Lately, Cliven Bundy‘s revolt against federal bureaucrats has gotten plenty of attention.
The literal standoff between the Nevada rancher and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) made for good TV, but the media has failed to explain how deep these tensions truly run.
You see, I came of age in the West during the 1970s and, for those of us bred in the wide-open spaces out there, the use of government lands was an issue of universal concern.
During the ’70s and ’80s, the Sagebrush Rebellion galvanized those of us who wanted the federal government to give more control of federal lands to state and local authorities. We were called Sagebrush Rebels.
Even Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, embraced the movement, saying: “I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion. Count me in as a rebel.”
In fact, land use was one of the issues Reagan rode all the way to the White House. He swept every western state on his way to presidential victory in 1980. So even though Cliven Bundy’s struggle against the BLM seems like an anomaly today, it’s really just the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle.
A Lengthy History
Today, the states in the West are largely owned by the federal government because of a few strange historical twists.
In the East, the 13 original colonies belonged mostly to private landowners and the British Crown. After the Revolutionary War, the title to the King’s lands was passed to each individual colony. But land out West was acquired much differently.
Most of it was purchased from competing colonial powers. The famous Louisiana Purchase, for instance, gave the United States wilderness stretching from New Orleans to Oregon in one single transaction.
Years later, millions of acres of that land were ceded to private hands by railroad rights of way and, later, the Homestead Act. But to this day, much more of the land remains in federal hands.
And for over a century, this land has been used by private cattle ranchers, miners and sheepherders, even though it was publicly owned.
But during the 1990s, the elites who control Washington, D.C. had a change of heart. They decided to put an end to the private use of their public lands by instituting a series of grazing fee increases and restrictive regulations that made ranching on BLM land next to impossible.
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The result was predictable. A time-honored way of life, the life of the rancher/cowboy, came to an end.
The Last Cowboy
Except, that is, for one man named Cliven Bundy in Clark County, Nevada. Bundy simply ignored the federal bureaucrats and continued to ranch pretty much the way he’d always done it. Bundy watched as his neighbors slowly pulled up stakes and quit the business. But he stuck with it.
The only problem was that he refused to pay millions of dollars in grazing fees, and fines slowly accrued over the years. After 20 years, the issue seemed destined to go unresolved.
Then the improbable happened. Bundy was set upon this year by the Obama administration, and he was told that bureaucrats were going to round up his cattle and seize what assets he has left.
So Bundy appealed online for help, and thousands of frustrated Americans converged on his property. The protesters literally built a human shield around Bundy and his cattle. Officials then overreacted by tasering unarmed people and throwing Bundy’s elderly sister to the ground in a display of violence that shocked America.
As the protest grew, the Feds finally announced this week that they’re pulling back… though it’s clearly a strategic pullback. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday, “It’s not over.”
Reid and the other elites in D.C. aren’t happy about the drubbing that they took at the hands of a citizen’s movement. You see, the most effective tool the elites have against the citizenry is learned helplessness. They make examples of people like Cliven Bundy so that others won’t be brave enough to take on the government.
Therefore, Cliven Bundy is now enemy No.1 because he showed that you can beat Washington with nothing more than the help of your neighbors and some brave volunteers. Their protest sent a message to anyone with a beef against Washington that if you stick to your guns, you can win.
Let’s remember the lesson that if we stand together, we can defeat the powers in charge.
Viva the Sagebrush Rebellion.
Your eyes on the Hill,