Lost in the tumbling headlines of a busy week was a ruling that reminds us the corruption of federal justice is not confined merely to a few politicized bureaucrats monkeying around in the Hillary and Trump investigations. On Monday, US District Court Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed with prejudice (against the Justice Department) all charges against Cliven Bundy and his sons. If you've forgotten the Bundys' stand-off with the Feds in Nevada, here's how National Review's David French summarizes it:
On one side was a collection of dangerous, out-of-control armed men who were deliberately provocative, prone to saying unhinged things in a single-minded quest to destroy their enemies, and who lied time and again to cover their misdeeds.
On the other side was Cliven Bundy.
That's an entirely reasonable characterization given Judge Navarro's finding that "the universal sense of justice has been violated" and the government is guilty of "a deliberate attempt to mislead" the court. "The government's conduct in this case was indeed outrageous," she ruled. "There has been flagrant misconduct, substantial prejudice and no lesser remedy is sufficient" - other than a dismissal "with prejudice" to prevent the Justice Department embarking on new ways to screw the Bundys over for another few years. (They're already spent most of the last two in jail.)
To return to the beginning - April 2014:
As SteynOnline readers well know, in the wake of Seal Team Six, America has also acquired a Bunny Team Six and a Deer Team Six. Now comes news from Nevada of Cattle Team Six. It's a long-running story of rights to graze on "federal land" vs protection of the "desert tortoise", but, like so many disputes with American bureaucrats these days, it ends with paramilitary commandos training their weapons on civilians:
'Federal snipers with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trained guns on members of a family yesterday after they dared to stop and take video footage of cattle...'
Whoa, hold that thought! "Federal snipers with the Bureau of Land Management". As I wrote only last week, if someone wants to stroll in to Fort Hood and shoot as many people as he's minded to, the fellows on the receiving end have to call 911 and wait for the county sheriff to send a couple of deputies - because "the only government department without a military force at its disposal is the military". But the Bureau of Land Management has snipers.
Like others who have found themselves in such situations, the Bundys were portrayed in the media as paranoid right-wing loons exaggerating the threat. The judge, on the other hand, found that the Government had lied on an industrial scale to both the court and the defense about what it was actually doing to the Bundys:
The judge earlier detailed six different types of evidence withheld by the government. This evidence include the presence of an FBI camera on a hill overlooking the Bundy ranch. The DOJ mocked allegations by the defendants that there were devices planted near the ranch while knowingly withholding evidence of at least one such device. There were also maps and threat assessments that seemed to support the public statements by the Bundys that they were being surrounded. Some of these documents were linked to lead bureau special agent Dan Love, who was later fired by the agency. Other evidence showed that an agent did appear near the ranch in tactical gear and carrying a heavy weapon before the call went out for support.
The call "for support" is a reference to the Bundys' reaction to finding themselves in the sights of government snipers. As I wrote back then:
The photo at right is from the showdown between the Bundy family and the [Bureau of Land Management], which is to Nevada as the Red Army is to Eastern Ukraine. In the picture, hundreds of Bundy supporters, many on horseback, have in effect headed off the BLM at the (over)pass and have them surrounded. John Hinderaker's round-up makes some important points:
'The Bureau of Land Management has announced that in view of the risk of violence, it is withdrawing its forces, which include snipers, from the area. (How many federal agencies employ snipers, anyway? Too many, it is safe to say.) The county sheriff negotiated the terms of the federal government's surrender with Cliven Bundy.'
Look at the picture John puts underneath that paragraph, or at ABC's video. These are low-level bureaucrats from a minor branch of the vast bottomless alphabet soup of federal agencies, and they're running around pretending to be elite commandos. The county sheriff is supposed to be "the law". But he had to broker a deal to get the BLM out of there because in America every jumped-up pen-pusher from the Bureau of Compliance has his own branch of "the law", a personal SWAT team to act as judge, jury, executioner and, if necessary, as in Nevada, as army of occupation. In most parts of the developed world, there is "the police", and that's it. If a bureaucrat from the Ministry of Paperwork wants to have you seized, he has to persuade a judge to issue a warrant and then let the local coppers handle it as they see fit. There is an obvious conflict of interest when every tinpot regulatory agency has its own enforcement arm, and it imputes to even legitimate cases the whiff of something malodorous and, indeed, despotic.
