, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune (the most influential U.S. newspaper from the 1840s to the 1870s), employer of Karl Marx as a newspaper correspondent, founder of the Liberal Republican Party, an outspoken opponent of slavery, and an advocate for a host of reforms ranging from vegetarianism to socialism, wrote following the Emancipation Proclamation:

“We have stricken the shackles from 4,000,000 human beings and brought all labourers to a common level, but not so much by the elevation of former slaves as by reducing the whole working population, white and black, to a condition of serfdom. While boasting of our noble deeds, we are careful to conceal the ugly fact that by our iniquitous money system we have manipulated a system of oppression which, though more refined, is no less cruel than the old system of chattel slavery.”

Such distinguished thinkers and activists as Leo Tolstoy, Friedrich Engels and Emma Goldman shared similar perspectives.

French journalist and lawyer, Simon Linguet, wrote in 1763: “The slave was precious to his master because of the money he had cost him… They were worth at least as much as they could be sold for in the market… It is the impossibility of living by any other means that compels our farm labourers to till the soil whose fruits they will not eat and our masons to construct buildings in which they will not live… It is want that compels them to go down on their knees to the rich man in order to get from him permission to enrich him… what effective gain [has] the suppression of slavery brought [him ?] He is free, you say. Ah! That is his misfortune… These men… [have] the most terrible, the most imperious of masters, that is, need. … They must therefore find someone to hire them, or die of hunger. Is that to be free?”

“The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it may be, because of the master’s interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it, has no secure existence.” – Friedrich Engels

“Money is a new form of slavery, and distinguishable from the old simply by the fact that it is impersonal – that there is no human relation between master and slave.” – Leo Tolstoy

The idea that to beg for either work or a handout is more degrading than slavery has a long and noble lineage, and can’t be so easily dismissed just because it is expressed in the politically incorrect language of an elderly white Nevada rancher.

And yet, the entire mainstream – left, right and center – immediately and reflexively wrote Bundy off as a crackpot racist, as if it couldn’t otherwise effectively counteract his anti-tyranny stance which has been so central to the American tradition since the 1773 shadowy and conspiratorial Committees of Correspondence.

Founding_Fathers_Stand_Against_Tyranny_1776“The question you propose, whether circumstances do not sometimes occur, which make it a duty in officers of high trust, to assume authorities beyond the law, is easy of solution in principle, but sometimes embarrassing in practice. A strict observance of the written laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the  highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the end to the means.” – Thomas Jefferson, letter to John B. Colvin, September 20, 1810


For the sequel to this story, see Range War Redux – Bundy Boys In Oregon 


by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes

8 Responses to “The 2014 Range War – Cliven Bundy v. DC”

  1. Bill said

    Why can’t we get straight forward actual fact based jornalism like this all the time in America. I love how you actually posted the rest of the comments that Bundy was discussing when addressing his views on blacks and slavery vs gov welfare. I guess the media will do anything for ratings even if it means destroying a persons character, and dividing a country.

  2. Fantastic journalism, Robert Riversong! I had made the mistake of taking the “Bundy distraction” as presented by the mainstream media at face value. (SHAME on them – they certainly twisted his unrefined and politically-incorrect comments about “Negroes” into racism, to suit their ends. The man is NOT a racist.)

    I still think he owes the government (supposedly “we the people”) money for his use of public lands for grazing. But after reading your piece, I can’t honestly say the BLM acted unreasonably, even though I’m a small-government fiscal conservative.

  3. Jason Goldman said

    Tyranny is when citizens have no voice. Taxation without representation. That is not the case. We the people, are represented. Defying the will and law of a represented government is sedition and treasonous. Just because that will and the laws that uphold it are against a selfish citizen’s ideals of freedom does not give them freedom to use weapons, force and intimidation to change that will. There is no excuse. It is black and white. And it most definitely is treasonous. There is no more discussion needed on the matter. As a citizen, you can chose to accept it, protest it, lobby against it, but not to defy it. That will be met with immeasurable force. The end.

  4. Riversong said

    Jason Goldman,

    Your absolutist “black and white” perception of this incident is every bit as fundamentalist and extremist as that of the Bundys. Their beliefs on personal freedom vs. government control are as old as the debate between Federalists and Anti-Federalists among the Founders, and their position on the Second Amendment (though historically invalid) was recently affirmed by the US Supreme Court.

    Few Americans on any part of the political spectrum believe we live in a truly representative democracy anymore (if we ever did), and those who are willing to risk their lives for a cause – as the Bundy militiamen are – can hardly be described as “selfish”.

  5. M.A. Enriquez said

    Sad that this article digressed from the land management issue into a race issue. It started of very intelligently and objectively.

    I am trying to learn both sides of the BLM / Bundy issue and why no one discusses that state actually charges more money for grazing then the federal government does…and so why doesn’t the Bundy movement gratefully pay a far far lesser per/cattle head amount?
    Something else is going on here….it doesn’t make sense.

    I have read dozens of pro and con arguments on this issue, but is it really just about having the right to do anything you want in public land? Mineral and water extraction? I cannot see that free land use empowers the state or county in any way– especially financially.

