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News Opinion

Cliven Bundy, deadbeat 'patriot' [Commentary]

The right wing insurrection at the Bundy ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., has taken another weird turn with new revelations about the family history of Cliven Bundy.

Mr. Bundy justifies his two-decade-long refusal to pay the Bureau of Land Management for grazing rights on the public land where he runs his cattle by claiming his ancestors gained livestock water rights in the 1870s, long before the federal government horned in on the deal. Now, it turns out, that is not exactly true.

KLAS, the CBS affiliate in Los Vegas, checked out the Bundy family's history with the land and found Bundy's grandmother was born in 1901 to parents who had moved a few years earlier from Utah and farmed, not in Bunkerville but in neighboring Mesquite County. All his other relatives came to the area years later from Arizona and other states. Although Bundy says water rights were somehow handed down to him, records show Bundy's ranch bordering the BLM land was not purchased by his family until 1948.

In 1998, a federal judge ruled that whatever inherited rights Mr. Bundy claimed to have were specious since the Bundys did not even begin grazing cattle on the public lands until 1954. The judge said the rancher should be barred from grazing his cattle on federal rangeland until he paid fees to the BLM, just like all the other ranchers.

Mr. Bundy sees things differently -- very differently. Not only does he believe he has some special inherited right that cannot be proved in court, he has said he does not accept that the government ofthe United States has any legal authority in the great state of Nevada. Defying the court, he continued to let his cattle roam wherever they wished until federal officers attempted to confiscate the herd.

Famously, that action inspired a small army of so-called militiamen to come to Bundy's aid. The gun-toting volunteers scared off federal police and are now encamped near the ranch, consumed with the belief they are bravely defending a noble, self-reliant rancher from the heavy fist of tyrannical government. The sad truth is, they just are a bunch of oddball rebels in search of a fight who are protecting not a patriot but a crackpot who believes he should be able to pick and choose which laws he will obey.

Mr. Bundy hops on his horse and parades around carrying the flag of the government he says he doesn't believe in. He boasts that he is just like one of the Founding Fathers. He apparently has not figured out that most of his countrymen are starting to see him as a deadbeat who, for 20 years, has fed his cattle for free on land that doesn't belong to him -- land that, in law and in fact, belongs to the people of the United States.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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