At what point do armed citizens consider themselves the law, based on little more than their numbers and their guns? The latest news from Bundy Ranch, raises this and many other questions.
The Bureau of Land Management called an end to its gather of Cliven Bundy's cattle. Even though the agency was well within its rights to take action -- considering that Bundy owes more than $1million in unpaid grazing fees, and the courts have repeatedly ruled against him for 20 years -- it stood down after well-armed, self-appointed "militias" rush to defend Bundy's freeloading, rather than give right right-wing another Waco or Ruby Ridge myth to rally around.
The BLM is gone, now, but the militia is still hanging around and beginning to show its dark side. With nothing better to do, Bundy's "militia" is reportedly setting up "checkpoints" and requiring locals to show proof of residence before being allowed to pass. In a letter to Clark County Sheriff David Gillespie, Rep. Steve Horsford (D, Nevada) describe the checkpoints and other intimidating behavior.
My constituents have expressed concern that members of these armed militia groups:
1. Have set up checkpoints where residents are required to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass;
2. Have established a persistent presence along federal highways and state and county roads; and
3. Have established an armed presence in or around community areas including local churches, school, and other community locations.
Horsord writes that his constituents have been forced to "live under the persistent watch of an armed militia," that answers to no particular authority other than its own, and is accountable to no one.
Let's be clear. There is nothing that gives any of the so-called "militia" members the right to stop anyone and demand anything, let alone to establish armed patrols in the community. What's happening around Bundy Ranch now is outright intimidation.
The phrase used to describe it lately is, "gun bullying," and it rose in the wake of anti-gun protest following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. It happens when gun-toting protestors flout open-carry laws at counter-demonstrations, to intimidate anti-gun protesters. It happened in Dallas, Texas, when 40 armed gun advocates gathered outside a restaurant where they knew Moms Demand Action For Gun Safety In America (MDA) was meeting, started getting guns out of their trucks, and waited for the group members to come out. MDA later issued a press release calling the group "gun bullies."
But the phenomena takes on an even more sinister tone when self-appointed "militias" used a show of arms to intimidate opponents, and the threat of violence to affect policy making and law enforcement. That's what happened in GIlberton, Pennsylvania, where embattled police chief Mark Kessler -- who was running for sherif -- was put on suspension after disturbing videos surfaced of him shooting automatic assault rifles while ranting against "libtards" and other perceived political enemies, as well as videos of Kessler in uniform, repeatedly shooting at a target he called "Nancy Pelosi."
Kessler also happened be the head of a private "militia" called the Constitutional Security Force (CSF). When the city/county council met to consider disciplinary action against Kessler, more than 100 armed members of his personal "militia" gathered outside the meeting. Some CFS "militia" members patrolled the meeting area, telling the media they were there to provide extra "security." They also angrily confronted a member of Keystone Progress, who brought petition signatures from more than 20,000 who wanted Kessler fired. Rather than fire Kessler, the council decided to suspend him for 30 days without pay.
What's unfolding in Nevada hasn't become quite as extreme, yet. But give it time.
Lawlessness of a Different Color
Let's be clear. Clive Bundy is a criminal. After losing in court for over 20 years, Bundy employed the threat of violence to continue illegally grazing his cattle without paying the grazing fee that other ranchers pay. A simple review of county records proves Bundy's claims on the land are bogus. Whipped into a frenzy by Fox News, Bundy now has an armed "militia" supporting him in flouting the law.
If Bundy and his supporters were black or Latino, and wore hoodies instead of cowboy hands, they wouldn't be called a "militia." They would be called a gang of armed "thugs." Instead of hailing them as heroic patriots, the talking heads at Fox News would be calling for them to be arrested, if not shot on sight.
History bears this out. In May of 1967, Black Panthers invaded the California statehouse. Thirty well-armed young black men and women arrived on the west lawn of the state capitol, and climbed the capitol steps. Bobby Seal read a prepared statement:
"The American people in general and the black people in particular," he announced, must take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.
What drove the Black Panthers to the capitol was opposition to gun control.Then governor Ronald Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he "no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons," and called guns "ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will."
But that was when the NRA supported gun control, and Republicans were still the "law and order" party." What's happening at Bundy Ranch may be lawlessness, but it's lawlessness of a different color -- and that makes all the difference.