Every now and then, an event occurs which takes the term “media circus” to a whole new level. This was the case in recent days when the media elected to make a cause celebre out of Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy after he placed himself above the law. His refusal, over a period of decades, to stop grazing his cattle on BLM land or pay the taxes for doing so, landed him so much in the spotlight that a gaggle of armed “militia” characters flocked in from elsewhere in the country to confront government officials who were there to enforce the law. Miraculously, nobody was hurt, but it certainly wasn’t because the media didn’t make an all-out endeavor to draw blood.
Irresponsible media demagogues have nothing to lose if they incite violence, but they have a great deal to gain. They’ll have fodder for more sensationalism. They’ll be more revered than ever by their gullible fan base. They’ll greatly stoke the flames of hatred toward all the people whom you’re supposed the hate: the government, them librulz, and above all, the President of the United States. Thus, we saw them pursuing certain readily identifiable story lines, all of which were quite comical — or at least would have been, had it not been for the fact that so many people took them seriously. (A curious exception to the almost unanimous chorus of frenzy among wingnut babbling mouths was Glenn Beck.) These narratives were among the most common:
Narrative # 1: A noble hero
While denouncing President Obama as being, somehow, “lawless”, the punditocracy exalted Bundy, who has broken the law repeatedly, and even threatened violence against government officials. But somehow he’s a hero. Oh yes, and according to Sean Hannity, his disregard for the law will help bring down the price of meat. But listen carefully when Sean’s caught off guard, and you’ll hear him seem to inadvertently acknowledge that Bundy is a criminal.
There are legitimate ways to challenge a law a you don’t like, and not one of them involves a gun. If, as Bundy asserts, he owns the land in question, he should be able to produce a deed or some kind of documentation. But after 20 years of fighting the BLM he’s been unable to establish a claim to the satisfaction of the courts. You’d think he might take the hint that he’s in the wrong. Instead, he and his supporters draw the conclusion that the Big Bad Guvmint must be evil. The best he can produce is a bogus claim that his ancestors have been freeloading just like him for nearly 150 years — he seems to be off by 75 years or so.
This noble “conservative” hero, by the way, used his newfound celebrity to air his intellectual views on race. (Don’t even bother trying to affect an astonished expression.) After a delayed reaction lasting several days, some — only some, mind you — of the wingers who’d exalted him backed off, even though his rhetoric was quite similar to some of the things they’ve said in the past.
Narrative # 2: Armed thugs
The wingers made a big deal out of the fact that law enforcement personnel who descended on the scene of the crime were — gasp — armed. They ignore the fact that in 2012, unarmed federal authorities were threatened with violence when they tried to round up Bundy’s rogue cattle. Whoever heard of law enforcement being armed, anyway? We all know that only deranged, radical citizens who hate the government need guns. So they can plot how to kill federal agents when they get the chance. And intimidate residents of the surrounding community. There, that’ll teach the guvmint to be thugs.
Narrative # 3: God is on our side
By now, nobody should be surprised that in any given conflict, the right-wing loony fringe will claim to have received its marching orders directly from the Almighty. Always. And yet there is invariably a jaw-drop factor to it. One of the signs displayed at the “militia” orgy read “Liberty – Freedom – For God We Stand”. Never mind trying to diagram that grammatically. Just try to diagram it logically.
Narrative # 4: States’ rights
Wouldn’t matter. The state is constitutionally bound to honor the directives of the United States government. Not necessarily by the U. S. Constitution, but by its own constitution. Nevada attained statehood in 1864, which was well before the Bundy clan moved in and took its own turn at taking the land away from the Indians. When it did so it adopted a constitution, still in effect, that included something known as the Paramount Allegiance Clause (Article 1, Section 2) which mandates not only Nevada’s primary allegiance to federal law, but the use of force to ensure it.
Bundy has stated that he is loyal to the laws of Nevada, but doesn’t even recognize the existence of the United States of America. No word on what country he believes Nevada belongs to, or why he likes to strut around brandishing the flag of a nonexistent nation, but his utterance is nonsensical: allegiance to Nevada necessarily entails allegiance to the U.S.
Narrative # 5: Patriotism
So what do we call someone who hates the president, hates the government, flouts the law of the land, threatens government employees, and denies the very existence of The United States? Why, a patriot, of course! Bundy and his cohorts in the Tea Party/ “militia” crowd believe that their hatred for their country proves how much they love their country.
