Anti-Federalism on the Range

For 20 years, Cliven Bundy was in violation of federal law and regulations for grazing his cattle on federal land. The Bureau of Land Management fined him one million dollars for unpaid fees for his refusal to abide by the law. Justifying his actions, Bundy said, “I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada and I abide by all Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” When the Bureau attempted to enforce federal law by seizing Bundy’s cattle, anti-government and conservative supporters of Bundy arrived April 12th to 13th with firearms to prevent the Bureau from collecting Bundy’s cattle. The Bureau, fearing the stand-off could become violent and deadly, decided to fight another day and stopped their efforts to confiscate the cows. [1]


Supporters of Bundy cast themselves as patriots standing up against a government violating property rights. Bundy himself seems to answer only to the legal authority of Nevada alone. Ron Paul, a libertarian-aligned U.S. Senator, said about the incident, “As much as I’d like to see this as a victory for the people, I’m afraid the government has more guns, more power and more determination to express their authoritarianism.” [Ibid] In doing so, Paul, like other Bundy supporters, cast the government as authoritarian and tyrannous.


As part of their efforts to protest “government overreach”, some Bundy supporters illegally rode ATVs through a section of federal land bearing archeological ruins of past ancient Pueblo Indian cultures. ATVs had been banned in that region in 2007 due to the discovery of an illegal ATV trail in the sensitive area. Jerry Spangler, director of the Colorado Archaeological Alliance, said, “Damage to archaeological sites is permanent and the information about our collective past is then lost forever. It is sad that irreplaceable treasures of importance to all Americans would be sacrificed on the altar of anti-government fervor. It is worse that protesters would be so blinded to their own insensitivity as to what others consider to be sacred treasures of their past.” [2]


Bundy and his supporters argue the government has gone too far by preventing Bundy from doing what he thinks is best for his business interests by using public land for his cattle grazing. What Bundy and his supporters do not seem to realize is the impact their cattle grazing has on their fellow ranchers, the land, their fellow citizens, and the government. The rules of the Bureau are intended to give land time to rest and regrow as constant cattle grazing would exhaust the land and make it useless to everybody. Likewise, by illegally grazing, Bundy robs other law-abiding ranchers from using the land or encourages them to forgo the rules. That could become reminiscent of the range wars of the Old West when cattle and sheep ranchers fought one another for grazing land. This, then, is the reason why the BLM has rules to give ranchers equal access to public land for grazing. Likewise, refusals to pay the fines and fees attendant to illegal or legal access to the land harms the financial funding that allows for the maintenance of government caretaking of the lands.


Given how some conservatives and right wing libertarians feel about welfare “moochers”, one would think this “moo-cher” would be condemned rather than supported. Bundy himself seems to have strong opinions on welfare users, singling out African Americans in particular in a continuation of longstanding racist conjectures of who is on welfare and why, stating, “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.” [3] Yet, he sees no problem with his illegal use of Federal public land!


Bundy’s racist remarks cost him some of his support. However, it was the government’s decision not to let Bundy become a martyr for the modern day anti-federalists that allowed Bundy to lose his spotlight and face eventual punishment for his wrongdoing. In the end, by forcing Bundy to pay his fair share or suffer the consequences, the Federal government serves the people’s interest by insuring public land remains for, by, and of the people.


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5 Responses to Anti-Federalism on the Range

  1. fallenstar66 says:

    In reading over the post, and especially seeing Bundy’s views, I am not sure if I would call him an anti-federalist. True, he has some similar views that the anti-federalists shared (such as he would only follow Nevada law), but I am not entirely convinced. However, part of this opinion could stem from the fact that Bundy’s actions (and those of his supporters) fit more the view of extremists who wish to do away with any government that does’t allow them to do what they want. They say they are patriots who are are trying to protect their rights and yet their actions directly hurt other farmers who are also citizens of Nevada. At least in my views, patriots do not do action that directly harm their fellow citizens and the actions that were also done with the ATVs did nothing to help their case. It is hard for me to respect the views of Bundy when his actions harm others. I feel that if he was a true anti-federalist, he would demand that the land be handed over to the state of Nevada to be used by all the citizens of Nevada, instead of demanding that he do what he wishes with it.