The head-them-off-at-the-overpass stuff was represented in the media as an absurd over-reaction by the Bundys. Not so. It was the government snipers that were the over-reaction - as the evidence the Government concealed from the court and the defense makes plain. Professor Jonathan Turley:
The evidence would have lent credence to the call by the Bundys for help in dealing with threats from the government.
Some of the most serious allegations, in my view, dealt with the withholding of threat assessments that concluded that the Bundy did not represent a likely threat of violence. Such assessments were developed by the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism unit, the FBI Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Gold Buttle Cattle Impound Risk Assessment and the Bureau of Land Management.
That's five different agencies who found the Bundys did not represent "a likely threat of violence", but the Feds still went in with the full Robocop. As I remarked re the BLM "euthanizing cattle":
I'm all for government agents improving their skills at euthanizing bovine herds. It means they'll be really good at it by the time they move on to us.
That was somewhat mordant, but not, on balance, unwarranted. Me again from four years ago:
Jay Currie thinks the Nevada showdown reflects a shifting balance of power between the citizen and the state-media complex. He may be right. In the pre-smartphone era, I think the BLM snipers would have had few qualms about offing members of the Bundy family...
I'll stand by that, especially after reading the recent whistleblower memo by BLM Special Agent Larry "Clint" Wooten, which includes some revealing soundbites from the body-cams:
'Pretty much a shoot first, ask questions later.'
'Shoot his fucking dog first.'
When they "arrested" Mr Bundy's son Dave on April 6th 2014, the "law" enforcement officers boasted that they ground his head into the dirt and left him with "little bits of gravel in his face".
Cliven Bundy, for his part, got a pretty good press from Fox News and talk radio in the early part of his stand-off. Then one day he unburdened himself of some musings on "the Negro" and slavery, and Sean Hannity and others decided to distance themselves from him. As I wrote in "How Now White Cowman?"
Let's stipulate that Cliven Bundy is a racist. Let's also assume, if only to save time, that he's Islamophobic, homophobic and transphobic. So what? Does that make criticizing the Bureau of Land Management "racist" or "homophobic"?
During my battles with Canada's "human rights" commissions, defenders of the racket liked to point out that the people it targeted were generally pretty unsavory. And I'd respond that the reason the standard representation of justice in statuary is a blindfolded lady is because justice is supposed to be blind: If you run a red light and hit a pedestrian, it makes no difference whether the pedestrian you hit is Nelson Mandela or Cliven Bundy. Or at least it shouldn't: one of the basic building blocks of civilized society is equality before the law.
Likewise, if what the Bureau of Land Management is doing is wrong, the fact that Cliven Bundy is a racist sexist homophobe whateverphobe doesn't make it right - any more than at Ruby Ridge FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi shooting Vicki Weaver in the back of the head as she was cradling her ten-month-old baby and running away from him is made right by the fact that she allegedly had "white supremacist" sympathies. As I wrote last week, I've little doubt that, in the era before cellphone video, the bureaucratic enforcers would have been happy to off Bundy and then come up with a reason why it doesn't matter. At Waco, there were supposedly children being abused. So Generalissimo Janet Reno killed them all, and now they're not being abused. In that sense, Mr Bundy is a lucky man: He got to live, and to trash his own reputation rather than having the feds do it for him.