    I have not read of this topic, and welcome any links pro or con.

  6. Riversong said

    If you had been paying attention to the media narrative of this event, it is NOT my story but the media’s focus (beginning with a NY Times article) which digressed into a racism issue in order to undermine the credibility of Cliven Bundy and force his conservative media supporters to abandon him.

    What the Bundy family is doing makes perfect sense, from the distorted perspective of the “constitutional patriot” movement, and is a natural continuation of the anti-federalist movement that was strong at the founding of the United States, and which has grown stronger since a black man was elected to the White House and the NRA accelerated its fear-mongering with assertions about Obama taking away America’s guns.

    The philosophical sources of the new Range Wars and associated movements is explored in The New Anti-Federalists: The Wellspring of the Bundy Sagebrush Insurrection.

    The propaganda engine called the NRA is exposed in The NRA Story: From Rifle Club to Extremist Gun Rights Lobby: How the National Rifle Association evolved from a Shooting Club to a Terrorist Organization.

  7. You’ve ignored, miss or knowing dismiss the following two items.

    1) Definition of “Disposal” (i.e. Disposition) – As stated in the article, ” sole and entire disposition of the United States” from the State Constitution. The US government was put in-charge of the “DISPOSAL” (i.e. sale) of newly created state land that was not yet appropriated. Do a little research on the passing of the “Land Ordinance Act” into the US Constitution of which Article IV was written SPECIFICALLY for.

    It DOES NOT give ownership title to the federal government – it only gives them the power to “DISPOSE” of the land as it was so well stated in a supreme court case —

    “and the soils under them, were not granted by the Constitution to the United States, [[[but were reserved to the States respectively]]]. Secondly, the new States have the same rights, sovereignty, and jurisdiction over this subject as the original States. Thirdly, the right of the United States to the public lands, and the power of Congress to make all needful rules and regulations for the sale and disposition thereof, [[[conferred no power to grant to the plaintiffs the land in controversy]]] in this case.

    2) The US Constitution – which was the defined power scope of dual federalism between federal and state. IT GIVES NO POWER to the federal government to take, manage and certainly not OWN state land ANYWHERE except for purposes in Article I. Opponents like to play the “Finders Keepers” game and apply Article IV to it while entirely dismissing the word “disposition” clearly written in it.

    A little non-biased, non-construed interpretation puts anyone right in like with what the Bundys are telling us. The federal has NO AUTHORITY to state lands except from Article I. Even Article IV warns about “construing” it in this manner.

  8. Riversong said

    Tim Goodluck’s comment is typical of the know-nothing Bundy’s and those of the rest of the “Wise Use”, Sovereign County, and Constitutional Sheriff’s movements. He misrepresents selectively-quoted sections of court rulings and the Constitution to rationalize the unsupportable contention that western public lands cannot be legally owned by the federal government and managed for the broad interests of the American people.

    Oddly, Goodluck is railing against an argument which was not even made in this article, but rather in my subsequent article on the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation and its roots in the several Sage Brush Rebellions.

    By focusing on the single word, “disposal”, Goodluck does exactly what he accuses me of doing: ignores the rest of Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2, which states in its entirety: “Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.” (emphasis added for the willfully blind).

    What Article IV warns about is that nothing shall prejudice the claims of the US to its lands – precisely the opposite of what Goodluck claims.

    Furthermore, Goodluck snips a quote from a Supreme Court ruling of 1845 regarding Alabama, which dealt ONLY with the “navigable waters and the soils under them” – the preface of which he conveniently leaves out – just as gun fetishists leave out the first clause of the 2nd Amendment when arguing for unlimited rights.

    I’ve dealt thoroughly with these issues in the above-linked article, but here is a summary:

    The word “Territory” in Article IV was construed by the US Supreme Court in United States v. Gratiot (1840) to mean “land”; thus, the Property Clause power was construed from the beginning to apply to all federal land, not just territory held prior to statehood.

    The Supreme Court of the United States, in Gibson v. Chouteau (1872) has ruled that “with respect to the public domain, the Constitution vests in Congress the power of disposition and of making all needful rules and regulations. That power is subject to no limitations.

    In Light vs. US and US vs. Grimaud (both in 1911), the Supreme Court asserted that the public lands were, in fact, public; that federal ownership of them was indisputable; and that Congress, through a series of legislative acts, had granted the Executive Branch, and by extension the federal land management agencies, administrative authority to manage these acres in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations.

    The Supreme Court unanimously held in Kleppe v. New Mexico (1976) that this constitutional provision provides that “the power over the public land thus entrusted to Congress is without limitations”. The federal government may own land, it may enact regulations governing that land, and it may do with its own land as it chooses, regardless of whether that land is within the borders of a state.

    Congress resolved the issue in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which has governed the public lands since 1976. Congress determined that, after disposing of roughly 1.3 billion acres of land in the western United States for free or at bargain basement prices, federal policy should be to retain the remaining federal land in federal ownership for the common benefit of all Americans.

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