Officials with the federal Bureau of Land Management acted prudently last weekend when they backed down from a confrontation with a Nevada rancher and his armed supporters.
The armed confrontation between BLM agents and militia members supporting rancher Cliven Bundy arose after federal agents moved to seize Bundy’s cattle from federal lands. Bundy owes more than $1 million in back grazing fees for using the federal land as pasture for his cattle since the 1990s.
Bundy refuses to pay the back fees, saying he does not recognize federal authority over the land that he insists belongs to Nevada.
Following the confrontation, BLM agents released about 400 of Bundy’s cattle they had seized, siting safety concerns in view of the hundreds of states’ rights protesters – some of them armed militia members – who joined Bundy in the standoff.
Federal officials are to be commended for diffusing a potentially dangerous situation in favor of pursuing their case again Bundy through legal and administrative means. The tragedies at Ruby Ridge and Waco clearly demonstrated the unintended and tragic results that can arise when law enforcement officials must contend with armed extremists.
The fight between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management has widened into a debate about states’ rights and federal land-use policy, with property-rights activists and states-rights advocates finding themselves in common cause with right-wing militia and sovereign citizens groups.
While such a debate has raged for decades and is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, one fact is inescapable: Bundy has been grazing his cattle on public lands for decades and is legally bound to pay the fees he has incurred in doing so. People simply do not have the right to arbitrarily reject government authority and refuse to comply with the law without paying the consequences of any illegal actions they undertake. Everyone must abide by federal and state laws whether they agree with them or not – and Bundy is no exception.