My point about mowing down Mr Mandela or Mr Bundy is an important one: Justice is not a beauty contest. But, if it were, Cliven Bundy is far from the ugliest man in this case. What are we to make of BLM Special Agent-in-Charge Dan Love and his team? Their accumulated communications are one Niagara-sized sewer of epithets about "retards", "inbreds", fat women, menstruating women, etc. From Agent Wooten's memo:
SAC Dan Love sent photographs of his own feces and his girl-friend's vagina to coworkers and subordinates.
Cliven Bundy is a rancher. Dan Love represents the untrammeled power of government. Even before the revelation that he photographs his own fecal matter and then sends out prints hither and yon, he appears psychologically unsuited to any kind of work that involves contact with the citizenry - even before you hand him the state-of-the-art weaponry.
Nevada jurors sensed the BLM's animus toward the Bundys stunk even more than Agent Love's photo album, but the Feds kept going:
Two Las Vegas juries acquitted or deadlocked on felony charges against Ammon Bundy, 42, and Ryan Bundy, 44. They beat federal felony charges in a case stemming from a 41-day standoff at an Oregon wildlife preserve two years ago.
The latest case was troubling in its effort to use the exercise of free speech as the basis for criminal charges â€” claiming that Bundy and his sons engaged in inflammatory rhetoric in opposing the government's effort to stop the grazing cattle outside Bunkerville, Nev., in 2014.
"Inflammatory rhetoric"? I wouldn't want these guys defining that - given that an antipathy to free speech has been part of this case since it began:
This was the passage in the Las Vegas Review-Journal story that caught my eye:
'A few miles up the road, a "First Amendment Area" the BLM set up for rallies like this stood empty, save for a few signs attached to the outside of the orange plastic pen.
'One of them read: "1st Amendment is not an area."'
Indeed. The 'First Amendment Area' is supposed to be something called 'the United States'. If the Bureau of Land Management gets to determine which sliver of turf you can exercise your right to freedom of expression in, then it isn't freedom of expression at all, is it? I'm less impressed by the First Amendment than I used to be, mainly because I'm having to spend a half-decade in court and a seven-figure sum for the privilege of hearing some judge years down the line inform me that my 270-word blog post is, in fact, permitted under the US constitution. (If you'd like to help lessen the toll of that seven-figure sum, I'd be awfully grateful.) But even so it's extraordinary that even twerp bureaucrats from the Department of Compliance feel comfortable setting up an 'orange plastic pen' labeled 'First Amendment Area'. If an anonymous pen-pusher in the permanent bureaucracy can confine the Bill of Rights to tiny enclaves where it will be entirely ineffectual, then there is no Bill of Rights.
By the way, what's depressing about this is, if the issue worked its way in front of a judges or judges, the genius jurists would undoubtedly rule that, while an 11-foot wide free-speech zone is too narrow an interpretation of the First Amendment, it would be acceptable if you widened it to 17 or 18 feet.
I got something badly wrong in the middle of that - re my own legal travails. It's not "a half-decade in court and a seven-figure sum" over my 270-word blog post. That was four years ago. On its present course, it's a decade-and-a-half in court and an eight-figure sum.
Be that as it may, I'm happy that Gloria Navarro is an American judge who still knows how to dispense justice. In that respect, while my 2014 columns on the Bundys hold up pretty well, I did get one thing wrong:
But you can't win in court against a federal agency: They're always right. As John Hinderaker said, there's no place for the Bundys and their way of life in the new America. So, a year or two down the line, when the cameras have gone away, the BLM enforcers will win, and no one will mind because Cliven Bundy's a racist so a paramilitarized land-management agency is really nothing to worry about, is it?
I'm happy to have been proved too pessimistic on that, although the price the Bundys paid for insisting on their right to trial and not "accepting" the usual garbage plea "bargain" was the loss of their liberty for two years. Even by the standards of Ted Stevens and other malicious prosecutions, the depravity of government conduct in this case should be an abomination to every taxpayer who paid for it and, more importantly, to every citizen down the road who catches the feds' eye and has to weigh the likelihood that he'll be on the receiving end of some Dan Love-type agent-in-charge. Jeff Sessions is said to have ordered a "review" of the case. It's good to know he hasn't recused himself from everything, although at his rogue Justice Department it's easy to get that impression.
