Cliven Bundy, Free Speech Zones, and Endangered Rights

The son of rancher Cliven Bundy, David, was taken into federal custody a few days ago for taking pictures of cattle on his father’s ranch. Let me explain. Cliven Bundy owns a 150-acre cattle ranch in Nevada. His cattle used to graze on the thousand acres or so around his farm (called Gold Butte), and for a few years,  Cliven Bundy paid the federal government for grazing rights. He stopped paying that price to the federal government in 1993, saying he would be happy to pay the county, but didn’t think the federal government should have any say in the land.

In 1998, the federal government, or more particularly the Bureau of Land Management, made grazing on the land outright illegal. The move may have been political retribution or leverage, but ostensibly, it was to protect the habitat of an endangered animal: the desert tortoise.

Cliven refused to stop grazing the land. And he has taken his case to federal courts for about twenty years, and been regularly shot down. Is it any surprise that federal courts would protect the sovereign authority of federal agencies? Not really.

Now, para-military federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management have swarmed the area to escort “trespass cattle” out of the endangered habitat zone. They’re carrying guns and rifles, throwing their weight around, and generally acting like petty dictators. No surprise there. An eye witness to the madness had this to say:

 I drove through the area to see whether the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service could manage to round up a few hundred head of cattle without looking like they were invading a small country.

 

They couldn’t.

 

Nearly every federal official I saw—and there were many dozens of them—wore a semi-automatic pistol on his hip. Some cruised the area in unmarked SUVs with tinted windows. Given the lack of attention Saturday from even other members of Bundy’s large extended family, the crush of security gave the quiet area a surreal feel.

 

The cow cops were out in force. Those steers were getting a more secure escort than the president. Folks who believe in the government’s “black helicopter” mystique were no doubt having their suspicions and paranoias reinforced by all the personnel and firepower.

But you have nothing to fear. The civil government has politely put up a little corral they’re calling the “Free Speech Area” for anyone who wants to protest. As long as you’re in that little area, you may exercise your First Amendment rights all you want.  It used to be that your rights had all the habitat in the country to roam. Not so anymore. When the civil government tells you when and where you can exercise your rights, what’s the point of even having rights? At that point, why even call them rights? They’re revocable privileges from the imperial overlords. We’re worse off than serfs.