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Cliven Bundy: Conscientious Objector?

Updated on April 25, 2014

Cliven Bundy

If you’ve been watching CNN for the last month, you may have missed this story—or rather, you may have missed every single news story aside from the missing plane, but that’s a separate issue. The story I’m referring to, is the one concerning Cliven Bundy and his ranch. To be fair to CNN, I don’t think the story has received much coverage in the corporate media, so I’ll fill you in.

Basically, a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy is allowing his cattle to graze on federal lands. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for his refusal to pay the grazing fee necessary to use the land. It makes sense that there would be a fee to use this land. It’s the same idea as a fee to rent a movie from the video store. You’re paying a small price to temporarily use something you’d otherwise have to pay for anyway, in this case, property. Seeing as Bundy had been doing this for the last twenty years, he currently owes the United States Government, and, by extension, the United States taxpayers, one-million dollars.

The situation finally exploded when the Bureau of Land Management lawfully stepped in and seized Bundy’s Cattle. However, Bundy got together a militia—a coalition mainly conservative, states’ rights, tea party type people—and they successfully reclaimed the cattle at gun point.

Now, it is indisputable that what Cliven Bundy did, and is doing, is illegal. The law states that he must pay the fees in order to use the land, and he is not paying the fees—simple as that. However, just because someone chooses to disobey the law doesn’t mean they are wrong in a broader sense of the word. The country has a rich history of conscientious objectors and civil disobedience. In other words, civil rights activists who held the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s in order to end segregation were theoretically breaking the law, yet they were in the moral right (if not the ultimate constitutional right).

The Young Turks

Make No Mistake: Bundy is a Deplorable, Extreme Right Wing Racist

Bundy recently stated blacks were better off under slavery. Already he's guilty on the charge of racism. To make it worse, his argument was that under slavery, blacks at least could work picking cotton, and had a "family life." Aside from the incredible multi-layered racism on the cotton comment, the idea that black slaves had a family life is just not factual. The families were notoriously broken up by the slave owners.

The reason I bring this up is just to make clear that my opinion here have less to do with Cliven Bundy, and more to do with the idea of whether or not people should have the right to take up arms against the government. I despise the inauthentic political argument that the second amendment means anyone can have any gun at any time for any reason. However, I do believe that the intention of the second amendment was for people to have the right to take up arms against an oppressive government. That's what the "freedom of the state" part refers to. However, we must not forget the "well regulated" part. If Nevada wanted to organize a state militia, and that state militia decided to oppose the federal government, that, to me, would be constitutional.

But they'd also be crushed. And that goes to a larger issue. The second amendment is outdated. When it was written, you could use muskets against muskets and possibly defeat the government. However, no gun could oppose a government bomb today. It's a complex issue trying to decide what the proper way to deal with the second amendment, but I take the position that this is not the way, although it makes for a good discussion.

Story Continued

With that said, what Cliven Bundy is doing is different from a sit-in, in my opinion, at least. To me, what Cliven Bundy is doing is more like this: Let’s say there is a man who tries to buy a diet soda for $1.79. Now, let’s say this $1.79 soda has a 22 cent tax on it. Now, let’s say this man decides to pull out a gun on the store clerk in order to avoid paying this tax. I would argue that that man deserves to be arrested. If you couldn’t tell, this is a real story that happened just this past week in Chicago, with a man named Nahshon Shelton. Nahshon, unlike Cliven Bundy, went to jail, as he should have. And as Cliven should as well. These cases are identical, other than that Cliven had more people and more guns, but they’re both ultimately people opposing a government fee.

With that said, I am a strong supporter of the right to protest. I also support the second amendment as the framers wrote it: that a person should be able to bear arms in a “well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.” Bundy’s militia is certainly not well regulated, and I’d contend that it is not necessary for the security of Nevada’s freedom.

In fact, all this is eerily similar to another event in American history. The Whiskey Rebellion, in 1791, saw farmers arm themselves to oppose the government’s new tax on distilled alcohol. President George Washington used the army to suppress the rebellion and this was widely considered a good thing at the time, and to this day—because it showed the government was organized and powerful enough to maintain law and order. Likewise, while I don’t disagree with Bundy’s right to be a conscientious objector, I also won’t complain if the federal government suppresses this “Bundy Rebellion.”


