Copyright John T. Reed 2014

I am a journalist. The first rule of journalism is to get the facts straight.

Following that rule, all news media other than Fox News have ignored the BLM-Nevada rancher story. I was waiting for the Wall Street Journal’s version to write about it. They are one of the few media outlets that still does it the old-fashioned way—neutral except on the editorial pages.

No one but Fox News

But there has not been any Wall Street Journal version. No one is covering it but Fox News.

In addition, the verbal portion of Fox News coverage has largely been about the facts that journalists are normally interested in. Who are the disputants, what are their positions, what merit do their positions have as established by talking to people on both sides?

Fox has reported that the ranchers are nuts. BLM owns the land. The rancher needs to pay grazing fees to BLM. He refuses. He battled in court and lost at three levels. End of discussion. From a legal standpoint, his explanations, and those of his supporters, are the incoherent babblings of a bunch of kooks. America is a rule-of-law country. When you lose in the courts and at the ballot box, it’s over.

Perhaps Fox journalists are, on one level, the best true journalists

But, to their credit, Fox News kept the cameras pointed at the situation. Apparently, their journalist instincts recognized that there was another level of truth here, namely, that the rancher and his supporters believe in their cause—REALLY believe in it—and they are truly ready to die for it right now.

‘Our rats’

I was reminded of a passage in the book The Killer Angels which was the basis for the movie Gettysburg. The book is more or less a true account of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Union officers were perplexed by the motives of the Confederate soldiers—perhaps mostly illiterate and poor—too poor to have ever owned a slave or to even aspire to ever own a slave. Set aside the notion of a human slave for a second and realize that owning a slave in the 1860s was akin to owning a gold bar today. So why were these barefoot, body-temperature-IQ, Confederate infantrymen willing to walk into the mouth of a Union cannon firing cannister shot at them (like a monstrous shotgun that shoots golf-ball-sized steel)?

The brother of Joshua Chamberlain, the commander of the 20th Maine, which held the Union left flank on Little Round Top, asked some newly taken Confederate prisoners of war what they were fighting for. Their “rats,” they explained. Eventually Chamberlain figured out that was a deep South pronunciation of “rights.” When he asked “what rights,” they babbled incoherently like the Nevada rancher and his supporters.

Let me give you another example: the Boston Massacre. If you think that was Muslims blowing up the Boston Marathon, you were probably educated by public school union teachers. No. It was a shooting of American colonists on March 5, 1770. Here’s a bit of the Wikipedia discussion of it:

Amid ongoing tense relations between the population and the soldiers, a mob formed around a British sentry, who was subjected to verbal abuse and harassment. He was eventually supported by eight additional soldiers, who were subjected to verbal threats and thrown objects. They fired into the crowd, without orders, instantly killing three people and wounding others. Two more people died later of wounds sustained in the incident.

What were the grievances of the colonists? The sort of stuff listed in the Declaration of Independence. The tax on tea came a little later—the Boston Tea Party happened on December 16, 1773. But the grievances in 1770 were that kind of stuff.

Ignoramuses, yes, but ignoramuses who changed the world

Could you dismiss the colonists and Confederate infantrymen as ignoramuses? Perhaps on an intellectual, rule-of-law level.

The British did dismiss the colonists and lost a war, a reputation for invincibility, and much of a continent as a result. At the time, the per capita income of the colonists in America was higher than the per capita income of the people living back in Great Britain. And somewhere in the neighborhood of 75,000 people died, mostly on the British side. The Union did not dismiss the barefoot, Confederate infantrymen, but they did underestimate them initially. Ultimately, those guys who were willing to die for their “rats” caused a Civil War that resulted in 625,000 deaths.

Bold talk from fat men

I have dismissed the gun owners who rumble about using their guns to protect against a tyranical U.S. government as being well described by the line from John Wayne’s movie “True Grit:”

I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.

But the one-eyed, NRA-loving, fat men didn’t just talk in Nevada in 2014. They showed up—with their guns and ammunition!

Ready to die

Tonight, 4/14/14, I was impressed by a New York City filmmaker who was there and who appeared on The Kelly File. He said those ranchers and their supporters were no-shit ready to die over this and ready to die today here and now.

I am a Vietnam veteran. Like everyone else, I know I am going to die some day out in the future. But I remember the first time I was shot at in Vietnam. That abstract notion of future death changes in an instant to a concrete, right now, right here possibility, and that is a very different mind set. That is when “it’s him or me” takes over and your mind set is to kill the other guy before he kills you. Not the kind of him or me in the mind of a teenage boy’s war movie fantasies or a bull session among draft dodgers. I’m talking about really killing the very concrete guy who just shot at me.

The ranchers in Nevada and their supporters were at that mental point this week in Nevada.

Could be a big incident

That is a big deal. That is a fact that journalists other than Fox News need to recognize is at least as important as the facts of the laws and court decisions in this matter.

