And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way.
The sage advice of Matthew 22:20-22 wasn't in the cards for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The man whose actions nearly precipitated armed conflict between federal agents and a devoted group of self-styled militiamen laboring under misunderstood notions of sovereignty and rugged individualism had no interest in rendering unto Uncle Sam what was rightfully his, whether it was $1 million or so in unpaid grazing fees accrued since 1993 or the 58 head of cattle that were initially impounded as a long-coming result of his failure to pay said fees.
In spite of his professed love of country and willingness to express patriotism with profound ebullience, Bundy continues to operate under the belief that the things which are Uncle Sam's are actually his and his alone. It's the same modus operandi that many militia organizations and those within the sovereignty movement operate under: for whatever reason, the governing bodies of the United States are fraudulent and therefore, the militiamen/freemen are free to operate peacefully* outside of the bounds and without interference from the U.S. government, even as they live and work on U.S. soil. Which, by the way, isn't believed to belong to the U.S. but instead falls under the governing purview of the individual U.S. states, following the old conventions of the Articles of Confederation (and tossing the Supremacy Clause out the window as a result).
The militia/freeman movement and tea-party conservatism both feature a variety of overlaps on the Venn diagram of political ideology, so it was only a matter of time before Cliven Bundy became the darling of Fox News and a folk hero among conservatives longing to stick a Second Amendment thumb into the government's eye. You can't tell yours truly that the images of "ordinary Americans" demonstrating their right to bear arms against a government they could care less for (except when it works for them) didn't give other like-minded conservatives at home the warm and fuzzies.
It all could have went south. At least, if it wasn't for the Bureau of Land Management and other federal officials not wanting to replicate the worst missteps of Ruby Ridge and Waco and if it wasn't for the protesters displaying some rather desperate and craven tendencies just to get their point across. A full-fledged shootout between federal officials (framed for this purpose as "jack-booted thugs") and heavily-armed self-styled militiamen (framed as "real American patriots) not only would have made for great television ratings, but it also would have made for a powerful expression of martyrdom that resonated throughout the tea-party contingent and beyond. The consequences of that are best left uncalculated.
It's little wonder that the BLM decided it would be best to back off and not hand Bundy and Co. the opportunity to be remembered as martyrs for a flawed cause. Instead, the FBI's taking a more mundane interest into Bundy's supporters.
Meanwhile, Cliven Bundy represents the picture-perfect embodiment of American welfare in one of its most idealistic forms. It was the massive expropriation of land from its former native owners and the introduction of homestead acts that opened the doors to settlement to the "right" sort of Americans that made it possible for Bundy to have his current livelihood**. And it's only through the generosity of the U.S. government that Bundy was and remains able to maintain his livelihood - otherwise he'd join the thousands of farmers who've lost their lands due to debt and foreclosure. There's no telling how many federal grants, subsidies and loans he's applied for so far to help bolster his ranching operations.
In return, Bundy lashes out with a generous helping of furious pseudo-patriotism, all the while using stereotypical views of black Americans and their supposed affinity towards government welfare as a foil for his own brand of "cowboy welfare":
Former conservative media darling Cliven Bundy ran into a tougher crowd on Thursday, when CNN anchor Bill Weir poked fun at both the disappearing act from his former media allies while also questioning Bundy’s claims that he should be able to graze his cattle for free on federal land.
“You are writing off a whole class of people, African-Americans as sort of dangerously dependent because they get government assistance,” Weir said, playing off of Bundy’s instantly infamous press conference earlier in the day. “At the same time, you’re grazing your cows on public land for free. So, how are you not sort of a welfare queen in a cowboy hat?”
“I might be a welfare queen,” Bundy shot back. “But I tell you something, I’m producing something for America and using a resource that nobody else can use, would use or could use and I’m putting red meat on your table. Maybe I’m not doing enough, but I’m trying.”
Bundy's own desultory views of the Negro as better off under chattel slavery serve as red meat for the legions of unreconstructed who hail Bundy as a "freedom fighter" of sorts against "government tyranny," especially now that the Oval Office is currently occupied (or "tainted" as some conservatives may say) by a "socialist Marxist Kenyan."
As with any major cause, there has to be a generous purse lurking in the shadows. In the case of Cliven Bundy, the purse strings belong to a few groups working on the behalf of billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch:
Two affiliates of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity are helping conservative media promote the cause of a Nevada rancher who has made violent threats against the federal government.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative non-profit group, was founded by and has been largely funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch. The Center for Media and Democracy reported that in its previous incarnation as Citizens for a Sound Economy, AFP received $12 million of its $18 million in funding from the Koch Family Foundation.
During the 2012 election, AFP spent $122 million in an effort to defeat President Obama and Congressional Democrats. AFP has also sponsored and organized bus rallies and town hall meetings to promote conservative ideas, including deregulation, tax cuts, and opposition to health care reform.
AFP has been at the forefront of spending in the 2014 election, launching several ads attacking the Affordable Care Act which have come under fire for inaccuracy by independent fact checkers. As of March, AFP had aired a reported 17,000 television ads.
Two of its local affiliates, Americans for Prosperity Nevada and Americans for Prosperity Colorado, have become active boosters of Bundy's actions.
AFP Nevada's Facebook page posted a graphic attacking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for spending "one million dollars" to enforce the court order to round up Bundy's cattle on federal land. Another photo attacked the Bureau for creating a designated "First Amendment Area" for protesters to gather in near the property.
Still begs the question why the Kochs would be interested in supporting the likes of Bundy and Co.:
Matador Cattle Company operates three ranches: Beaverhead near Yellowstone National Park in Montana, Spring Creek in the scenic Flint Hills of Kansas, and the historic Matador Ranch in Texas.
Acquired between 1941 and 1952 by Fred C. Koch, the ranches total about 460,000 acres under management, including about 235,000 deeded acres. They wean about 9,500 calves annually and support more than 12,000 head of cattle.
In this light, Bundy's defiance over paying his grazing fees takes on a whole different perspective. If the likes of Bundy had the power to run roughshod over the BLM, then it becomes much easier for a heavyweight like Koch Industries to steamroll the agency into accepting concessions allowing the conglomerate to access acre upon acre of formerly protected land for its various resource extraction operations.
The Kochs know what's up. As long as they can advance Bundy's interests in maintaining his livestock and livelihood with little repercussions, their own interests also take a few steps forward. If it doesn't work out, it's back to the drawing board for another plan and avenue of attack. Like any good robber baron, the Kochs are always on the lookout for any opportunity for land and profit, even if it means hitching a rough and wild ride with a welfare cowboy.
* Or so they say.
** Despite claims of his family as the area's first pioneers, official records show that the Bundys were relative newcomers to the Bunkerville area. The range where Bundy makes his living was purchased in 1948.