Cliven Bundy and Eric Holder's 'Rule of Law'

See also: Ruby Ridge Redux?

By now, you’ve surely heard tell of a land dispute between the federal government and a certain  Nevada rancher.

A publication back in Texas called The Blaze has relayed certain pointed, and mighty raw, sentiments of one Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who would match tricks with the federal government:

The 67-year-old veteran rancher, who has compared the situation to similar confrontations with government officials in Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas, told TheBlaze that his family has used land in the 600,000-acre Gold Butte area since the late 1800s.

“I have raised cattle on that land, which is public land for the people of Clark County, all my life. Why I raise cattle there and why I can raise cattle there is because I have preemptive rights,” he said, explaining that among them is the right to forage.

“Who is the trespasser here? Who is the trespasser on this land? Is the United States trespassing on Clark County, Nevada, land? Or is it Cliven Bundy who is trespassing on Clark County, Nevada, land? Who’s the trespasser?”

The Federal Government’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has no truck with Bundy’s late 1800’s tradition-based claims, and thinks him an unkind man.  BLM lays it down that commencing with the 1934 Taylor grazing act, sufficient rights with respect to land were conferred upon the federal government by an august, self-respecting body known as Congress, such that in 1993, BLM was authorized to abridge, in the interest of a varmint referred to by the rude as a “desert tortoise,” certain grazing-related rights theretofore enjoyed by Bundy. 

Bundy, clearly an ornery sort, has not complied with federal court orders that would vindicate BLM’s varmint interest in the land.  In essence, BLM views Bundy and his cattle as illegal invaders of what amounts to federal land in terms of title.

A fellow at Forbes by name of David Blackmon offers a level-headed analysis, filed in a different cabinet as it were, of what many consider to be the by-and-large unreported substance of the enmities:

The dispute in question goes back to 1993, when the BLM cut the grazing rights of the rancher in question, Mr. Cliven Bundy, from a herd of thousands of head of cattle to one of no more than 150 head in order to “protect” a species of desert tortoise that inhabits the same area of the state.  Most mainstream news media reports on this story naturally did not inform their readers of this fact, or of the fact that this tiny herd allotment would be spread over the 158,000 acres of land to which Bundy held the grazing rights.

Thus, by effectively slaughtering the bulk of Bundy’s herd in such a blunderbuss way that the varmint interest is scarcely served, BLM can be understood by reasoning folk to have attempted to run Bundy -- and other ranchers -- off the land entirely.  Here again is Blackmon:

When one understands these key facts, one realizes that such a tiny herd of cattle on such an enormous space would have no impact at all on the desert tortoise or any other plant or animal that lives there, and that no rancher could possibly make any sort of a living running such a tiny herd.  Thus, the obvious conclusion is that BLM rendered its absurd decision with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely.  And that is a very reasonable conclusion to reach.  After all, Mr. Bundy is in fact the “last man standing” here – the BLM strategy has worked so well that every other rancher with grazing rights in the region has given up and abandoned what had been their family’s way of life, in many cases, for generations.

Thus, BLM’s regulatory determination and implementation was very arguably, in the language of judicial review as it applies to administrative “lawmen,” “arbitrary and capricious” -- and therefore unlawful, whether a federal court has so declared or not.

Now, if you fancy, let us add some context.  The same federal lawman, Mr. Eric Himpton Holder, that contends Bundy is an invader successfully argued in the 2010 9th Circuit case United States vs. Pineda Moreno that the warrantless trespass of DEA officers onto a private driveway, in the curtilage of a home, in order to physically attach a GPS device to the homeowner’s vehicle did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

And BLM and therefore “lawman” Holder are talking about trespass with respect to Bundy and his cattle?

It’s mighty understandable if by now you’re mad as a hornet.    

And what of the spy state snooping -- doesn’t much of that meaningfully implicate forms of unconstitutional trespass?  And illegal immigration -- is that not trespass? 

Back to Holder.  He participated in an armed insurrection while at what’s said to be a school of learnin’ called Columbia, but would eliminate the Second Amendment if he could. Some think that makes him a terrorist.  In addition, “my people” Holder is a pesky racist; and not just because he scotched the New Black Panther voter-intimidation case.  There are many other reasons to believe this is so (Fast and Furious; the IRS; etc.); one that stands out is his played out “no comment” posture in response to the New Black Panther Party’s placement of a February, 2012 $10,000 bounty on George Zimmerman’s head -- which sounds more like prairie justice than givin’ Zimmerman his day in court, doesn’t it?  What does that say about Holder’s commitment to the rule of law?

And, Holder remains mum as a church mouse with respect to February, 2014 death threats against Zimmerman -- even though Zimmerman by then had been vindicated in court (that shouldn’t make a difference, but remember who we’re dealing with).

Then there’s the fact of Holder’s white shoes, white collar, Wall Street lawyer pedigree and his “Wall Street is Too Big to Jail” Justice Department.  We mustn’t forget to mention, of course, the District of Columbia’s scared up prosecution of Mark Witaschek for possession of a single shotgun shell, while having totally excused odious David Gregory’s brazen display (see link), and therefore wilful and knowing unlawful (according to unconstitutional D.C. Code) possession of a firearm. 

So, what law is it that Bundy is alleged to have crossed again?

And, we might ask, given Holder’s avowedly racist proclivities and his support of the New Black Panther Party: what if Bundy were, shall we say, different-toned?  Would he be contentedly grazing his cattle, perhaps with financial assistance from BLM and pats on the back from deputies (of a sort) Shirley Sherrod and Tom Vilsack?

In closing, here is a very incomplete list for still more context: DHS, DEA, ATF, FBI, FPS, IRS, DOE, HUD, SSA, USPS, all agencies with federal law enforcement capacities, and all heavily armed.  And, 200 armed and armored snipers aiming at Bundy’s head--all over a little set-to about a patch o’ land they’d be hard-pressed to budge Bundy from were he an actual unlawful invader.

We have to wonder: might the unfettered growth of federal law enforcement power be related to the federal government’s own brazen lawlessness? 

Dr. Jason Kissner is associate professor of criminology at California State University, Fresno.  You can reach him at

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