Wow! I Didn’t See That Coming

As Dave watchers recognize, that’s what Letterman says when the latest entirely predictable celebrity divorce or return to rehab hits the news. And that’s the only possible reaction to the Cliven Bundy story. Did anyone really think the Nevada rancher and scofflaw was a “patriot?” His recent remarks seem to have cleared that up.

Bundy has illegally grazed his cattle for 20 years on government land, claiming it’s been done for generations so he has the right. There are laws saying otherwise and fees for doing so, but he doesn’t think the laws or the fees apply to him and has declined to pay for many years.

He has been to court repeatedly and has repeatedly lost. The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) now claims he owes $1 million in accumulated fees and has attempted to confiscate Bundy’s cattle in lieu of a cash payment. But when they showed up as many as 1,000 supporters, an armed unofficial militia, threatened the government men with violence. The feds backed off to consider how to proceed. Obviously no one wants another Waco or Ruby Ridge, but the government surely can’t allow one law for people with their own armed force and another for everyone else.

Nevada Senator Harry Reed called Bundy no better than a domestic terrorist which predictably inflamed the farther reaches of the right. Some have taken to celebrating Bundy as a patriot. But that won’t wash. Bundy’s excuse for ignoring the law is that he recognizes the sovereign state of Nevada but doesn’t believe the United States exists. This isn’t civil disobedience, it’s criminal delusion.

The existence of the federal government was decided in 1788 when the Constitution was ratified. It has been reaffirmed repeatedly. As early as 1794 some westerners decided the new federal government didn’t have the right to tax them and staged the Whiskey Rebellion. No less a figure than George Washington, by then president, saddled up, rode at the head of 13,000 militiamen and put a quick end to the insurrection. It may be recalled that another attempt to ignore the existence of the federal government also ended with a similar result in 1865.

Yet there is a strain of fringe craziness that keeps producing insurrectionists who think that not believing in the government is the same as its not existing. The Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and 80s was a precursor to the Bundy nonsense and some of its leaders went on to spawn the Tea Party. Mountain Freemen rebelled against the government in 1996 and a group of Texans tried to declare their state an independent republic in 1997.

The Bundy case is a bit different in that he has attracted backers who ought to know better. Sean Hannity, using a megaphone provided by Rupert Murdock, has praised Bundy. Anyone who hates government and taxes is a patriot in some circles. But do Hannity and his boss really think Bundy will be a hero when he and his militia friends start killing people who try to enforce the law? Do they plan to show solidarity by refusing to pay their own taxes and shoot IRS agents? That will make for some interesting TV.

Fox News has not been alone in expressing sympathy for Bundy’s views. Nevada’s Republican Sen. Dean Heller is one. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was another although he had enough sense to point out the government has a lot more guns, so maybe Bundy’s method of protest was flawed. Greg Abbott, the Republican Attorney General of Texas who is running for governor, also suggested Bundy had a point and Pat Buchanan chimed in. Other supporters are the so-called Oath Keepers, a Nevada cabal of law enforcement and military officers who have vowed not to carry out any orders they deem unconstitutional. Great. Everyman his own Supreme Court.

The latest non-surprise in the Bundy affair came when he used his newfound fame to wax philosophical. Guess what? Bundy thinks black people were better off as slaves than as lazy welfare recipients who go around aborting their unborn children.

Maybe some liberty loving, gun toting, flag waving, anti-government, anti-tax crusaders are sincere patriots with a well-reasoned philosophy, but Bundy isn’t one of them. He is a Constitution-misreading, racist, secessionist, armed-and-dangerous foe of the United States and its form of government.

One hopes it will be possible to throw a net over Bundy before blood is spilled. He deserves his day in court and his time in jail. He is just a sad, delusional, egomaniac inhabiting an alternate reality. But what excuse do his friends in high places have? If Bundy is their idea of a folk hero, who’s next? The Klan?

For the Republican Party, under the baleful influence of its Tea Party wing, the peril of getting in bed with the Bundys of the world is obvious. A majority of the American people are not interested in armed insurrection, revolution, civil war, a return to slavery, rule by militia, hate speech, the repeal of every federal program since Social Security or the rest of the far right program.

Every time “mainstream” Republicans nod and wink at the fringe, they risk decreasing their party’s appeal and marginalizing themselves. They also give aid and comfort to the next armed nut job who thinks the government is a figment and he should rule the world.

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