The desert tortoise has become a symbolic scapegoat for right-wing media figures running defense for an anti-government cattle rancher who's threatening to wage a range war against federal law enforcement officers.
Conflict has erupted in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the family and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, a man who has refused multiple court orders to remove his cattle from public land. Bundy has stated that he does not recognize federal law and in fact argued in court in 1998 that the United States government didn't own the land in question (he lost). Now BLM officers and contract cowboys have begun confiscating Bundy's herd. And the scofflaw rancher has emerged as a right-wing folk hero after repeatedly stating that he owns firearms and is willing to "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
At the center of the controversy -- according to right-wing media figures -- is the formerly endangered (and still threatened) desert tortoise. When Bundy's grazing rights were modified by BLM in 1993, it was in part to protect the species, which inhabits the same publicly-owned desert areas trodden by Bundy's cattle and was at the time on the brink of extinction.
That's where the connection to the tortoise ends, however. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay grazing fees required by the new rules. This led to an escalating series of reprisals from the judicial system that culminated in an order to confiscate Bundy's cattle in order to repay $1 million in fines and fees that over 20 years later remained unpaid. The current enforcement has less to do with protecting the tortoise, and more to do with Bundy's refusal to comply with the law or recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.
Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Bundy's stand have tried to pin the conflict on the tortoise and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is being depicted in negative terms ranging from being dismissed as irrelevant and economically harmful to becoming the basis for conspiracy theories about unlawful land grabs by Big Government.
On Fox, the situation afforded the network the opportunity to perpetuate the conservative narrative that the ESA unjustly puts the rights of wildlife above the rights of people. One host declared, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition." His co-host sarcastically (and inaccurately) described the government's position as "get the cows off so they can have the desert tortoise live there in peace."
David Blackmon, a Forbes contributor, penned a piece titled, "Using Snipers To Protect A Tortoise." (It's since been taken down, but cached here). In it, Blackmon argued that protecting the desert tortoise was merely a pretext being used by the government "with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely."
As evidence that the protection of the tortoise is a scam, some in conservative media have pointed to the Bureau of Land Management itself, claiming it's been euthanizing tortoises and/or "planting" them in the desert in order to make a case that they're endangered.
In fact, a BLM tortoise conservancy in Nevada was forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Prior to its closure, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center had to make the difficult decision to put down the tortoises that carried disease or were too feeble to survive on their own. The others were released back into the wild.
But despite how real the concerns about the future of desert tortoise may be, the reality is that the right-wing media is simply providing cover to a rancher who refuses to obey the law.
The federal government has alleged that four Georgia militia members who are accused of plotting to kill federal employees modeled their plan on right-wing blogger Mike Vanderboegh's online novel Absolved, which depicts underground militia fighters who declare war on the federal government over gun control laws and same-sex marriage, leading to a second American revolution. Vanderboegh is not alone in promoting such insurrectionism: several right-wing media figures, including other gun rights bloggers, have suggested the possibility of political violence or revolution as a means of responding to progressive policies.
I suppose it was inevitable.
For months, right-wing bloggers have been linking the ATF's Operation Fast and Furious to a wide array of increasingly ridiculous conspiracy theories. The operation itself was a failed attempt to take down Mexican cartels that certainly deserves (and is receiving) scrutiny after many guns involved in the program ended up at crime scenes, but the right-wing media's preference for wild theories over solid facts has gotten well out of hand.
Now, they've decided that the "ultimate goal" behind the program was to -- try not to laugh -- collapse the system as part of the "Cloward-Piven strategy" and initiate a "coup de d'état." You may recall "Cloward-Piven" as the Glenn Beck-pushed conspiracy which claims that the motive force of the last forty years of progressive policy is an article written by two obscure college professors that calls for "collapsing the system" by overloading government services in order to implement new policies. After Beck repeatedly devoted his programs to attacking the surviving professor, Francis Fox Piven, she began receiving death threats.
What does that have to do with a failed operation aimed at stopping Mexican drug cartels? Pajamas Media blogger Bob Owens provides the following "speculation" (emphasis added):
Gunwalker purposefully increases social unrest (increased gun violence/destabilizing Mexico), with the possible result of overloading the U.S. public welfare system (more illegal aliens fleeing the violence in Mexico and Central America). Gunwalker's perpetrators could then use that influx to create an insurmountable constituency of poor seeking handouts from the Democratic Party. The hope of the strategy is to force a system-wide collapse of the current system, and then to rebuild the government in a variant of the strongest socialist model they think the public will accept.
Operation Fast and Furious doesn't make sense as a anti-cartel operation, but it makes perfect tactical sense as a way of implementing Cloward-Piven, something that President Obama, Attorney General Holder, Secretary Napolitano, and Secretary Clinton have long embraced as followers of those radicals and Saul Alinsky. Gunwalker is the start of a coup d'état against the republic by the very souls entrusted to guard it.
The idea that the Obama administration wants dramatically increased illegal immigration in order "force a system-wide collapse of the current system" is, of course, at odds with their record of increasing deportations and reducing illegal immigration.
(As an aside, it's interesting that Owens now has a problem with "a coup d'état against the republic," given that he previously called armed revolution the "morally-required alternative" if other efforts to repeal health care reform fail.
