The Bundy Bunch and Obama’s Lawless West

By David Jenkins Published on January 14, 2016

The Obama Administration has a bully problem. It doesn’t seem to have a clue about how to deal with them. Whether it is Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iranian leaders, ISIS, the Administration’s response is always characterized by timid half-measures that fail to deter.

This is no revelation to most conservatives. Obama has been widely criticized for his failure to effectively counter these foreign bullies and protect American interests. But Obama has another bully problem that, at least until recently, has gotten less attention.

Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy is a long-time scofflaw who has been illegally grazing his cattle on public land and ignoring court judgments against him for more than two decades. In 2014, when federal law enforcement officers finally went to carry out a court order to remove Bundy’s cattle from publically owned lands, Bundy rallied a group of armed militants to his side.

In what is now known as the Bunkerville Standoff, Bundy’s supporters aimed high-powered rifles at the law enforcement officers trying to do their job and threatened to shoot them if they proceeded to enforce the court order.

What was the Administration’s response? You probably have guessed it. Law enforcement officers were told to stand down. Even worse, neither Bundy nor those who had law enforcement officers in their crosshairs have ever been arrested. In fact, Bundy is still illegally grazing his cattle, ignoring court orders and refusing to pay more than $1 million in fines.

This serious failure of the Obama administration has gone largely overlooked by many on the political right, overshadowed by concerns that the federal government controls too much land out West (well over half in some Western states). Some contend this has made life more difficult for ranchers faced with shifting or hard to follow environmental rules. But concerns that the federal government is too big and intrusive in one respect should not excuse it from being ineptly weak in another. One could argue that, out West, Obama has perfected a style of governance that is simultaneously heavy-handed where it should be more limited, and feckless where it should be strong and steady.

In any case, the fruits of the Obama administration’s weak-kneed response to the Bundys’ lawlessness have been on full display ever since, including bomb threats against federal officials, shooting at researchers, more armed standoffs and the wonton disregard of land management decisions.

The latest example is the armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in southeastern Oregon. Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan are ring leaders in the January 2nd takeover — and ongoing occupation — of the refuge.

The Bundy brothers, along with others who participated in the Bunkerville Standoff, purportedly seized the facility to prevent Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of arson by a local jury, from serving the five-year prison sentence recently mandated by panel of three federal judges (all of them Republican).

The Hammonds have already turned themselves in, and have said through a spokesman that they disagree with the seizure of the wildlife refuge by the Bundy led gang.

The Bundy gang’s real agenda comes into view with their demand that the federal government — which manages the refuge on behalf of all Americans,“relinquish control of the wildlife refuge.” They have vowed to continue their occupation “until we have secured the land.” Secure it for whom and for what is less clear.

The Malheur Refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt as a critical protection for migratory birds. Annually, the Refuge draws more than 24,000 visitors and is an important economic driver for the nearby town of Burns. The Refuge was created on unclaimed U.S. territory and has since added a couple parcels from willing sellers. There has never been a dispute over rightful ownership.

That is unless one subscribes to the Bundys’ radical beliefs.

The Bundy’s do not recognize the authority of the U.S. government to manage publicly owned land on behalf of all Americans. In fact, they do not recognize any federal level law or authority. Cliven Bundy has gone as far as to say “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”

It is hard to imagine our nation’s founders — you know, those folks who scrapped the state-friendly Articles of Confederation in favor of a more federal-friendly U.S. Constitution — having any tolerance for such views.

Using armed force and the threat of violence to get one’s way in a democracy is the worst kind of bullying. It undermines democracy and tramples on the rights of every other American.

More likely than not, the Bundys’ rebellious ideology is merely a concoction of convenience, designed to rationalize their desire to be above the law and able to do whatever they want. And as with most bullies, the only opinion that matters is their own.

What conservatives tend to understand better than liberals is that when dealing with a bully — be it a terrorist, a tinhorn dictator, a drug dealer or a belligerent rancher who rejects U.S. authority — appeasement never works. Once a bully is allowed to get his way without consequence, he is certain to push the envelope even further next time.

The failure to prosecute the Bundys and their fellow militants follows the Obama Administration’s bad habit of selectively enforcing the law. Whether it is immigration, drug laws, rioting or armed sedition, the Administration seems to think our laws are merely suggestions.

Teddy Roosevelt had it correct when he said that the law “must be enforced with resolute firmness, because weakness in enforcing it means in the end that there is no justice and no law, nothing but the rule of disorderly and unscrupulous strength.”

We can add an increasingly lawless West to the Obama Administration’s long list of shortcomings.

Unfortunately, like Obama, too many conservatives are also asleep at the wheel on this problem. That is because some people on the right seem to have mistaken the Bundys for some kind of sympathetic cowboy figures, rather than the dangerous, freeloading, anti-American tax cheats they really are.

While this Administration retreats and dithers, the Bundys — and other militants who share their views — are attacking our nation, its laws, its values, its history and the democratic processes established by our forefathers. They are the opposite of conservative, and they will continue to bully, threaten and test the limits of civil society until they are stopped.


David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship.

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