Living only a short distance from the standoff at the time, I hurried to the Bundy Ranch in 2014 to cover the shocking events and learn more about the dispute. While so many in the media (including so-called conservatives) asserted that Cliven Bundy’s dispute was because he “didn’t want to pay his taxes,” the issue proved to be so much larger than that.
Nevada, the Bundys’ home state since the 1870’s, cannot really profess to be a state at all. Sure, it has a government, but the land is claimed by the federal government. That is, even by generous estimates, the federal government claims no less than 85% of all land in the state. The Bundys were in a decades-long dispute because the land that they (and other ranchers) used to graze their cattle since the days of the Wild West had been restricted by the federal government.
The feds asserted that the Bundys had no right to be on “their” land and with this assertion came a startling federal occupation. Peaceful protesters were being abused and, for want of a better term, “roughed-up” by federal Stormtroopers who asserted that any who wished to speak freely must do so from within the confines of a designated “free speech zone.”
The nation took notice of the stand-off. However, soon, I found myself on a freeway bridge overlooking a wash. Hundreds of armed protesters demanded the return of the cattle stolen by the federal government. Federal agents, geared-up from head-to-toe in body armor and with rifles, stood vigil as tension filled the spacious desert. A single shot by anyone would have ignited a bloodbath and potentially a new American revolution.
The federal government blinked and released the cattle and the day ended without bloodshed.
However, the issue is still far from over and several Bundy Family members and hundreds of armed militia members have seized a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon in protest of federal tyranny.
The federal government still maintains that they are allowed to control the vast majority of land in the West. Though Nevada only enjoys 15% of the land in their state, Oregon does not fare much better as the federal government lays claim to 53% of the land in the Beaver State.
Harney County, Oregon, ranchers Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven Hammond, 46, were found guilty in 2012 of a federal anti-terrorism statute. Their crime was simply doing what the government would not: the ranchers burned areas to neutralize the threats to their land, threats that included invasive species of plants and the ever-looming threat of wildfires. The duo conducted burns that were once routine in the densely-wooded state of Oregon, but that have slowed dramatically in recent decades as militant environmentalists refuse to allow responsible forest management techniques that include burns.
For their “crime,” the Hammonds were charged in connection with a 2001 fire and Steven was charged in connection with a 2006 fire. The judge, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, who has since retired, understood that the offenses did not include malice and gave Dwight three months and Steven one year. Both men served their times.
However, in a shocking move, the Obama Administration demanded that the two men who have been out of prison for years be hauled-off to serve the rest of the mandatory minimum for their supposed crimes- five years.
After a lengthy legal process, the notoriously-liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and sentenced the men to return to prison in October of 2015.
So, are the Hammonds and the Bundys just anti-government? Or do they have a valid point?
The complaints by the Bundys and the Hammonds are valid not only on a constitutional basis, but on a “commonsense” basis as well.
Though it, admittedly, seems counterintuitive, one of the most-important aspects of responsible forest management is the conducting of controlled burns. Wildfires are incredibly costly and devastating and without routine burns and *gasp* logging, forests become dense tinder awaiting a dry day and a spark.
The federal government’s decades-long crackdown on logging has devastated the logging industry and the towns that relied upon the industry, including Roseburg, Oregon, a former logging town that President Obama has claimed to care about, but who he has helped condemn to economic stagnation.
When the Hammonds burned fields that included supposedly “federal” lands, they were not committing terrorism, though they were convicted under an anti-terrorism statute. They were doing what the government would not and conducting burns to protect their land from invasive species and the very-real threat of wildfires.
That they have been imprisoned not once, but twice for the same “crime” is not only unconscionable, it demands a vigorous condemnation and reaction by committed patriots.
Now that we’ve addressed the “commonsense” aspect of the Hammonds’ actions, let’s discuss the constitutionality of the Bundys’ occupation of the federal wildlife refuge in Oregon:
Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution outlines how much land the federal government is allowed to own and for what purpose. It outlines a need for a federal capital (Washington, D.C.) and allows for the government to possess lands to administrate and maintain a military presence. It reads:
To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
The federal government claims roughly 85% of all land in the Bundys’ home state of Nevada for themselves. According to the Congressional Research Center, the federal government claims for themselves 53% of Oregon’s land. While it is certainly reasonable to allot land for federal facilities such as military bases, how can the federal government pretend that claiming ownership of the majority of land in Western states is anything short of outright federal tyranny?
The Constitution is very clearly being trampled. Not only is it a travesty that the Hammonds were forced to do the burns that the federal government wouldn’t, it’s also a travesty that they were imprisoned and that they have been re-imprisoned for their supposed crime in violation of our nation’s prohibition of double jeopardy.
In this context, we cannot wonder why the Bundys are occupying “federal” lands out of protest; we should, in truth, be wondering why similar occupations are not occurring throughout the West.
As a frame of reference, please remember that when a distant, big government taxed our preferred beverage, American colonists began storming ships and revolting with arms.
Our current distant, centralized government is laying claim to the vast majority of lands out West and abusing those who do not comply and Americans are too busy watching the Kardashians to revolt.
It’s time to wake up.