We have had some recent similar incidents: Ruby Ridge and Waco, and the reaction of one ignoramus, Timothy McVeigh, to those: Oklahoma City.

You can dismiss the dead at Ruby Ridge and Waco as kooks, but that would not make the dead in Oklahoma City any less real.

They have a moral point

And on a certain level, not reachable by laws or courts or lawyers, the “kooks” have a moral point.

I am from the Northeast, but I have now lived in the West for most of my life. Massive amounts of land out here are owned by the federal government—including 81% of Nevada. City folk in California, Oregon, and Washington state may love the DC bureaucracy, but when you get outside of the big cities, the West is a place where they aren’t kidding when they sing, “Don’t Fence Me In.” And a place where they do not see the cowboy singing that song in the YouTube I just linked to—Roy Rogers—as a crazed, gun nut because he is wearing two six-shooters and a belt full of bullets.

These are good people. They don’t know much about the fine points of the law. But they know elitist, big-city, environmentalists harming conservative Americans on the pretext of protecting the desert tortoise or the spotted owl or the delta smelt is bullshit.


Then we come to what the other side—Obama—cares about: optics.

To people who care about nothing but all politics all the time, Ruby Ridge was nothing more or less than bad optics. Ditto Waco. It seemed to destroy Attorney General Janet Reno’s reputation in a stroke. And BLM versus Nevada rancher and his numerous, well-armed supporters and their wives and girlfriends and children human shields was looking like it was very close to being more bad optics—maybe the worst of the bunch. Obama does not want bad optics. This is an election year and he is terrified of losing the Senate. Since he is all politics all the time, only the political optics matter to him

So he ordered the BLM, whe were all dressed up like military personnel, which they are not, to put their tails between their legs, along with their German Shepherds and M-4s and tasers and run away from the NRA members.

Talk about optics!

They called Obama’s bluff

Obama sent those BLM police and their dogs and guns and tasers there solely to bluff the Tea Party crowd. He had no intention of shooting anyone or letting the dogs attack anyone. He thereby violated an ancient rule of the West, a land of guns: Don’t draw your gun unless you intend to use it.

Not unlike Assad in Syria and Putin in Crimea, the Nevada rancher and his supporters called Obama’s bluff. He promptly folded thereby admitting he was only bluffing. The rancher and his supporters were not bluffing. They were ready to die—and kill BLM officers and dogs—for their beliefs. When two sides face off, and one side is willing to die for their beliefs and the other is not, the side that is willing to die will win, perhaps without firing a shot. The subsequent BLM official statement was that they left to avoid loss of life. Like I said. He who leaves to avoid loss of life loses.

Obama is a serial bluffer—his “red lines” and “consequences” and all that. That bluffing every time is the same mistake the boy who cried wolf made. Obama may get us all killed with that crap. As any poker player can tell you, if you never bluff, you can only win when you have good cards. But if you always bluff, you will not win for long. You will lose. When it’s the president who is doing it, we are the ones who may lose.

Power to the people

We recently had the Arab Spring were each of a half dozen countries leaders were toppled by people demonstrating in the streets—started by one poor man who committed suicide because police demanded money from him as a price to keep operating his pushcart. Was he a kook? Ask one of the Arab leaders who lost his job in the ensuing street demonstrations. The Thai government has had trouble with street demonstrations. Demonstrations in Ukraine ran the president out of the country. Then the Russians came into Crimea and they are now, using the pretext of street demonstrations in Eastern Ukraine, about to invade there, too. Syria has suffered greatly from a civil war. They’re rioting in Argentina and Venezuela.

The general impression of seeing all this on TV again and again, and now in our own Nevada, sends the message that if enough people get pissed off enough, they can achieve the real change that the political consultants playing turn-out-the-vote and other statistical political games denied them on election day. In the case of the BLM and Nevada rancher, the equation is more, “Are you east coast liberals willing to come out here and die for your desert tortoise? Because we ARE willing to die to keep you from pushing us around.”

As much as possible, government should be local. Democrats oppose that. Locals favor it. DC has clearly pushed the centralization too far. It refuses to back off out of fear of election results. But then Rosa Parks also refused to back off—give up her bus seat to a white man—as a result of laws passed by local ballot box winners in Montgomery, AL, and upheld by local judges appointed by those elected officials. What Bundy and his supporters did against the BLM was armed civil disobedience, but still civil disobedience. Indeed, being armed in Nevada is not against the law. I am not sure of the nuances of the law when a government official points a gun at you and puts his finger on the trigger, but it seems like the citizens following the example of the BLM gun pointers is a reasonable response. Why point a government gun at a person engaging in civil disobedience?

Those are the optics that Obama created by telling that BLM platoon to cut and run. That is the blood in the water that Obama has created by being revealed to be a man whose threats are all bluffs, who never has the moral courage to carry any of them out.

