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Thursday, May 1, 2014

A strange kind of patriot: The historical background of the Bundy philosophy

by John MacBeath Watkins

Sean Hannity is shocked, shocked, to learn that Cliven Bundy is a racist. Bundy said that Negroes were better off as slaves. Back in what he seems to think of as the good old days, a young slave, wondering what career to follow, would be directed to the cotton field with a large bag, and their life's work was set. Or, as Bundy put it:
... “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...
Who knew that someone who refuses to acknowledge the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution would harbor racist sentiments?

Anyone who has studied the history of this philosophy.

Armed men from around the country are now flocking to Bundy's ranch to protect him from the law of the land. They claim that no one above the level of the county sheriff should have law enforcement authority over the federal land Bundy has his cattle on, and has been grazing his cattle on without paying for two decades.

Who thinks this way?

At one time, most of the former states of the Confederacy. After they lost the Civil War, federal troops occupied the South during the period of Reconstruction, from1867 to 1877. While there, they enforced laws allowing former slaves to have access to polling places so that they could vote. This was decisive in the 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes.

Initially, it appeared that Sam Tilden had won the election, winning the popular vote and 184 electoral votes. Hayes had 165 electoral votes and there were 20 disputed electoral votes. The votes were in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, where each party reported that their candidate had won. One of the reasons Tilden did so well was that in the former confederate states in 1874 and 1876, all levels of government chose not to police the polls, allowing whites to intimidate blacks to keep them from voting.

The matter was resolved by giving Hayes the contested vote, which the Southern states agreed to for a price. Hayes would remove federal troops occupying the South, and the Posse Comitatus Act would prevent federal troops from enforcing state laws in the future. This was the beginning of the era when you had to be a white racist to win public office in a former Confederate state.

This is why a philosophy that says the federal government is evil and should be cut back "until it's small enough to drown in a bathtub" is so appealing to people like Cliven Bundy (aside from the fact that it gives him an excuse for not paying his grazing fees.)

Bundy has promoted himself with a video showing him riding a horse while carrying an American flag, but he's a strange kind of patriot:
“I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada,” Bundy said. “And I abide by all Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”
Good to know. So, what's that you've got attached to the pole, a dish cloth?

States' rights got another boost when the feds got involved in voting again, with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1969, a Portland, Ore., retired dry cleaner named Henry Lamont Beach started issuing charters for Posse Comitatus units, promoting the idea that there is no legitimate unit of government above the county level.

Beach was a former member of the American Silver Shirts, a fascist organization that was started after Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933.

And here's what Bundy said on Glenn Beck's  radio show recently:
“I only want to talk to one person in each county across the United States, and here’s what I want to say: County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucracy. County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucrats.”
This talk is part of a philosophy that stemmed from the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the efforts to keep white power over blacks. The federal government isn't a bogyman because it's powerful, it's a bogyman because it uses its power to enforce the rights of people who aren't like Cliven Bundy. I don't think he's just a swindler who wants to graze his cattle for free, though that temptation might help shape his views. I think his entire philosophy starts with his racism, and goes on to condemn the federal government because it wants him and people like him to stop acting on their racism.

The modern conservative movement got its start with Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign of 1964. That was the year the Civil Rights Act passed, and Goldwater opposed it, on libertarian grounds, he said. This, and Nixon's Southern Strategy in 1968, formed an alliance between libertarians -- actually never a very big group -- and racists.

In the 1970s, southern whites faced with integrating their schools began starting "white academies" -- private schools often associated with churches. Keep in mind that Southern Baptists split with the rest of the Baptist church over slavery in 1845. Northern Baptists tended to disapprove of slavery, and didn't want missionaries to take slaves with them, for example. Southern Baptists wanted a church that taught that slavery was just fine.

In the 1970s, when the IRS started questioning the tax-free status of church-affiliated schools that discriminated against blacks, the modern conservative coalition was complete. Certain churches joined in the cry to limit government power.

Granted, libertarians didn't have much in common with religious conservatives. But they wanted allies who wanted to limit the power of government, and their philosophy became attractive to people who wanted to limit the power of government for reasons having nothing to do with philosophy.

I'm well stricken in years, and have become cynical about why people believe what they do. All too often, a set of ideas can be a cover for attitudes and prejudices that have nothing to do with reason. In Bundy's case, his refusal to pay grazing fees to the government is symptomatic of his deeper attitudes. It's not about the grazing, really, it's about history and prejudice.

“I only want to talk to one person in each county across the United States, and here’s what I want to say: County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucracy. County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucrats,” Bundy said
“I only want to talk to one person in each county across the United States, and here’s what I want to say: County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucracy. County sheriffs, disarm U.S. bureaucrats,” Bundy said

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