  2. vincetrrs says:

    Right away I thought Bundy sounded stupid when he said he didn’t recognize the United States government as even existing. I do not like how they trashed archaeological sites to try to prove their point. As much as I am for free speech, i am not afan of such recklessness. The supporters and bundy himself were acting quite selfishly. I agree with the previous commenter when they said that ” patriots do no do action that directly harm their fellow citizens” This Bundy and his supporters are trying to prove a point but I feel as though their base logic is flawed and rooted in utter stupidity.

  3. naherresp says:

    I’ve heard of this case before and I thought well if they let this man get away with illegal grazing more farmers will do the same. It only takes one individual case that wins in order for others to follow. He already had many supporters backing him up but his true ignorance and no care for the law or others came afloat that many deserted him. I’m glad the government finally fined him and took a stand against him. Farmers/ranchers should know very well the regulations when it comes to their cattle, when and where their cattle can graze. Bundy could be portrayed as an anti-federalist because he took a stand against the governments in regards to how to manage public property in Nevada. He was rebellious towards the law and wouldn’t allow the government to dictate what he could or couldn’t do with his cattle.

  4. nicksalute says:

    Allow me to begin by applauding you on the cow pun – it seems that you are a natural barn comedian. I really enjoyed this post and how you were able to link and aged debate to current day political news. I remember broadly hearing about this controversy on the news, but was unaware that the argument was over state and federal law-abiding.
    While Bundy can technically be addressed as a “current say anti-federalist,” his actions proved that he had quite an absurd view of the American government and his rights as a citizen. There always exists a correct way and an incorrect way to go about things, and Bundy explicitly portrayed the wrong method of action. I feel that there is nothing wrong with a belief in decentralization and increased state’s rights, but a blatant disregard of the current American system is simply not a realistic mindset.
    Nevertheless, as I previously stated, it is intriguing to witness the federalist/ anti-federalist debate in real time. I am astounded by the fact that even after 200 years the dispute still exists. Even though Bundy may have given the anti-federalists a bad name, he proves that distrust in the unified American system is still a substantial factor in politics.

  5. alphaomegawords says:

    This case/situation you’ve connected with the longstanding debate of federalism and anti-federalism brings many points for conversation. However, there are a couple points that I immediately thought of that I thought I’d add. First, an individual rancher, like Bundy or any other, making a claim to rights based on their legal standing as an individual citizen for his cattle solely reserved for his personal use and ownership would greatly differ from the claims brought by a business entity (such as Bundy’s commercial ranch interests, whether large or small) that is using the cattle for the purpose of commercially gaining from the raising and sale of the animals. The Federalist/Anti-Federalist debates have historically centered on the rights of individual citizens and the position that Bundy has adopted for his ranching business would seem to be an altogether different category than an individual making a claim for his personal animals. Now, anyone who, like Bundy, support such a view of a state and disregard for the Federal authority may argue that an individual’s rights and interests (in this case, earning based on commercial profits from grazing the cattle owed/claimed by the business entity) are inextricably connected. It would seem, however, that rights and protections of individual citizens are understood and interpreted very differently than commercial interests.

    No now that I’ve finished my meandering though on the need to differentiate between personal and commercial interests and rights, let’s turn our attention to a situation that would be completely an individual seeking to use Federal land for personal use for the grazing of their personal animals. There seems to be some fundamental shortcomings, with the position adopted, at least as conveyed in the post and articles. At the base level, the relationship of the State of Nevada to the Federal government seems to be wrongly construed. The State of Nevada (an all states) very existence depends on the recognition of each state by the others by way of the Federal system that is established. With that comes both the good and the bad. The same Federal laws that allow an individual to operate their business and file the earnings from commercial operations as a sole proprietor, LLC, etc. and reap task advantages and savings by way of Federal laws is the same that places restrictions on the use of certain ‘public’ lands (controlled by the Federal government, not privately). Bundy may dislike the rules for use of BLM lands, but the utterly disregard the rules and pretend that the Federal government doesn’t exist at all creates all manner of slippery slopes.

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