All civil libertarians are frequently put in the position of defending some villain or another. The First Amendment depends on the ACLU defending Nazi marches. The Fourth Amendment protections we all enjoy wouldn’t exist if not for judges deciding that guilty men must be set free because the cops didn’t get a warrant. To preserve the Fifth Amendment, I am willing to defend the right of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was probably a terrorist, to the same due process we all enjoy, because the alternative is empowering the government to kill anyone it likes. And I’ll defend even the worst terrorist we arrest against torture, because I believe it is unlawful and morally corrosive and undermines an invaluable taboo.
This is not a case for defending Cliven Bundy, whose substantive claims are wrongheaded. But if the Bureau of Land Management struck me as a tyrannical part of the federal government, as opposed to an agency low on my list of civil-liberty offenders, or if I thought Bundy really was being wronged by an unjust system, I’d defend him on the legal issue, even as I vocally condemned his racism. Inevitably, some on the left would accuse me of making common cause with a bigot, in the same way that some on the right say Guantanamo attorneys make common cause with terrorists or that the ACLU makes common cause with criminals. These cheap, guilt-by-association tactics should never deter from a principled position. About the only thing I can say for Bundy is that he’s permitted me to finally make this point in an instance where I’m speaking against interests, since I’m more likely to protest if this guy gets to graze his cattle gratis.