Fox News' Sean Hannity is increasingly -- and dangerously -- taking on the role of PR agent for a Nevada rancher defying the federal government with violent threats.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has quickly become a darling of right-wing media over his decades-long refusal to pay federal government fees required to allow his cattle to exploit public lands. In July 2013, a federal court ordered the rancher to remove his cattle from the public property or they would be confiscated and sold to pay off the $1 million in fees and trespassing fines Bundy owes. When that confiscation began this month, the rancher took his battle to conservative media, who held him up as a folk hero battling big government invasion into private property rights and states' rights.
Bundy's defiance has been marked by violent and revolutionary rhetoric toward the federal government, hints of a bloody confrontation cheered on by the right-wing fringes who have repeatedly compared the situation to notorious and deadly standoffs like Ruby Ridge and Waco. For example, when Bundy appeared on his radio program, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones posited that if Bundy's supporters confronted federal agents at the auction for Bundy's confiscated cattle, which the rancher encouraged, it "could be how the shot heard round the world happens in this case." Jones warned that "this could turn into 1776 very quickly."
But such dangerous hyperbole isn't confined to the fringes. Increasingly, Sean Hannity's promotion and defense of the rancher's actions and threats is starting to resemble that of far-right extremists.
Hannity interviewed Bundy on his Fox program on April 9, sympathizing with the rancher's claims and arguing that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer."
His rhetoric had noticeably escalated two days later when he invited Bundy onto his radio program The Sean Hannity Show. Hannity argued that federal agents have "drawn the wrong line in the sand here," praising Bundy because he "like[s] anybody that's willing to fight."
He went on, "I'm just afraid of what this government is capable of doing. I mean we saw what happened in Waco," to which Bundy responded, "We have to have faith that America will stand. You know we would never won any of these wars from the Revolutionary War on up if we didn't have faith and courage and fighting for something."
Throughout the program, Hannity repeatedly pushed violent predictions, saying, "This can spiral out of control. You get one wrong person out there, this can spiral out of control really fast," and "If it keeps going, this is going to end very, very badly." He even demanded, "The government needs to stand down" because "this is only a symptom of how one person, standing up to the government, I'm telling you, [it is] my opinion that this crisis could come to a head, and lives could be lost."
Hannity promised to bring Bundy back onto his Fox program that night, and discussed the possibility of traveling to Nevada to visit the ranch.
At this point, Hannity is perhaps Bundy's most prominent supporter, and his role as PR agent for a man openly defying federal law and hinting at violent retaliation against federal agents appears to only be increasing. Words are one thing, but Hannity's public hyperbole is particularly worrisome given the fact that armed militia group members are reportedly heading into Nevada to take on the government with Bundy, who's placed armed guards at his gates.