The fairest explainer I’ve found on the Bundy saga is Becket Adams’s post at TheBlaze. If, like me (and Ace), you came to this story after it had already been hyper-polarized and weren’t sure whose facts to trust, try Adams’s Q&A. He plays it straight. In one sense this is complicated — land ownership, grazing rights dating back decades, a court battle, the feds tasing a Bundy family member, even a Harry Reid cameo — but after listening to this Glenn Beck interview with Bundy, it seems surprisingly simple. Bundy stopped paying the BLM in 1993 for grazing rights on federal land near his ranch. Why’s that, asked Beck? Quote:
CLIVEN: Let’s talk about the — Glenn, I really want to talk about that because that’s very important. You’re talking about the Enabling Act of the people of the territory of the state of Nevada. And remember, in the — section of the Constitution, we’re talking about territories of Nevada. Let me see if I can get that straight. What it says, it says the United States Congress will have power to dispose of all rules and regulations within the territory. Now, let’s think what we’re doing. We’re talking about the territory of Nevada. People of the territory of Nevada. As they — they do not have the Constitution. They’re within the territory and Congress had an unlimited power to make all the rules and regulations. Okay. The people of the territory petitioned the United States Congress to make this a state. And they have a clouded title. So in order to clear their title, they give up their public domain — forever. It sounds terrible. Forever? But let me tell what you they had to do. They had to give it up forever so Congress would have a clear title.
And what did Congress do? It made a state of Nevada. Which [indiscernible] a lot of them — quote Ed Presley here. Here’s what Ed Presley said. It doesn’t matter what happened before statehood. What matters is what has happened at the moment of statehood. Now, if you think about that in the second. At the moment of statehood. What happened? At the moment of statehood the people of the territory become people of the United States with the Constitution with equal footing to the original 13 states. They had boundaries around them, a state line. And that boundary was divided into 17 subdivisions, which were county. I live in one of those counties: Clark County, Nevada. And in that county, Clark County, Nevada, we elect our county commissioners, which is the closest to we the peoplend we elect the county sheriff and we pay him to do what? Protect our life, liberty and property.
I’m a citizen of that county. I abide by all the state laws.
Beck’s understated reply: “That is a different point of view than everybody else that is a rancher that I know.” Here’s what the enabling act to the Nevada constitution (mentioned above by Bundy) says about public land:
Third. That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare, that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States;
Here’s another part from Article I, Section 2 of the Nevada constitution:
Sec: 2. Purpose of government; paramount allegiance to United States. All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States. The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.
What Bundy’s saying, I think, is that he simply doesn’t recognize the concept of “federal land,” at least in Nevada. It was the people of the territory of Nevada, he says, who passed the enabling act that made public land there the property of the United States. But that was just a formality to make sure that the land was organized under a single government before statehood. Once Congress formally approved Nevada as a state, the property implicitly reverted to the new state of Nevada, and unless/until the state declares that public land there belongs to the U.S., it’s Nevada property as far as Bundy’s concerned. If they want to kick him off, fine, but the BLM has no jurisdiction to kick him off. That’s a, er, “creative” view of public land transfers, enough so to prompt Beck’s comment about how much of an outlier it is. It strikes me as the land-use equivalent of a tax protest, when someone refuses to pay income tax because they insist the Sixteenth Amendment wasn’t properly ratified. I’d be curious to know if there’s anyone in Nevada state government who shares Bundy’s view. (Presumably zero given the havoc Bundy’s theory would wreak on land sales by the United States in Nevada over the past 150 years if it were accepted by courts.) Brian Sandoval, the state’s Republican governor, has objected to the BLM’s treatment of critics in herding them into a “First Amendment zone” when protesting but, as far as I know, he doesn’t dispute that the land belongs to the United States. No wonder Bundy lost his court battle.
Interestingly, per Adams’s post, Bundy did pay grazing fees for a time prior to 1993. It was that year that the feds decided to limit grazing rights in the name of protecting the desert tortoise; Bundy then decided to stop paying the fee. When he decided that the land didn’t legally belong to the feds is unclear.