Sunday, April 27, 2014

This Month's Right Wing Hero: Cliven Bundy

I suppose that it's possible that you've been stuck in a cave for the last two weeks or so - maybe you're an amateur spelunker (I suppose those still exist). Or perhaps you actively avoid even looking at anything about Nevada (and who could blame you?)

If so, let's recap. We have a cattle rancher in Nevada named Cliven Bundy (apparently, "Cliven" is a reasonable choice for a name if you're from those parts). For the last twenty years, Bundy has been grazing his cattle on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. That's not a crime: the BLM allows ranchers to do that all the time. The thing is, they charge a fee. And Bundy has never paid his grazing fees in over two decades.

He's claimed that he inherited grazing rights from his grandmother, because some of her ancestors kept cattle in the Virgin Valley since 1877. If this was true (and there's no evidence that it is), that just means that Bundy comes from a long line of criminals: the US Government has owned that land since it was given to us by Mexico (you know, after we took it from them) in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.

Let's just look at it this way: if you had flowers growing wild in your backyard, and your neighbor kept kicking down your fence and picking those flowers, you might get a little cranky, right?

Now the grazing fees aren't exactly exorbitant - they haven't changed in decades, and tend to be about $1.35 per animal per month. That's a lot less than feed costs, but Bundy didn't want to pay it. He's used a lot of different arguments over the years, but his latest one is kind of fascinating: he doesn't recognize the existence of the US government.

(The fact that he made that statement immediately raised red flags for me. That philosophy, and his use of the phrase "sovereign," is a mark of what's called the Sovereign Citizen Movement, a group of right-wing terrorists who don't believe that they need to follow pesky things like "laws.")

Once he made some noise about being anti-government, our intrepid insurrectionists over at Fox "News" decided to make a working-class hero out of him, without doing even the most basic research into whether he was a dangerous lunatic.

And sure enough, once Fox "News" started trying to make a hero out of a man stealing from the government, some of his Sovereign Citizen friends (and a bunch of other random nutjobs) came along to help him fight off the government trying to collect the money he owed them.

On Salon, Eric Stern put together almost two dozen of the various lies Fox "News" was trying to spread before Cliven started speaking his mind in public, and there's some real winners there. One of my favorites was actually made by a member of the Nevada legislature:
"Nobody has seen any bill for $1.1 million. It doesn't exist." (Michelle Fiore, R-Nevada Assembly, on MSNBC) Bundy says he has "never been sent a bill" but also says he never opens mail from the U.S. government because he does not recognize the U.S. government’s existence.
That just about says it all, doesn't it? But that's where it starts to get really interesting. Because then, somebody in the conservative media made the mistake of letting him talk on camera.

What happened was, Bundy liked being the center of attention, and he started holding daily press conferences. And even when the press dwindled down to (on this particular day) one reporter and one photographer, Bundy kept talking. Unfortunately for him, the reporter in question was from the New York Times.
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.

"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
It was probably right about that point that the right-wing media screamed and ran away. But Bundy wasn't done - not by a long shot. He had an all-access pass to the media, and decades of evil built up in his soul. He wasn't going to shut up just because his new "friends" stopped taking his calls.

He started appearing on any talk show that would have him, basically repeating the mantra that "I'm not a racist," and interspersing it with statements like this.
If I say 'negro' or 'black boy' or 'slave' … if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offensive (sic) then Martin Luther King didn't do his job.
Or he'd double down on his remarks.
Are they happier now under this government subsidy system than they were when they were slaves, and they was able to have their family structure together, and the chickens and garden, and the people had something to do? And so, in my mind I’m wondering, are they better off being slaves, in that sense, or better off being slaves to the United States government, in the sense of the subsidies. I’m wondering. That’s what. And the statement was right.
Proving, if nothing else, that he had no idea what slavery really was. On the other hand, in an interview on CNN, he proved that he understood how Fox "News" worked.
The CNN host suggested that Bundy had been abandoned at Fox News, something he said was apparent by the fact that the rancher was appearing on his network and not Fox.

"I don't think I've been abandoned. I think maybe they misunderstood me a little bit," Bundy said. "But I think Fox and I, I think, Hannity and I are just right on. I have no doubt that he would support me if he understood really what's in my heart. And I think he does understand me."
There was a time in America when the right wing had some reasonable members. But as they've gradually drifted down the rabbit hole, they've begun embracing more and more radical ideas. And now they've reached the point where everyone they embrace as a hero, from Ted Nugent to George Zimmerman, and now Cliven Bundy, has proven to be not just deeply flawed, but pathologically insane.

Perhaps they should take the hint, and realize that the problem lies, not in their heroes, but somewhere deeper in their philosophies.

Meanwhile, off in the distance, Cliven Bundy continues to spout authentic frontier gibberish.

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