Fast and Furious blogger Mike Vanderboegh, who thinks that if Hillary Clinton doesn't run for president again it must be because "she's got some dirty Gunwalker underwear she doesn't want outed in public," is also highlighting Owens' conclusions.
It's almost as if these people are desperate to not be taken seriously. But that's pretty much par for the course for the right-wing media.
It's a shame that Owens is just teasing us with the reference to how Obama, Holder, Napolitano, and Clinton are "followers of... Saul Alinsky." I was looking forward to a detailed explanation of the Alinskyite tactics.
Media Matters has long noted that the right-wing media is unparalleled in its willingness to throw its weight behind entirely fabricated conspiracies and fake stories. In their world, the Shirley Sherrod controversy was "orchestrated" by the White House to "smear" Andrew Breitbart; the Obama administration deliberately ignored the BP oil spill in order to stop future drilling; and President Obama secretly skipped his daughter's soccer team in order to do... something.
So it should come as no surprise that the right-wing media have turned a controversial program from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) into an elaborate conspiracy directed from the highest reaches of government intended to bolster the case for gun control legislation - even as they acknowledge there is no evidence for this claim.
Last week, the House Oversight Committee held two hearings into the ATF's Project Gunrunner, a division that seeks to halt the flow of firearms to Mexico, and a controversial initiative it began in 2009 called Operation Fast and Furious. According to the committee's report, under Fast and Furious, ATF knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico in order to "identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case." Reports indicate that the program may lead to acting ATF director Kenneth Melson's replacement.
But rather than stick to the facts, the right wing has again created an alternate reality. Spokesmen for the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America have used Fox News appearances to declare that what actually happened was a clever plot involving Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder aimed at creating a "river of guns" flowing into Mexico to create "political advantage" and "set the stage for more gun restrictions on the law abiding people in this country."
The right-wing blogosphere has since jumped on the story, but apparently aware of just how far-out all this sounds, they have generally couched the theory in a series of questions or even outward admissions that they have no evidence to support it.
Take Bob Owens, a Pajamas Media blogger who has previously openly discussed armed revolution and written that he hopes that makes Media Matters researchers "feel threatened." This week, Owens has written two articles speculating about whether Fast and Furious was "never designed to succeed as a law enforcement operation at all" and was instead "a PR op for gun control."
In his second piece, Owens writes, "We admittedly do not have any direct evidence of this allegation." That's generally where responsible people decide not to further comment until and unless they actually amass some sort of evidence. But Owens can't do that, you see, because the "circumstantial case... has proven strong enough to have few detractors and raises questions that must be answered."
From Confederate Yankee Bob Owens' Twitter feed:
On October 4, conservative blogger and Washington Examiner contributor Bob Owens tweeted:
Earlier today, I pointed out that conservative media figures have recently been ramping up discussion of possible civil war and armed revolt. Conservative blogger Bob "Confederate Yankee" Owens, who was recently hired by the Washington Examiner, stated that nations that have supposedly collapsed as far as ours have the need to either "reform or replace their governments," and "reform increasingly seems to be a fleeting option." Perhaps to prove my point, Owens now says Media Matters should "feel threatened" by him, and even suggests that violence will be necessary.
In a new post titled "Closer to Midnight", Owens responds to my earlier post by writing: "They portray it as a threat when 'Conservative media figures openly discuss armed revolution.' I hope they do feel threatened." He adds that our "feigned ignorance" and "mockery" in the face of "peaceable protests" means that "perhaps it will take a serious review of our capacity for violence to get them to realize we shall not surrender our individual liberties to their lust for power."
We have moved "closer to midnight" not because of any singular act , but because of inertia of a political class that does not respect or enforce the laws, or this nation's sovereignty. We have diametrically opposed views of how our nation can and should be run, and it appears that there is very little room left for negotiation.
Propagandists for the elitists at Media Matters seem troubled by A Nation on the Edge of Revolt. They portray it as a threat when "Conservative media figures openly discuss armed revolution."
I hope they do feel threatened. Attempts at peaceable protests have been met at turns by feigned ignorance, then mockery, then attacks on the character and motives of those would not sit quietly by. Perhaps it will take a serious review of our capacity for violence to get them to realize we shall not surrender our individual liberties to their lust for power.
I have not yet been swayed to the point of view that an armed conflict is inevitable, TN_NamVolunteer. But we are close enough that one would be wise to prepare for a possible conflict, just as one would prepare for any coming storm.
I wonder what the Washington Examiner's policy is for employees who openly speculate on the need for politically motivated violence.
From Owen's March 21 Confederate Yankee blog post:
I proudly stand by that comment.
According to Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi (who just so happened to be the Democrat speaking when I wrote that tweet, but was assuredly not the first), it is my obligation to pay for your "right." I will be forced to pay for coverage, whether I want it or not. I will be forced to pay for the coverage of others, whether I want it or not.
I stand by my comment that the Democrats who crammed this unwarranted bill down the throats of the American people who clearly and overwhelmingly opposed it deserve to be drawn and quartered.
As Wikipedia notes, having someone "laboring against that person's will to benefit another, under some form of coercion" is the very definition of involuntary servitude... slavery. We are Americans, and will be slaves to no man, no Congress, and no President.