Right-wing lawlessness continues apace at Cliven Bundy's ranch, where supporters who were itching to shoot police officers and federal agents, nearly shot each other instead. Some citizens want the "militia" out. Can this thing end without bloodshed?
Standoff At The Ranch
It was inevitable that the "militiamen" who flocked to Cliven Bundy's ranch would turn their guns on each other. It's poetic that the people who rushed to defend Bundy's mythological "ancestral rights" to flout federal law would draw guns against one another over their own delusions
Last week, the Oath Keepers circulated a rumor that the Obama administration had planned "drone strikes" against Bundy and his supporters. Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes advised his people to pull out. (The Oath Keepers later claimed the rumor was government "psy-ops" against Bundy's supporters.)
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this angered members of Mike Vanderbough's so-called "III Percent Militia," who voted to oust the Oath Keepers. Some even threatened to shoot Rhodes and his men in the back, as "deserters."
Rhodes responded with a video in which he described an encampment of hot-headed "nut cases," standing with weapons drawn, ready to kill each other.
Denied the Waco-like or Ruby Ridge-style incident they desired, Bundy's backers seem to need to point their guns at someone.
Showdown With the Sheriff
In mid-April, Clark County Sheriff David Gillespie rode out to Cliven Bundy's ranch to tell Bundy about the deal with the Bureau of Land Management to suspend the roundup of Bundy's cattle. Bundy would only speak with the sheriff on a stage surrounded by his armed supporters, whereupon Bundy started giving the sheriff orders to disarm federal park service officers, bulldoze entrances to federal parks, and "report back here in an hour" with the arms Bundy ordered seized.
Thirty to forty police officers arrayed between BLM agents and 400 "militiamen" armed with AK-47s and AR-15s feared a bloodbath. Some "militia" members pointed their guns at officers, and seemed to want a violent outcome. One officer said a "militia" member asked him if he was "ready to die."
Armed "militiamen" also blocked local media 8 News NOW's access to public roads. Some even poured lighter fluid around the Channel 8 news van, while others "got physical." Bundy supporters have also posted photos and identifying information about BLM employees involved in the roundup on various social network pages.
Capitol Police are investigating death threats against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has been sharply critical of Bundy and his supporters. Reid recently increased his security detail, after receiving death threats at his home from Bundy supporters -- probably driven in part by a conspiracy theory that Reid engineered the fight with Bundy in order to "take people's land in his state so he can re-sell it to the Chinese."
Vanderboegh threatened Reid at a rally, saying, "Don't poke the wolverine with a sharp stick, Harry, unless you want your balls ripped off."
Lawlessness Must Not Stand
In a letter to Sheriff Gillespie, Rep. Steve Horsford wrote that Bundy's supporters have assumed police powers and authority. Armed "militia" members have set up checkpoints, requiring motorists to "prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass," and established a "persistent presence" around highways, local schools, and churches. Horsford wrote the letter after at an event near Mesquite, where he was approached by constituents who were concerned about the presence and activities of Bundy's armed "militia."
Ammon Bundy, Cliven's son, denied that "militiamen" who accompany his father to news conferences and guard the family home have established an intimidating presence. "They have sidearms," Ammon Bundy said, "not rifles." Sidearms are still guns, though, and they make a statement.
Patrick Blanchfield, writing in the New York Times, interprets what the guns at Bundy's ranch -- and guns that have appeared more and more often in the public square -- are saying. They may be "a vestige of Old West range-war mentality." "But," Blanchfield writes, "as a transaction between the state and citizens decided not by the rule of law, nor by vote or debate, but rather by the simple presence of arms, Bunkerville is deeply troubling."
William Rivers Pitt is blunt: "...and note you well: here in America, you can point a high-powered rifle at federal officers and get off scot-free with your gun still in your hand."
BLM agents had good reason not to give Bundy's supporters the violent confrontation they wanted. The consequences could have been far worse than allowing them a momentary, symbolic victory.
Bundy and his supporters are part of the sovereign citizen movement, which believes the US government is illegitimate and that they are "free of legal constraints." JJ MacNab in Forbes magazine writes that "sovereigns" like Bundy and his supporters believe that the majority of Americans agree with their goals and objectives, and all that's needed is a "shot heard 'round the world" to rally Americans to their cause. They believe this fervently enough that they put women and children on the front line at Bundy's ranch.
Bundy ally and former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack even suggested that the "shock value" of women and children being shot by "rogue federal officers" might lead more outraged Americans to join their cause.
The BLM's decision to stand down probably saved dozens of lives, along with denying Bundy and his supporters greater media attention and a platform of martyrs to stand upon. But Clark County police say it's not over.
Nor should it be over. The lawlessness on display at Bundy's ranch must not stand. The consequences are too great. The rule of law is essential ingredient of democracy. Without it, we risk devolving from "a government of laws, not men," to government by the men with the most guns.