Jay Meehan: Showdown at the BLM Corral
April 22, 2014
So you have issues with the BLM you say, well, take a number and stand in line. Or, if you’d rather, sit astride your "cuyuse" with a six-shooter strapped to your hip along with the rest of your testosterone-infused posse under that Nevada overpass over yonder. It’ll make for such a cute photo-op and show them know-nothings back in Washington that the Sagebrush Rebellion rides again.
It’s all a matter of trust, of course, and, over the years, the Bureau of Land Management hasn’t engendered too much of that out here in the wild and wooly west. My side of the political aisle feels they haven’t done enough to keep the drill-baby-drill bunch away from what we consider to be our sacred lands. Plus, the damage that "slow-elk" (cattle), not to mention the livestock lobby in general, do to public lands also pretty much sticks in our craw.
Where our hero is Tim DeChristopher, who disrupted a BLM federal oil-lease auction bent on despoiling lands adjacent to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, the leading man in their patriotic drama seems to be a Nevada rancher by the name of Cliven Bundy, who has refused to acknowledge the Fed’s right to oversee Western lands at all.
Not a difficult proposition to arrive at when you factor in the million bucks he saves by not paying grazing fees on land he maintains his family "settled" before the BLM first saw the light of day.
Some pretty crazy stuff took place once the Bureau began rounding up Bundy’s cattle for auction as a means of collecting that debt they feel is owed them. Especially once armed forces brandishing sufficient firepower at least equal to that the Feds usually bring to a cattle roundup began assembling to back up the rancher in question.
When, in the face of an actual armed conflict, the BLM backed off and returned the cattle, the right-winged Aryan army that had coalesced around Bundy’s fight, declared victory. The feds, of course, did the right thing by not initiating a firefight and skedaddling. They’d flat-out been out-maneuvered and took the more rational way out.
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They recognized right away that, to borrow the name of the climate-justice activist group founded by DeChristopher and others in the movement, this was not a "peaceful uprising." No, these weren’t a bunch of gorp-eating non-violent protesters willing to fill up the jails in order to demonstrate their commitment to putting the brakes on the fossil-fuel addiction of their fellow humanoids.
This was a "go ahead, make my day" kind of outfit that found themselves, with cameras rolling, in a "win-win" situation. They knew that Bundy was a pawn in a much larger game that, for starters, would wrest control of Western lands from the Feds and hand it over to the states. Down the road, of course, sitting proudly astride a rearing stallion wearing a 10-gallon hat with six-shooters a’blazing, is their ultimate goal: succession from the union.
"We don’t need no stinkin’ laws. We know what’s right! Might is right! You want to talk carbon footprint or climate change or evolution or sexual orientation? How’d you like to taste some lead, instead?"
So, anyway, the Feds are regrouping while attempting to come up with a Plan B on how best to deal with their ongoing confrontation with the neo-Nazi right. For starters, they’d best be calling in all their markers with the livestock industry as a whole. Hell, they’ve allowed them to run rampant over public lands for years, now. How ’bout some push back? Maybe they could even slip some gorp into their obviously hormone-laden feedbag.
At the same time that gunplay is raising its somewhat romantic head "way out west where the states are square" (token Thomas Wolfe phrase), you’ve got a slew of Western politicos descending on Salt Lake City to get their collective ducks in line for a full-on frontal assault on congress to have the feds relinquish control of many of these range lands to the states.
Especially those lands where oil and timber and mineral deposits cause the blood of the extractive industries to flow uninterrupted to the lower charkas. One can only envision the Bureau slipping more to the right if, in fact, there’s any wiggle room left over on the corporation-run side of our government.
The way capitalism works anymore in these parts, whatever democracy still functions is grasping at finger-holds on the sheer granite walls of greed. To paraphrase Wallace Stegner, it’s a "geology" of hope.
This is all foreplay to these gunsels and those who pull their strings, of course. You can easily tell just by the way their breathing becomes heavier and their smirks morph into grins as they continually shift in their saddles. It’s more than their side-arms that are ready to explode across the western landscape.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.