There is another larger matter that might usefully attract the attention of the Trump Administration. The Bundys got in the crosshairs of the BLM through their refusal to pay increasingly punitive "grazing fees" for their cattle. "Grazing fee" sounds like an administrative cost, but in fact it is a fraud: The "grazing fees" are designed to put the ranchers out of business. There used to be dozens of other ranches around Cliven Bundy's. Now there is only his:
In other words, the purpose of the federal bureaucracy's "grazing fee" was never to provide a fair-market value for the cost to taxpayers of permitting grazing on public land but simply to drive those cattle off the land, and their owners out of the ranching business. As a form of coercion, it worked. But it is not a "law" that should command any respect.
I think it's absurd and obnoxious that an obscure and unaccountable government agency should rule an area the size of France, Germany and Italy combined. What for..? The seven-eighths of the United States that isn't under the iron rod of the BLM is the Brokest Nation in History: it wouldn't hurt to have a little more productive land.
I wrote more about this bloated bureaucracy in "The Plains of Bureaustan":
The land and its "public" ownership is the issue here. The federal government owns over 80 per cent of Nevada.
That's about 90,000 square miles - or the entire land mass of the United Kingdom, or, if you prefer, the size of Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic combined, which is to say a big chunk of the Habsburg Empire.
The United Kingdom is a pretty big country the way things are trending these days. A lot of Scots think it's too big and are minded to vote to go it alone in this year's referendum. If they do, the new independent nation of Scotland will be about one-third of the real estate owned by Washington in Nevada. The US Government owns most of the west.
So the blandly named 'Bureau of Land Management' is managing an area the size of Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Portugal combined. Just in Nevada.
In total, the Bureau of Land Management rules over one-eighth of the land mass of the United States. That's about the size of South Africa - or about three-sevenths of the G7: France, Germany and Italy combined.
You know the way governors like to say, 'If California were a country...' or 'if Texas were a country...' it would be the twelfth biggest economy in the world or whatever it is? If the Bureau of Land Management were a country, it would be the 26th biggest country in the world - out of 200 or so. Maybe that's why the BLM needs such a lavishly equipped army (see picture above). Maybe it should join Nato and send a division or two to protect the Baltic states.
If BLM were Microsoft or Standard Oil, there'd be an anti-trust investigation. Instead, the BLMpire is the biggest collective farm in history, beyond the wildest dreams of Soviet commissars. Except that, as the Bundys have discovered, no one's allowed to farm it. It's serfdom without the perks.
The incoming Emir of the United BLM-irates is apparently some buddy of Harry Reid. Where do you go to vote him out? In the one-eighth of the United States he reigns over, there is not a single polling station. And in the seven-eighths where there are, he's not on the ballot.
And a final thought on that:
It reminds me of 19th century Ireland, when most of the big estates belonged to absentee landlords in England. It's an even less attractive arrangement when the absentee landlord is a distant national government. There is no need for the vast land holdings of the United States Government, especially given their ever more unpleasant and bullying attitude to public access to the land. As I've said, a 21st century American has fewer rights on "the people's land" than a 13th century English peasant had in the King's forest. If I ever do run for Senate in New Hampshire, my platform will include a pledge to return the White Mountain "National Forest" to the people of the state.
President Trump should break up the BLM. Why should Dan Love have his own sh*thole country?
~As always, any BLM members of The Mark Steyn Club should feel free to disagree in the comments section.
Speaking of The Mark Steyn Club, Mark will be back later today, Saturday, with the conclusion of our brand new (and highly seasonal) radio serialization in our series Tales for Our Time. If you're not yet a member, there's still time to join and hear his latest crackerjack audio entertainment from a time when the worst you had to fear in the North American wilds was the weather rather than federal snipers.