America, as one wag put it, is a “post-constitutional” country. Even worse, a plurality of Americans has now turned, en masse, against the First Principles of its founding. The organizing principle that currently informs American thinking is statism. It’s the state über alles: its laws, and the foot soldiers that enforce hundreds of thousands of arbitrary rules. This sorry state-of-affairs is abundantly clear from the standoff between farmers and Fédérales, brewing in Burns, Oregon.
To look at rancher Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son, Steven, 46, is to see the salt of the earth; the best of America. Any decent American ought to be able to see that these family ranchers, so different from politically connected agribusiness, are better and braver than all of us city slickers put together.
We slickers consume the rancher’s grass-fed, organic, “local” beef, while we cheer his oppression. Fellini, the Italian film maker who excelled at portraying corruption of the soul, as expressed in the decay of the flesh, could not have set the scene better. The idiom of Greek Tragedy works, too:
Our protagonists are the two ranchers aforementioned—sentenced to five years in jail, due to a double-jeopardy like maneuver by the federal government. The Antagonists are the federal government, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service, the courts, who’ve come down upon citizens with limited resources, citizens whom this Federal juggernaut is supposed to serve, not screw.
Other Antagonists in this morality play are the chorus of trash-talking radio, TV mouths and assorted bobbing heads (Republicans and Democrats), who say they care for The Folks but don’t know good folks when they see them. Cliven Bundy’s son, Ammon, has come to stand in solidarity with Dwight and Steven Hammond.
The case of the Bundys of Bunkerville, Nevada, is instructive in understating the First Principles involved in the Oregon standoff. In 2014, the BLM had come to steal Cliven Bundy’s cattle, in lieu of back taxes the BLM claims the rancher has owed it since 1993, when Bundy stopped paying grazing fees.
The Bundys had homesteaded the disputed land, southwest of Mesquite, in 1877. Bundy’s forefathers had lived off the land well before the Bureau of Land Grabs came into being. The Feds subsequently passed laws usurping Bundy’s natural right to graze his cattle. The elderly rancher offered the following rejoinder: “I have raised cattle on that land, which is public land for the people of Clark County, all my life. … I can raise cattle there because I have preemptive rights,’ among them the right to forage.”
Also edifying, via The Conservative Tree House, is that “the Hammonds were forced to grant the BLM first right of refusal.” In other words, were “the Hammonds ever to sell their ranch, they would have to sell it to the BLM.” The BLM may get its way, for how are the Hammond women to pay the shakedown fines levied by the Fédérales? These amount to hundreds and thousands of dollars. How will the wives continue the Sisyphean struggle against the federal occupier, and, simultaneously, run the ranches sans the men?
Here we arrive at the “Catastrophe,” also an element in Greek tragedy. These family farms will go under; will be absorbed into the federal government’s national parks project. Eventually, the cattle rancher will go the way of the practitioner of free-market medicine: extinct. Should these families be driven to extinction qua farmers, where will liberals (I include “naysayer” conservatives) get their “local,” organic, grass-fed beef? Where will said beef be raised once America’s frontier men and women have been driven off the land of their ancestors?
Joining the Hammonds as protagonists are other Oregonian ranchers. All have spoken of coming under similar siege. Hundreds of ranchers are being squeezed by the BLM, which is making it increasingly difficult for them to raise and graze cattle.
Many of Oregon’s ranchers settled the Harney Basin in the 1870s. They homesteaded the land. In the 1970s, Fish and Wildlife, in conjunction with the BLM, began driving ranchers off the land with the view to increasing the federal government’s holdings. Perhaps cattle operations are viewed as antithetical to conservation. They aren’t.
Central planners are antithetical to conservation.
Family ranchers—small-scale commercial farmers—who depend on pristine land for their own survival, are better stewards of it than far-removed federal agencies under whose “stewardship” hundreds of thousands of acres and animals combust yearly, together with lives and property. If the Hammonds are jailed for unintentionally losing control of a backfire, so should BLM agents, whose gross mismanagement causes death and destruction every summer.
Although he didn’t originate it, Barack Obama has continued this rapacious federal feeding frenzy by greatly expanding the national government’s land grab under the Antiquities Act. The number of livestock ranchers are permitted to raise has been drastically reduced, and grazing rights ruthlessly restricted on homesteaded land.
My book, “Into The Cannibal’s Pot: Lesson For America From Post-Apartheid South Africa,” documents the ghastly fate of livestock on Afrikaner farms seized for distribution to South Africa’s black, subsistence farmers. The chapter, “Killing God’s Creatures,” laments “the expiration in agony of animals” in the throes of death from starvation and dehydration, a harbinger of the fate of the Hammond cattle, if BLM barbarians persist in fencing-off the family’s water sources. But liberals don’t much care, so long as private property is nationalized or distributed.
The BLM centrally plans and calibrates the number of livestock ranchers can carry and it rations the amount of grazing animals can do. How tragic and wicked it is that Americans (including an intelligentsia that is not very intelligent) still fail to grasp that when a resource comes under central-planner control it is mismanaged and subsequently destroyed (California, anyone?).
Only the rancher knows how many animals his land will support and how much feed they require to thrive. Too few livestock doing too little grazing results in surplus grass. This is a tinderbox for fire. Frantic, the Hammnods lit backfires to protect their animals’ winter feed. A backfire is “a fire started in the path of an oncoming fire in order to deprive it of fuel and thereby control or extinguish it.” Once a fire burns (almost always generally due to BLM mismanagement), the agency will further restricts land-use for years to come.
The Hammonds, and hundreds of families like them, are caught in a maelstrom of the federal government’s making.
While Donald Trump had aced questions about Cliven Bundy, he has yet to speak his mind about the peaceful, symbolic squatting at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, by Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. In 2014, Trump said this: “I like [Bundy], I like his spirit, his spunk and the people that are so loyal.”
So far, so good.
Bravo, too, to Rick Santorum, who told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that his support for the ranchers in their fight against Federal nationalization of land was unreserved.
The standoff in Oregon will continue to separate the men from the scurrying mice.
It goes without saying that little robot Rubio was with Ted Cruz in “decry[ing] the occupation as ‘lawless’ and urg[ing] those involved in the standoff to pursue what they wanted through more lawful, constructive means,” like selling their land and leaching off taxpayers, Rubio style.
In that insufferable nasal twang, statist Cruz slobbered over law-enforcement “risking their lives” (where? when?) for a paycheck, but had nothing nice to say about American heroes, the men and women who work the land and risk their lives for liberty.