It looked, at first, like scenes from a Technicolor wide-screen western epic movie, circa 1950s.
There stood rancher Cliven Bundy, tall and proud, next to his two pardners, all three puffed up with sagebrush bravado. Behind them was the grandeur of the Nevada range country. All three men were wearing big white cowboy hats, the kind the good guys always wore in the movies.
These men, it first appeared, were courageously defending Bundy’s cattle-grazing rights against that evil varmint, the Federal Government. These gruff-spoken good guys, white hats blazing in the sun, claimed they were protectors of our liberty. Freedom fighters. Rough-ridin’ vigilantes for Good.
And, sure enough, it wasn’t long before a bunch of rough-and-tumble gun-toters showed up to help the victim, Bundy, protect his rights and the rights of all Americans from government over-reach into our lives. In a gun-wagging standoff, the government men backed down, and the Bundy-ites declared a victory for freedom. It was dubbed the “Battle of Bunkerville.” The rebels had won, and them goldarned government sidewinders had slithered back into the hills where they’d been hatched.
And, go figure, it wasn’t long before right-wing Republicans began to hail Bundy as a true patriot, standing up heroically for all Americans so threatened by the forces of wicked Big Government. Chief among the right-wing cheerleaders was Fox News Channel’s right-wing preppy darling Sean Hannity. Politicians like Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz quickly got into line. They’d found a cause on the good ol’ frontier that they could champion.
Then, all of sudden, one day – whoops! – Bundy opened his big mouth and said the following, concerning African-Americans:
“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 a government subsidy?”
When his words hit the air waves, many Bundy supporters, including the lineup of right-wing politicians, went running for the hills.
Whoops! Bundy’s not the most shining example of a freedom fighter, after all. And he’s also a hypocrite, whining about subsidies for “cotton pickers” while range ranchers have had federal subsidies for years, including a lower-than-private rate in fees ranches pay the government to graze their cattle on federal lands. That is something Bundy has refused to do for 10 years, and that is why he owes the federal government – us – about $1 million in grazing fees – the same fees other law-abiding ranchers have paid for decades.
To their credit, right-wing politicians condemned Bundy’s racist filth. However, they shouldn’t have waited so long. He should have been roundly condemned earlier as a lawbreaker, not a freedom-loving patriot.
Bundy, in fact, is not much better than other cult figures, who were lawbreakers but who gained status among some disaffected sorts for their “stands” against the government: people like Gordon Kahl of North Dakota, Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge, Jim Jones of Jonestown, David Koresh of Waco – to name just four. In all those cases, a conflict with the government ended badly – very badly. In some cases, yes, perhaps the government over-reacted and came down too hard (such as at Waco). However, it was the blatant lawbreaking that brought the government to the doors of those men’s fortress mentalities. These so-called freedom fighters, like Bundy, have always been self-alienated oddballs with a chip on their shoulders, a deep-seated penchant to defy any authority, a chilling sense of paranoia and a longing for martyrdom (unfortunately, by taking others with them on their march toward assisted suicide).
These “patriots” should not be emulated or applauded; they should be rejected and in many cases arrested and tried in a court of law. To call them freedom fighters is not only inaccurate, it’s insulting to those true patriots who did – and continue to – fight for freedom.