BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Cliven Bundy has stumbled through the trapdoor of right-wing media-generated celebrity and fallen flat on his face. While many following his story wondered what this government-disdaining Nevada-based rancher -- who has been illegally grazing his cattle on federal land and who marshaled armed militia forces to engage in a standoff with federal agents -- was all about, America's right wing, especially the crew at Fox News, and conservative radio talk show hosts, were quick to brand Bundy a courageous leader of a New Sagebrush Rebellion.
Bundy and his followers forced the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to back down and withdraw. Team Bundy was riding high and feeling cocky. If there were such a thing, Fox News would have immediately conferred upon Bundy a "Man of the Year" award.
Then the shit hit the fan. Now, he has become the symbol of racist right wing ignorance, and fodder for late night comedians. But there is nothing funny about Bundy, his right wing views and the GOP's attempt to hitch its wagon to Bundy's crusade.
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," Bundy told The New York Times' Adam Nagourney. According to Nagourney, Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked. "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, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
In the wake of these ignorant, racist remarks Bundy's stock plunged faster than Chris Christie after Bridgegate.
As the Bundy story unfolded, many conservatives quickly supported his antigovernment crusade, seeing a potential political and publicity bonanza. Fox's Sean Hannity was a big time supporter, the National Review gasped in Palin-like awe, and such politicians as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Nevada Senator Dean Heller called Bundy supporters "patriots," and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, all spoke out in Bundy's behalf.
However, not all conservatives were ready to leap aboard the Team Bundy bandwagon. The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis warned against conferring on Bundy instant folk hero status. "There is a pattern of conservatives embracing someone who is being bullied by the government or the mainstream media, and turning them into some sort of folk hero," Lewis wrote in a Daily Caller column. But this 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' philosophy is dangerous.
"Just because someone is being victimized does not bestow upon them the quality of virtue. What is more, the fact that someone is standing up to our political enemies (think Donald Trump, Ted Nugent, et al.,) does not, in and of itself, make them a worthy or honorable partner.
"Yet, we find conservatives trapped in a cycle of abusive relationships. It's almost like a trap. It usually goes like this: Government or the media oversteps its bounds, conservatives embrace the un-vetted victim, who — once feted and promoted on cable TV and talk radio (this is good business for conservative media, allowing them to pander to their viewers and listeners, and drive their political agenda) — says or does something utterly stupid. Then, MSNBC (and other liberal outlets) then spend weeks covering the boomerang part of the story."
One can only imagine the salivating going on amongst the producers over at MSNBC when news of Bundy's racist remarks surfaced.
To her credit, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow went beyond pompous gloating, and dug deeper into the story. Her reporting on Bundy's association with, and apparent adherence to the far right's Sovereign Citizen and Posse Comitatus movements, was an important and previously underreported dimension of the story.
In a 1998 interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, Daniel Levitas, author of the highly acclaimed book, The Terrorist Next Door, discussed the origins of the Posse Comitatus: "The Posse Comitatus, which is Latin for "power of the county," was originally founded by William Potter Gale in 1970," but it was ineffective "until Gale was able to join his Christian Identity beliefs (a racist theology identifying Jews as the literal progeny of Satan and blacks as subhuman) with the growing anti-tax movement in the United States.
"The first phase, when Gale developed all these theories about "citizens' government" and the Posse Comitatus, was in the early to mid-1970s. In reality, Gale's ideas were really nothing more than verbal flourishes used to disguise old-fashioned vigilantism.
"The second phase started in the late 1970s, when Gale and his allies were able to take advantage of the agricultural crisis brewing in rural America and use it to disseminate Posse ideology throughout the farm belt.
"The third phase was after the Posse really came into public view in 1983, with the killing of two federal marshals by [Posse adherent and tax protester] Gordon Kahl in North Dakota. After that, everybody knew the Posse was trouble with a capital T. The negative publicity it got, combined with aggressive state and federal prosecutions, dealt a significant blow to Posse recruitment."
To be fair, Matt Lewis wasn't the only conservative who questioned elevating Bundy to immediate sainthood. Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson also warned about getting too cozy with Bundy, especially after researching the situation and discovering that some of the cast of characters surrounding Bundy were, as Beck characterized it "are truly frightening."
However short-lived it was, Bundyism is becoming symbolic of the Republican Party's inability to relate to minority voters. In a tape posted by the Washington Post, Bundy is heard wondering why people of color were not flocking to his side: "Where is our colored brother? Where is our Mexican brother? Where is our Chinese? Where are they? They're just as much American as we are, and they're not with us. If they're not with us, they're going to be against us."
"The rush to stand with Mr. Bundy against the Bureau of Land Management is the latest incarnation of conservative antigovernment messaging," The New York Times' Josh Barro recently wrote. "And nonwhites are not interested, because a gut-level aversion to the government is almost exclusively a white phenomenon."
Barro was making a point that he has made before, often as a guest on a MSNBC talking-head program, that Republicans are totally out of touch with minority voters.
The Bundy crusade against the federal government will not add minorities to the GOP's voter rolls, and is liable to alienate moderate white Republicans as well. It appears that Bundy's next destination is the trash heap of history.