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Utah News

Should The GOP Be Sympathetic To Bundy Cause?

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President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, was an early champion of national parks and public lands.

The Bundy family of ranchers made news again this week when brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy appealed to stay in Oregon while defending themselves in federal court. The brothers contend that they should be allowed to finish their Oregon trial before being sent to Nevada to face similar charges there.

The family’s infamous stand-offs against federal agents brought attention to the debate surrounding the management of public lands in the West. David Jenkins, President of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, said Republican lawmakers should think twice before lending support or sympathy to the Bundy’s cause.

“Republicans, if they care about their party brand, then they really should reject this and they should also reject the whole land transfer movement, too. If you look at poll after poll after poll in the West, public lands are very popular and they contribute a lot to the economy,” Jenkins said. “We’ve maintained that not only the policy but also the rhetoric coming out of people like [Utah Rep.] Rob Bishop is really a big part of the problem. He’s actually inflaming the passions of these militant radicals like Bundy with his rhetoric. It feeds in to the worldview of people like Bundy.”

Jenkins said that a genuinely conservative tradition of public land support stretches back to before Theodore Roosevelt entered the White House. He said that such a tradition should not be confused with the actions of radical protesters.

“Conservatism is about respecting tradition, respecting history, basing your decision-making on facts and precedent, things like that. What the Bundy’s are is that they don’t believe any of that,” he said. “They’re basically a group of bullies who want what they want and they are willing to use force, intimidation, whatever they can do to affect that. It’s not conservative to point rifles at law enforcement officers, it’s not conservative to take over property of others. So, why suddenly label these guys as conservative?”

While he criticizes GOP politicians for their sympathies for the movement to give states control of federal land, they are not the only target of criticism for Jenkins. He said that President Barack Obama’s administration was too slow to enforce the law in the face of violations.

“[Since] the 2014 incident at Bunkerville, [Nevada,] we’ve been fairly critical of the Obama administration for not acting sooner to hold people responsible for taking up arms and pointing them at law enforcement officers,” he said. “For them to go two years without any kind of repercussions for those actions emboldened them. That is probably somewhat directly responsible for what happened at the wildlife refuge in Oregon.”

Cliven Bundy, father of Ammon and Ryan Bundy, lost a bid earlier this month to be released from jail before his trial for conspiracy and assault charges. Jenkins said that the actions of anti-authority protesters resemble those of bullies, not patriots.

“You can’t say you’re for the Constitution and just choose to cherry-pick the portions that you want and not really care about original intent and you can’t be in favor of returning lands to the people when those lands already belong to the people,” he said. “We certainly don’t want people who are true conservatives to somehow feel like they need to have any sympathy for these folks because Cliven Bundy is not much different than a crime boss.”

U.S. District Judge Anna Brown ruled against the Bundy brother’s request.