The more I read about Nevada’s freeloading rebel rancher Cliven Bundy and his band of gun-toting acolytes, the angrier I get.
Bundy is the “Don’t Tread on Me” darling who’s seized the imagination of anti-government types thanks to a recent showdown with the Bureau of Land Management over his decades-long history of running cattle on federal land for free.
He’s also the poorly spoken ignoramus who thinks “the Negro” might just have been better off had Abraham Lincoln not come along and freed him from slavery, as if there weren’t already enough to loathe about this guy.
Over the last couple weeks on his dusty ranch in aptly named Bunkerville, a mini rebellion has risen up around Bundy, who thinks he has a special right to flout the laws of this nation.
Bundy is claiming ancestral grazing rights to about a half-million acres, refusing to pay the $1 million in fees the feds say he owes. Apparently he thinks those rights only went into effect upon his relatives’ arrival, ignoring the fact that Native Americans could lay a similar claim to the territory. He’s also apparently somehow unique from the many other law-abiding ranchers who pay their grazing fees.
But when the BLM recently went in to round up some of Bundy’s cattle as payment, from around the nation came a little army of paramilitary wannabes all dolled up in camo and armed to the hilt.
They’ve taken to spending their days manning so-called checkpoints and strutting around the property under the guise they’re “protecting” the Bundys from the United States government.
They don’t want another Ruby Ridge or Waco, they say. And a skittish government, clearly aware of that history, has backed down — for now.
It would all be rather comical if it didn’t have so much potential for danger.
Reading a story of the saga in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, I was struck by the similarities between Bundy’s war and a book I just re-read for the first time since high school.
The story was William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” a highly symbolic tale about the forces of human psychology competing for dominance through a scenario in which a group of young children are marooned on an island, forced to navigate their survival absent adult supervision.
If you’re not familiar with the tale, the kids split into two factions, one attempting to uphold semblances of reason and civilization, the other devolving into the primal urges of hunting and warmongering — what amounts to a battle between the Freudian id and super-ego.
As the narrative descends into chaos, the so-called “hunters” gradually descend into animalistic behavior, discarding the civilized trappings of morality and responsibility in favor of face paint, spears, war dances and a clifftop fort guarded by sentries.
Is this not what we are now seeing in the desolate lands of southern Nevada, where some self-important so-called “citizen soldiers” now post themselves in defense of a misguided cause?
“Post to base,” an armed, fatigues-wearing sentry chirps over his walkie-talkie, according to the L.A. Times report, when a journalist arrives at the compound now dubbed Camp Tripwire. “There’s a visitor who wants to enter.”
Upon receiving approval, he brusquely directs the visitor, “Go directly to the blue tent. Do not stop to talk to anyone.” When asked about his rifle, leaning on a chair, however, he eases up, “The Bundys don’t want us carrying them around. But I’m not supposed to tell anybody that. I’ll get in trouble.”
The exchange could have been penned by Golding himself, capturing just the right mix of rebellious bravado and sheepishness.
“Lord of the Flies” crescendos in two episodes of escalating fury, when the rabid savages end up killing a couple of the civilized kids, before chasing their leader’s arch enemy across the island and down to the beach, where he collapses at the feet of a Navy man who’s arrived just in time to put an end to further madness.
Will truth in the case of Cliven Bundy be stranger than fiction? Hopefully not.
The adults have arrived, and it’s time to put an end to this foolishness.
Hopefully, the little boys playing militia in the Nevada sand can be brought to their senses before any bloodshed occurs.
Joe Tarica is the senior editor for The Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joetarica.