Cross-posted from Reader Supported News
A protester aims his weapon from a bridge next to the Bureau of Land Management's base camp.
(image by (photo: Jim Urquhart/Reuters))
It's a stark image: A supporter of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy lies prone behind a concrete retaining wall on a freeway overpass, training a rifle on federal agents.
He walked away a free man. When does that happen?
This episode, this time, involved a private rancher's self-proclaimed right to graze his commercial herd of cattle on public lands. The most coherent argument he makes is that his family has owned the adjacent ranch since the 1870s. The other arguments are more conceptual, focusing on issues like "natural law," the "sovereign citizen movement," and various other quasi-legal invocations based loosely and vaguely on the US Constitution and white-militia psycho-babble.
At stake clearly is the rule of law. "Terrorism" after 9/11, certainly in light of the Patriot Act, is defined so broadly that any material act of opposition to the US Government can be prosecuted as an act of terrorism and a matter of homeland security.
The images of fully militarized police beating unarmed Occupy protesters for nothing more than assembling in public places stands in vivid contrast to agents of Bureau of Land Management releasing back to Bundy and his heavily armed supporters 400 confiscated head of cattle.
Ultimately federal and state law enforcement officials would say they intended to handle it in court. But since the BLM operation was carried out pursuant to a federal court order, a subsequent court order is likely to carry the weight of a paper airplane. Make no mistake about it, this was a heavily armed standoff and the US Federal Government backed down.
Mostly white, middle aged, male, fiercely opposed to what they see as an oppressive government and just as fiercely loyal to the NRA, they took militarily-inspired positions in opposition to federal rangers with sights trained and fingers on triggers.
Civil War on the Table
"We're about ready to take the country over with force!" Bundy bellowed to his supporters. There is no doubt that many of them wish they could.
While this case of federal agents acquiescing to the demands of an angry mob with guns may be unsettling, the reality is that it might have been the right decision. Had the situation escalated, what followed might have ignited an American insurgency. Bundy's supporters, it should be noted, had a vast tactical advantage. The BLM personnel and lightly armed park rangers were totally outgunned and would have stood little chance against the militias assembled.
Yes, additional federal firepower could have been called in, in theory as much as needed, but had such an action resulted in significant loss of life the result could easily have been nationwide conflict.
White, NRA-inspired militias are as strong as ever in the US. It is their common belief that their guns stand between their way of life and a federal government intent on intruding. More than a few would welcome armed conflict. The NRA skillfully plays on and amplifies their fears, cashing in on wave after wave of arms and ammunition sales.
Further complicating matters is the validation and legitimacy these groups receive from a Congress and Supreme Court all too eager appease the NRA with laws and opinions more rooted in political convenience and ideology than in a realistic reading of the Second Amendment.
Enforcing the law in the face of such well armed and organized individuals may seem a daunting task, but the need to do so isn't going away.