The visual matters; the audio is almost meaningless

Kooks and ignoramuses are people, too. The relative few who saw this incident on Fox News heard the verbal analyses of the legal issues by the lawyers—half the on-camera people who work for Fox seem to be lawyers—but they also saw the optics. Ordinary citizens with flags and guns and horses and vehicles and those “we’re not kidding” facial expressions.

A TV newsman once discussed a particular President Reagan TV appearance with one of Reagan’s handlers. After Reagan spoke, some TV newswoman came on screen and analyzed it negatively. The Reagan handler was ecstatic about the segment. How could he be happy considering the way the newswoman ripped Reagan’s speech? He explained that what the viewers saw was all that mattered, and what they saw were a great many American flags in the background and the vigorous, movie-star-handsome president of the U.S. speaking forcefully and with great conviction. The newswoman’s analysis, with neutral background and neutral demeanor and all that professional journalist blandness was as if it never happened.

Thus it was this week in Nevada and on Fox News TV where the lawyers in news rooms droned on about rule of law while men and women on horses with flags and guns rode across the TV screen.

If Obama had let those BLM guys open fire on that crowd, God only knows what political fall-out he would have suffered. But his going the other way, and running away, will likely embolden other, similarly-situated Americans.

The message of the around-the-world street riots of the last decade, including Nevada, is that the big bullies at the top of the federal government, are, like all bullies, cowards who will run away if you stand up to them—even the U.S. federal government. Obama blinked, a very bad idea when men with loaded guns face each other.

This could be the start of something bigger.

Here is an email from a reader:

BRAVO!  You've hit this one out of the park!  Every person has a point where he will say "Yes, I really AM ready to die on this hill."  For many, it would only be in the face of an immediate mortal threat to their infant children.  For some, a more abstract concept of freedom will suffice.  The ranchers, like the Founders, proved that.

Your column brings to mind a section in Unintended Consequences, a novel first published in early 1996.  Henry Bowman, the protagonist, is in a political science course in college.  He is responding to his professor, whose lecture refuted Thomas Hobbes’ theory (that the masses need a benevolent dictatorship), and stressed that people must always resist tyranny:


“Professor Arkes, I don’t disagree with the basic principle [Hobbes, rights, etc.], but it’s not enough just to say, ‘Totalitarian regimes are wrong, so don’t let the State enslave you’. That’s like saying, ‘Don’t get sick’. The important question is, when do you know it’s going to become enslavement? When is the proper time to resist with force?”

“Please elaborate, Mr. Bowman.”

Henry took a deep breath. “The end result, which we want to avoid, is the concentration camp. The gulag. The gas chamber. The Spanish Inquisition. All of those things. If you are in a death camp, no one would fault you for resisting. But when you’re being herded towards the gas chamber, naked and seventy pounds below your healthy weight, it’s too late. You have no chance. On the other hand, no one would support you if you started an armed rebellion because the government posts speed limits on open roads and arrests people for speeding. So when was it not too late, but also not too early?”

“Tell us, Mr. Bowman.”

“Professor Arkes, I teach a Personal Protection class off-campus, where most of the students who sign up are women. I’m seeing some strong parallels here, so please indulge me in an analogy.”

“Go ahead.”

“Let's say a woman is confronted by a big, strong, stranger. She doesn’t know what he’s planning, and she’s cautious. Getting away from him is not possible. They’re in a room and he’s standing in front of the only way out, or she’s in a wheelchair—whatever. Leaving the area’s not an option. So now he starts to do things she doesn’t like. He asks her for money. She can try to talk him out of it, just like we argue for lower taxes, and maybe it will work. If it doesn’t, and she gets outvoted, she’ll probably choose to give it to him instead of getting into a fight to the death over ten dollars. You would probably choose to pay your taxes rather than have police arrive to throw you in jail. Maybe this big man demands some other things, other minor assaults on this woman’s dignity. When should she claw at his eyes or shove her ballpoint pen in his throat? When he tries to force her to kiss him? Tries to force her to let him touch her breasts? Tries to force her to have sex with him?”

Henry took a deep breath and shrugged. “Those are questions that each woman has to answer for herself. There is one situation, though, where I tell every woman to fight to the death. That’s when the man pulls out a pair of handcuffs and says, ‘Come on, I promise I won’t hurt you, this is just so you won’t flail around and hurt either of us by accident. Come on, I just want to talk, get in the van and let me handcuff you to this eyebolt here, and I promise I won’t touch you.’  Maybe the man will pour her a glass of champagne, play some nice music, have some conversation, and then let her go. But if she gets in the van and puts her wrists in the handcuffs, she has just given up her future ability to fight, and now it is too late . . . How do you spot the precise point where a society is standing at the back of the van and the State has the handcuffs out?”  (p. 337-38)


I will be watching with great interest how Round Two of the BLM situation unfolds in Nevada.  I cannot believe this is over...

John Ross

John T. Reed