Los Angeles film producer Moctesuma Esparza has given us two “one man” against “the man” films in “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez” and “The Milagro Beanfield War” in which the full weight of the dominant White establishment is arrayed against a single Mexican American. Naturally, the Mexicans haven’t a chance. Both movies took place in land formerly Mexican that the U.S. conquered and took from the Mexicans covering up the largest land garb in Western world history with a $15 million pay-off to Mexican senators in 1848.
Real life has caught up with Esparza’s cinematic struggle of the little guy against “the man” in Nevada near a town named Bunkerville, near a Nevada State Park – Valley of Fire.
A substantial part of that Mexican War land grab was the State of Nevada. The United States Government took possession of every square inch of all previous Mexican territory except for private parcels owners could prove they had title to; Nevada became a state in 1864 after silver was discovered in the fabulous Comstock Lode and Abraham Lincoln needed two more Republican U.S senators.
In 1877 a Mormon family named Bundy made their from Utah to homestead some cattle range for pennies from the federal government as long as they developed it with irrigation, cultivated and/or reclaimed the land. The Bundys turned it into a working cattle ranch. That was Bundy acceptance of federal government largesse. The Bundy’s owe their 150 acre ranch to the United States government and the Congress of the United States that crafted the law (the Desert Land Act), that allowed the Bundys to settle the ranch for a pittance. 150 acres, however, is not enough land to support a cattle ranch in Nevada or almost anywhere in the West. So Cliven Bundy bought “grazing rights” from the federal government’s property manager, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1954.
Twenty years later, the BLM reclassified the property Bundy bought grazing rights to as not capable of supporting year-round grazing. Bundy quit paying his grazing fees but kept using the land to feed his cattle.
In 1998, the federal courts ordered Bundy to remove his cattle from federal land. Bundy’s argument is that his federally-subsidized family settled the land in 1877 and that he has the right to the land because his family worked the land “before” the federal government owned it. The courts ruled that federal ownership was established by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1848. Bundy refuses to accept that decision, the Treaty itself and claims he does not “recognize” the federal government at all.
He claims that only the Sheriff of Clark County, Nevada, has the authority to arrest him and that he would pay the State of Nevada grazing fees because he believes it is a “sovereign state.” Bundy owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in grazing fees; the figure of a million dollars is mentioned by the media while Bundy supporters claim it is only “two hundred thousand dollars.”
The BLM secured a federal court order in August 2013 ordering Bundy to remove his cattle from public land. He ignored the order. On March 15 (this year), the BLM delivered a written notice that Bundy had to remove his cattle from public lands. Bundy ignored the notice. On March 27 the BLM set a cattle removal plan into action. April 5 BLM agents commenced rounding up Bundy’s cattle.
A confrontation materialized between Bundy’s family and armed federal agents. Bundy: “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”
The confrontation (as reported in the New York Times):
Up to a thousand armed “militia” men (and women) came from all over the country to defend Bundy from the “heavy-handed federal government” “With their assault rifles and threats, the thugs in the desert forced federal officials with the Bureau of Land Management to back down from a court-ordered confiscation of Bundy’s cattle. One of the rancher’s supporters, Richard Mack, a Tea Party leader who is in the National Rifle Association’s Hall of Fame(and a former Arizona sheriff), said he planned to use women as human shields in a violent showdown with law enforcement.
“We were actually strategizing to put all the women up front,” Mack said in a radio interview. “If they were going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot.”
Supporting Bundy is crackpot former congressman Ron Paul who told Fox: “They had virtual ownership of that land because they had been using it,” Ron Paul said on Fox, referring to the Bundy clan.” Paul has no clue. Neither do most of the Bundy supporters. He has fought the government in court and lost, lost for over 20 years. He owes you and me hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bundy is a thief.
The government will win the argument. The “Rule of Law” shall and must prevail. Isn’t that what these very same Bundy supporters loudly tell us about poor Mexicans who ignore American law so they can come to the U.S. to earn – not steal — money to feed their families, not, cattle?
Contreras formerly wrote for the New America News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.