The Cliven Bundy Narrative – Intoxicating, uncompromising, quasi-religious

You may have heard about the standoff between the federal government and a rancher named Bundy in Nevada. He has refused to pay his grazing fees and his cattle are endangering the desert tortoise. We posted a short quote from Mr. Bundy along with an editorial cartoon about the subject on our Facebook page (you can see the cartoon and the quote at the bottom of this post). But, wow!

We usually receive about 1,000 post views, but this time? It’s currently at 348,000 and climbing. The good part of this is that the Chaparral Institute is getting a lot of attention. But there’s also a scary part.

There’s an intoxicating, uncompromising, quasi-religious narrative out there that some very vocal folks have so surrounded themselves with that they have created an alternative state of reality. This narrative is promoted by several financially successful “news” media outlets that have rejected the most basic principles of news journalism. For example, fact checking. The Sean Hannity Show is a case in point. Hannity even created news himself by initiating rumors that federal agents were going to conduct a secret raid on the Bundy Ranch. Gone is one of the most fundamental requirements for rational thought, the art of unbiased questioning.

Fortunately there’s a lot of rational people helping to promote the actual truth. But it remains an ongoing battle, one that will unfortunately have to play out for some time to come.

Pulling from the hundreds of comments we’ve received this past week on our Facebook page, here are some of the most common tenets of the Bundy narrative:

1. Anti-federal government and government in general.
“I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada. I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” -Cliven Bundy
There is also the notion that the federal government cannot own land and that everything from national parks to national forests are illegal.
“The fact is, the Bundys as well as many Americans who do the research know that the government has no jurisdiction on this common law land and only by fiat and though environmental conservationist ideals media attempts to sway Americans to believe they do.” -Joel

2. Promotion of grand conspiracies.
Somehow Senator Harry Reid and the Chinese were behind it all.
“Harry Reid’s dealings and the question of whether or not this is Nevada land that is under the “protection” of the BIA or whether it is in fact Federal land is but one question. The other is whether or not Harry Reid was intent upon getting rid of the “pesky cattle” that stood in the way of a Chinese solar plant to be built at this same location.” -Anne
Here’s a good research article debunking the conspiracy theory.

3. Pervasive use of logical fallacies.
Rather than discuss the actual topic, many posters brought up completely irrelevant subjects. “Detriment to the Environment? Really? So, the government detonating hundreds of nuclear bombs in the Nevada desert is ok? What a joke.” -Robert
More on logical fallacies here.

4. Unable to distinguish the difference between rumor and fact.
A claim was made, and circulated by talk radio and Fox “News” that the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) killed Bundy’s cattle. To support the claim, Darlene said, “YES they did here you go,” and posted this video. The video was produced by Fox and is filled with unsubstantiated statements.

Another claim that Bundy supporters use to “prove” the desert tortoise has nothing to do with the BLM’s actions is that supposedly, “…BLM has plans to euthanize hundreds of them.” – Kuntry
Chris, tried to help Kuntry understand by responding, “Not the BLM, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the tortoises being euthanized are those that have a terminal illness and can’t be reintroduced back into the wild.”
Here’s the factual explanation from the USFWS.

5. Significant use of profanity and/or hate.
We’ve deleted most of these and banned the most offensive posters.
“The California Chaparral Institute you don’t know me so shut your fucking mouth.” -Kelly
“Dear dumbass bleeding hearts. Commit suicide Now.” -Patti

6. Exaggeration and predictions of Armageddon when government rules are established to make the environment safer.
In response to a post about California’s recent ban on the retail sale of highly toxic rat poisons, Darlene said, “So what happens when the rat population increases and we have no recourse, then we begin to see the break out of the plage. Now this frightens me.”

7. Religious fundamentalism.
“I’m certain that we can agree that the animal kingdom predates humankind by 1-5 days at most. And we can agree that all nature was placed here to serve humankind.” -Santah
We’ve also noticed that a significant number of the most intolerant or uncompromising comments come from folks who also appear to be guided by religion. The contradiction between this behavior and the love and acceptance promoted in the New Testament is disturbing.

8. Rejection of science, unless it confirms personal opinions.
“And by science, I do not mean studies done by universities that receive fat government grants and skew data to what they want it to say, or “non-profits” which are anything but that.” -John

9. Citing older, discredited research.
“This says tortoises benefit from cattle and sheep grazing, eat dung. Seems like the most common sense piece I’ve seen yet.” -Amy
We responded to Amy indicating the paper she cited (Bostick 1990) was out of date and based on unsubstantiated opinions from interviews.
Amy rejected our points and continued to believe the article was accurate because it had cited references. She said, “Saying it is based on “interviews with longtime residents is very misleading, considering the literature cited- list at the end of the piece…”

Here’s the Bostick paper. It’s an excellent example of a hypothesis searching for data where there really isn’t any.

Here is the literature review from the US Fish and Wildlife Service from 2002 which concluded that the article’s “underlying assumption, that tortoises depend on cattle dung for protein, has no empirical support.”

10. Adherents to this narrative appear to belong to particular demographic.

Some other useful links:
A good timeline of the Bundy affair
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/04/15/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-long-fight-between-cliven-bundy-and-the-federal-government/

Desert Tortise Recovery Plan
http://www.fws.gov/nevada/desert_tortoise/dtro/

Editorial by Alan O’Neill former superintendent for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area
http://lasvegassun.com/news/2014/apr/06/rancher-land-dispute-bully-not-hero/

Our Facebook Page
https://www.facebook.com/californiachaparral

bundy-episode

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