Ah, but you see, this country is not really THEIR country. THEIR country has been stolen by the big bad black guy in the formerly White House. THEIR country hearkens back to the Founding Fathers like…well, George Washington. Now there’s a president they really could stand behind.
Oops. It appears that they know about as much about history as they do about civics. Because by their standards, The Father Of Somebody’s Country was more badass than Obama has ever even dreamed of being. Not only did he believe in people paying their taxes, but during his time two anti-tax revolts were crushed (or at least suppressed) by military might. (And if you don’t love Jon Stewart already, you will after you’ve seen him school Sean Hannity about this.) President Washington himself led an army to stop the Whiskey Rebellion. And a couple of years before he became president, Shays’ Rebellion resulted in four protesters being killed during armed conflict and two of them being hanged afterward. And please note that the rebels in these skirmishes were countered by militias in the true sense of the word: civilian forces mobilized to fight for rather than against the government.
But Obama is no George Washington. Rather than saddle up and ride out to smash the insurrectionists like bugs, he called off the troops for the time being, thereby thwarting the protesters’ grand scheme to achieve a Darwin Award. What a scumbag. (Incidentally, that great “conservative” demigod Ronald Reagan also didn’t do much to warrant the adulation of the anti-tax mob. He raised taxes during 7 of his 8 years in office and even issued an executive order setting the grazing fees that Bundy now owes.)
Narrative # 6: The tortoise
Because the disputed land was home to an endangered species of tortoise, the story line developed that this was the whole reason the government wanted “Bundy’s” land. Because, you see, according to perennially popular narrative, the government cares more about animals than it cares about people.
But the tortoise, which has progressed from endangered to threatened, was not really the feds’ main concern. And it’s interesting that at the same time the wingers were asserting that the government cares more about the tortoises than the people, they were also circulating the rumor that the government was euthanizing the critters.
Narrative # 7. Hamburger holocaust
And then there’s the one about the government slaughtering Bundy’s cows — yep, the same cows that were being seized to satisfy his tax bill. The “proof” of this allegation is that the BLM killed TWO of the cattle out of safety concerns; and apparently 3 or 4 additional cows were killed accidentally, or humanely because the animals were injured. That sort of thing is not unusual in cattle roundups even under the best of conditions, and the conditions here are very far from ideal. The result has been very minimal cow-lateral damage considering all that’s going on. But it’s enough to fuel winger rumors about bovine extermination and “mass graves” — which they substantiate with a photo of dozers pulling three animals out of the ground.
So let’s see: the government will send in armed forces because it loves tortoises more than humans — and yet it also will slaughter scores or hundreds of cows, which are an animal that most humans depend on heavily for food, and a very valuable asset needed to resolve a tax debt?
Narrative # 8: The solar energy scheme
No matter what the issue, the incomparable Alex Jones can be counted on to pump up the lunacy quotient. And he came through once again, helping to spread the rumor that Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid was behind the “land grab” so his son could profit from using the land for the site of a solar farm to be built by a Chinese company. Like a good many other rumors, this one began with a couple of facts that were twisted into a pretzel. Chinese developers were interested in a solar farm in the Nevada desert, but they abandoned the plans. Furthermore, the proposed site was nowhere near the disputed property. But what is perhaps most interesting about this narrative is that it bluntly contradicts another common talking point: that the feds should just grant Bundy free access to the land because “nobody else wants it”.
Narrative # 9: Victory! (for Liberty, of course)
The official spin is that these “militia” dudes, by not getting their dumb asses blown away, defeated the Evil Empire ruled by that lawless dark-skinned dictator who had the audacity to win two elections, and thus scored a huge victory for liberty, God, truth, justice and the American way (or the way of whatever country they believe they live in). But the feds have made it clear that they’re not giving up on collecting Bundy’s taxes. They just decided it wasn’t worth risking the safety of their agents or spilling the blood of civilians, no matter how much the civilians may be begging to have their blood spilled. Trouble is, their withdrawal sets a very dangerous precedent; it likely will embolden “militia” types to try further stunts and become even more confrontational in the future. The only victory here is a victory for insanity — and media ratings.
These people like to invoke the specters of Waco and Ruby Ridge because they are under the delusion that in those episodes government was entirely at fault — just as they are convinced the government was at fault in the ‘Battle of Bunkerville”. But there is at least one major difference between those past cases and this one. This time, the government had the option of stepping down.
It’s quite possible that sometime in the near future, another incident like Waco or Ruby Ridge will arise, and once again senseless violence and even deaths will result. And when that happens, it’s a good bet that Fox “News” and friends will be on the sidelines cheering it on.