Opinion » Bill Cope

Shiftless Cowboy

And his parasites of the purple sage


We mustn't let this revelation pass without taking a moment to relish it. Cliven Bundy is finally where he belongs—in jail. That reality could change by the time these words go public, but Mr. "Live Free-loader Or Die" is behind bars. Having been denied bail, it's likely he will stay there.

But that's not the revelation I mean to relish here today. Certainly, it is good news to know that even self-appointed "patriot" publicity hounds are not beyond the reach of justice. I've had my doubts Bundy would ever be held accountable for his stunt two years ago. Remember? A mob of verminous desert-rat gun nuts strutting their ARs around like firepower somehow implied I.Q.? Threatening, coercing, intimidating federal land management representatives and law enforcement personnel with promises of violence if they didn't abandon their efforts to get Bundy to pay the American people what he owed them?

It was the precursor to the ridiculous exhibition put on by Bundy's equally-bummy sons over at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge so recently. You could almost see the same dense self-satisfaction on Ammon's face that we grew accustomed to with Cliven the Elder. I suspect it came from an assurance they could get away with something, based on the assumption that they'd gotten away with it before.

We can be comforted to know the memory of the law is as long as its arm. Bundy, his two creepy sons and two others have been indicted for the charade of insurgency they staged in Nevada, and that's on top of the charges facing the sons for their part in the Oregon occupation. I would like to think that the next time we hear the word "Bundy," it will be in the context of a good, long stretch, holed up in yet another federal facility—only without the interviews with Sean Hannity.

Still, that's not the most relishable revelation that has come out in the last few days. My favorite has to do with the conditions investigators found on this "ranch" of Mr. Bundy's. Turns out this hot-air buffoon is to ranching what taking a crap behind a rock is to fertilization science. The property actually owned by Bundy is only 160 acres. That's still a respectable chunk of dirt, but hardly the Ponderosa spread on which we envisioned the Cartwright clan riding herd.

As to Bundy's herd, those dogies might as well have been coyotes as cattle, with no more attention than they received from the man who claimed ownership. They were never vaccinated against disease, they were never brought in for winter feeding and they were never branded—not unless they were tricked into a pen to be sold. With no fences to contain them or employees to keep track of them, Cliven Bundy's cows were on their own, in charge of their own feeding, watering, breeding and habitat. Gathered in small, wild clumps, the feral bovines were found to have roamed up to 50 miles from the Bundy homestead, getting into golf courses and peoples' yards in search of something to eat.

The greatest share of that free-range foraging was done on public lands, which isn't free to responsible ranchers. Yet Bundy went at least 20 years without paying a dime to the rightful owners. Then he had the nerve to make himself out as a hard-working, honest cowpoke just trying to make a living in an unconstitutional system.

The best part is, once he'd lassoed the national attention with his "Slim Pickens takes on the Rooskies" schtick, this cowboy mooch... this Stetson grifter... this open-range sponger... this bow-legged bum... was confident enough with his own position as a big honcho in the patriot posse that he felt comfortable sharing his views on race. Based on what he saw on a drive past a public housing project in Las Vegas, Bundy told a reporter: "I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro [sic]. In front of that government house, the door was usually open and the older people and the kids—and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch—they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do. And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."

Forget, for a moment, the not-so-subtle suggestion that picking cotton as a slave is preferable to poverty and idleness as a free citizen, does not that entire comment also imply that he who is doing the commenting—Mr. All Hat and Welfare Cattle, himself—is by some measure a more responsible, more industrious, more accountable example of human enterprise?—that because he has a ranch to sit around doing nothing on makes him a superior specimen to people with only a housing project to sit around doing nothing on?

Then again, if Cliven Bundy had put the energy into running his ranch like a decent rancher would have run it, and not into trying to make himself out as the Robert E. Lee of the West, all those verminous desert-rat gun nuts might be roaming about in small, wild clumps, looking for something else to put their sights on.