Cliven Bundy, 68, is a cattle rancher in Nevada, which is in the American southwest.
Like some of the tougher denizens of the saloons you see in westerns, many of the state’s inhabitants are wary of outsiders. If one shows up – say, someone from Washington, DC – they’re more likely to welcome him with a deep-creased scowl and well-aimed wad of phlegm than with a hearty slap on the back and a shot glass of Old Snakebite.
Bundy is one of these.
“I abide by all state laws,” he was quoted as saying in a recent interview with The Los Angeles Times
. “But I abide by almost zero federal laws.”
Last month the rancher, who quite appropriately lives near a place called Bunkerville, got into a hoot of a showdown with some of those wonky Washingtonians.
Seems he’s in arrears to the US government to the tune of a tidy $1 million in unpaid fines and late fees for taking his herds to graze on federally owned acreage – acreage that has been set aside for desert tortoises that tree-huggers (vegetarians, probably) like to worry about so much.
But it’s not important who Cliven Bundy is and what his beef is with the Feds.
What’s important is that when representatives of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) showed up on April 5 to start confiscating some of his cattle so as to offset those arrears, he called out a rough cross-section of the National Rifle Association, the Tea Party and every yahoo with a chip on his shoulder since Waco and Ruby Ridge – and they came from as far afield as Montana and (how not?) Idaho.
The standoff – replete with dusty pickups, Confederate flags and young and middle-aged men who, in Stetsons and caps saying Remington, Winchester and Smith & Wesson, lovingly but firmly cradled some of the venerable firearm manufacturers’ heftier products – was a dream come true for outlets in all the media. It especially thrilled, it seemed, the Fox News Channel, which apparently had grown weary of having to explain yet again to Joe and Gloria in Peoria just where the Crimean Peninsula and Indian Ocean were. Bundy of Bunkerville required no explanations.
Soon, the whole wiggy impasse came to be embodied in a Reuters photo showing a man identified as Eric Parker from “central Idaho.” He was lying prone across the shoulder of a Nevada highway, aiming a rifle between two concrete crash barriers and down into a riverbed toward what was described in the caption as “the Bureau of Land Management’s base camp.” The photo was taken during what The Las Vegas Review-Journal described as “a 20-minute standoff between angry and armed ranchers and law enforcement officers” on Saturday, April 12.
“With rifles pointing toward each side and tensions reaching a critical level,” the newspaper reported, “federal land officials backed off and agreed to give up the cattle to Bundy’s family and supporters.”
As Time magazine told us, “BLM retreated, abandoning the round-up amid ‘serious concerns’ over the safety of federal employees.... Bundy declared victory in the Battle of Bunkerville. His supporters festooned a nearby bridge with a hand-lettered sign reading: ‘The West Has Now Been Won!’”
YOU MIGHT liken a lot of this story to what often goes on in the wild West Bank, which has at least one Bunkerville of its own called Yitzhar, or Tel Rumeida North. The settlement is home to Jewish people whose Zionism is more akin to the ways of Attila the Hun than it is to those of Ahad Ha’am, Theodor Herzl or even Ze’ev Jabotinsky. It’s a place where people thumb their noses at any form of central authority, preferring instead to march to the beat of some strange, messianic and even apocalyptic deity for which the sanctity of human life comes a poor second to the rules of a sick, religion-fueled game of King of the Hill.
Our Hilltop Youth are like the Eric Parkers who flowed to Bunkerville at the first whiff of insurrection. When they show up at an illegal outpost for a showdown with the army, there is a smug sense of self-assuredness that theirs is the right way, the only way, a kind of God-granted entitlement to run roughshod over rules and regulations they see as a base affront to their way of life.
Yes, the week-long spectacle in Nevada (for some reason barely reported here) was infused with an undeniable religious fervor. Bundy has 14 children. (One we know about – sheriffs tasered and arrested him when he tried to interfere with BLM employees – bears the Old Testament name Ammon.) And the rancher was not at all shy about invoking the fire and brimstone of the Lord in his holy war against bureaucrats.
“We the people in this area have nothing to fear,” he said into the video cameras and boom mikes. “We can carry our weapons if we like because we have Second Amendment rights, and those are God-given rights.... Today, we have been confirmed by our Creator that we do not have to be afraid.”
This is a man who clearly believes in biblical values and the absolute authority and supremacy of the Power above. Most of his supporters seem to be the same, and when you look at some of our own Bundys in Yitzhar and elsewhere in settlements here and there in the West Bank, you quickly note that only the head coverings are different.
THIS IS not to cast aspersions on settlers as a group. What many often forget (and I admit I am among them) is that most of those Israelis who live in the West Bank go bareheaded and are there for the irresistible quality of life at rock-bottom prices. What’s more, the vast majority of the religious settlers – who unfortunately are portrayed by the broad brush of the media as little more than gun-toting zealots – are in reality decent, rational, civic-minded people who know there are limits even for those who go to live where they do because the land was bequeathed to them by God.
In fact, some of the leaders at Yitzhar know there are limits and have warned the troublemakers that their behavior against the IDF – and even against Arabs living in surrounding villages – cannot go unchecked. It’s like the rest of the cattle ranchers managing their herds on the lands around Bunkerville who, as New York Times columnist and blogger Timothy Egan so aptly put it, “pay their grazing fees on time and don’t go whining to Fox or summoning a herd of armed thugs when they renege on their contract. You can understand why the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association wants no part of Bundy.”
I, too, want no part of Bundy or of any of the Bundys who are running loose in the West Bank. I am sure that most people living here feel the same. So it’s time for our government to put its foot down on the phenomenon of settlers-gonewild who turn on the very troops sent to protect them. As Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon recently put it, “they will have to obey the law like every Israeli citizen, and we will deal with violent activities with full severity, until they stop and understand that one does not lift a hand against the law.”
Today it’s just vandalism and a small IDF garrison consisting of a few tents and a generator. Tomorrow, though, it could be like the standoff in Bunkerville.
There, Americans faced each other with shotguns and assault rifles until the BLM backed down, figuring it was better to take a stab at placing liens on Bundy’s ranch and cattle than allowing blood to flow.
Here, my gut feeling is that it’s going to take far more to put the matter to rest, and that Ya’alon’s smart-sounding words will remain just that.