Should the Federal Government Force Mr. Bundy to Pay the $1 Million He Owes?

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Story Continued

Mainly, my problem with this is that, much like Nashon Shelton, Cliven Bundy should go through the courts if he has some sort of legitimate objection to these grazing fees. You have to exhaust legal options before resorting to violence (the brave activists who participated in sit-ins did not bring guns and threaten to shoot). If he doesn’t want to go through the courts, then he should at least practice non-violent protest. Take Occupy Wall Street, for example. They also had an objection to actions of the federal government, but they did not organize into a militia. Rather, they peacefully voiced their opinion, and took their, in my opinion, unjust, repercussions. If Bundy wants to go to jail over this cause in an act of civil disobedience, then he should do that, and see how much grass roots support he can garner. To me, this is the real difference. When Martin Luther King participated in civil disobedience and went to jail, people supported him, and people marched with him, and people fought alongside him. If Cliven Bundy went to jail, I don’t believe anyone would jump out of their seat to help a man upset that Blockbuster called and asked for their movies back. Basically, while I’m sympathetic to those who may be sympathetic to the concept of Bundy’s Rebellion, I’m not sympathetic to Mr. Bundy himself.

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    • JAS Writer profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin Smith 

      4 years ago

      I appreciate all the comments, guys. Like I said, I think this is a very interesting, nuanced, and thought provoking issue. Through a socialist lens, you could argue that since its public land, everyone should be able to use it free of charge. However, in the current capitalist system, I'm not sure that argument holds up. As for the deer, I think the difference there is that no one is profiting off the deer, which you could argue doesn't matter, but I assert that that argument should be made in a court of law, not with a rag-tag militia.

    • profile image


      4 years ago from those of the Ekklesia

      gregas- Let assume for the moment you are correct that the Government owns the deer. Then they also should have a responsibly of prevent them from grazing on Private property. And should a government owned deer be caught grazing on private property then the goverment should pay a grazing fee to the owner of the private property. Or is this to much to ask? So, with the Government it's a one way street? How many deer and other animals "owned by the Government" rome on private land and graze (at no cost to the Government). You see where this is going. Which is why I don't believe the Government owns the "deer."

      I can understand the government's protection of wild life on federal Land. And the Government and /or state should have some responsibility for control of wild life (deer and others) for public safety and other varied reasons. But I do not believe they have ownership. Just my opinion.

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 

      4 years ago from Corona, California.

      In actuality, the deer are owned and semi protected by the government. Other people pay the fee for grazing their cattle on government land so what exempts Clive Bundy. That's the same thing as people that don't pay their taxes for several years and then when they get caught they feel like they are being wronged while in the mean time the rest of us pay our taxes while we support the freeloaders. But, if their house catches fire or they are robbed they are right there to call for help from the fire or police departments. My opinion, Greg

    • profile image


      4 years ago from those of the Ekklesia

      Let's assume for the moment that you have ten cows and with them are ten deer grazing together on federal land. The cows are owned by you and the deer are not owned by anyone. This occures every years for 20 years. What the cows and deer (and every other kind of wild animal the graze on federal land) grazed on will naturally replace itself without cost to the government. What makes your cows grazing on federal land any different from wild animals grazing on the same federal land. Just because you own the cows that grazed on Federal Land the government makes you pay a fee (Tax). Do you have any idea how many wild animal graze on federal land with out cost. Now please explain why you should have to pay for grazings fees or a tax for your cows grazing. This to me is a case where the government has a law in place that is clearly taking advantage of a citizen.

      So I find it odd that you would compare this situation with a man who did not want to pay 22 cents tax for a can of soda.

      I can understand why Cliven Bundy refuse to pay the one million dollars in taxes and I agree with him on that point.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 

      4 years ago from California, United States of America

      I have been hearing about this guy but I didn't know all the details of his story. As you said, it is very possible that someone can rightly defy a law that is wrong; so, that in itself makes this story interesting, that someone would go as far as possible to defy a law. Of course, there are issues of whether he's justified, etc. which I'm not willing to say until I've looked even further into it. At any rate, very interesting story; thanks for the info and examination of it.


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