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."
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.
Cliven Bundy, a cattle rancher in Nevada, is embroiled in a decades-long fight with the federal government over grazing rights on public land. Since 1993, Bundy has refused to pay for his use of 600,000 acres of public land to feed his cattle because he does not recognize the federal government's ownership of the land. Tensions recently escalated when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began confiscating -- pursuant to court orders -- Bundy's cattle in order to pay off the $1 million in fees and trespassing fines Bundy owes.
During the dispute, Bundy and his family have repeatedly threatened violence, invoked revolutionary rhetoric, and issued public statements making known that they own firearms and are willing to use them.
Drudge's hyping of the dispute comes as armed militia groups are reportedly entering the area to support Bundy; the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that "[s]erious bloodshed was narrowly avoided" during an April 9 confrontation between Bundy supporters and federal law enforcement agents. BLM says one of its agents used a Taser on one of Bundy's sons after BLM authorities were assaultedand intimidated during that incident.
The dispute has been given top billing on Drudge, with the headline, "Heavily-Armed Feds Surround Nevada Ranch," accompanied with an image of anti-BLM protest signs. Also featured on Drudge's homepage is the headline, "Militia Members Arrive: We're not 'afraid to shoot'...":
From the April 11 edition of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report:
Recent media reports on President Obama's judicial nominations misleadingly suggest that his confirmation record is now better than that of his predecessor George W. Bush, but rampant GOP obstructionism is still contributing to an alarming amount of "judicial emergencies" across the country.
National Review Online and the right-wing Heritage Foundation recently used Obama's overall total as well as his 2014 first quarter judicial confirmation numbers to claim that the president "outpaces" his Republican predecessor, at a rate that will eventually "steamroll" the total number of Bush appointments to the federal bench.
Unfortunately, this misinformation appears to have been spurred by recent media stories that reported raw confirmation numbers, without sufficient context. For example, according to Politico, Obama is now "outpacing George W. Bush on judges," because he has succeeded in getting 237 judges confirmed, while 234 judges were confirmed "by this point in [Bush's] presidency." This total number of seated judges is what right-wing media choose to focus on in their extrapolation of Obama's ultimate record, while ignoring the president's actual seating rate (confirmations in light of total vacancies). When the number of vacancies Obama has to deal with in comparison to Bush is added to an examination of their respective records, it is evident that the president still has a long road ahead to leave office with a rate similar to his predecessor, especially in the face of Republicans' unprecedented obstructionism.
Even though the total number of Obama's confirmations has exceeded Bush's, Obama has more vacancies to fill and has to appoint more nominees than his predecessor. According to the Alliance for Justice, "Only 79% of Obama's nominees have been confirmed compared to 89% at this same point for Bush; likewise, Obama has filled only 73% of the total judicial vacancies up to this point in his presidency, while Bush had filled about 82%." As a result, says AFJ, "Bush fared significantly better in getting his nominees confirmed" than Obama has so far.
This has real-world consequences by delaying and denying justice across the country.
After Attorney General Eric Holder discussed his support for developing and improving technology that would allow guns to only be fired by authorized users, members of the right-wing media concocted a baseless conspiracy theory that the technology would be used by the government to spy on lawful gun owners.
From the April 8 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
Loading the player reg...
The 2014 National Rifle Association annual meeting's prayer breakfast will be keynoted by a reverend who claimed that the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre "is what happens when a society turns its back on God" by separating religion from public education or government.
According to the NRA, Dr. Franklin Graham will lead an April 27 prayer breakfast during the NRA's 2014 annual meetings and exhibits. Graham, who is the son of evangelist Billy Graham, is described by the NRA as "a world humanitarian and spiritual voice for our country."
Six days after a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch flagged a radio interview where Graham discussed the shooting, saying, "we've taken God our of our school, we've taken him out of our government and now we seem shocked at all of these things. Why are we shocked? We shouldn't be shocked. This is what happens when a society turns its back on God":
Following the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona that left six dead and 13 wounded, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Graham criticized a nationally televised memorial service for the victims because it included a Native American prayer. In The Washington Times, Graham wrote that the prayer "can do nothing to comfort" the victims of the shooting and added, "For the sake of these innocent people and for Americans everywhere, I wish someone could have prayed to the One who created all of us, Almighty God."
The New York Times missed the opportunity to explore the close connection between Donors Trust, the right-wing's "Dark Money ATM," and the conservative activist behind high-profile Supreme Court cases that are successfully attacking decades-old civil rights precedent.
The Times recently ran a profile of Edward Blum, the director of the Project on Fair Representation, a non-profit group that solicits plaintiffs to challenge civil rights policy and law like affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. The article reported that this self-described "one-man organization" receives funding from "conservative groups like the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Searle Freedom Trust." This support from some of the right-wing's biggest donors has allowed Blum to pursue high-profile cases that are challenging half a century of civil rights precedent.
Blum was the driving force behind the failed attempt to overturn constitutional race-conscious admissions policies in the recent case of Abigail Fisher, a white student who sued the University of Texas after she was denied admission. Blum also organized the recent challenge to the Voting Rights Act, which successfully gutted a key provision of the Act that protects minority voters from racial discrimination at the polls. Blum is now rolling out new websites to troll for other rejected students in his attempt to once again provide the Supreme Court's conservative justices an opportunity to overturn case law that allows affirmative action.
Fox News criticized the Supreme Court's decision not to hear a case involving a New Mexico photographer who was sued after refusing to serve a same-sex couple, inviting a hate group leader to condemn non-discrimination laws and asserting that prohibiting businesses from refusing service to gay people is a form of "involuntary servitude."
On April 7, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Elane Photography, a New Mexico studio that was sued under the state's non-discrimination statute after its owner refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Though it's unclear what motivated the Supreme Court's decision, opponents of LGBT equality condemned the Supreme Court for allegedly refusing to protect religious liberty.
One of the Supreme Court's critics was Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC), who appeared on The Kelly File with Megyn Kelly to condemn New Mexico's non-discrimination law:
From the April 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News attacked a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that allows certain inmates to be enrolled in Medicaid as "ridiculous and unfair to every taxpayer." But according to health care and correctional experts, increasing access to health services reduces both the costs associated with incarceration and decreases inmates' chances of being incarcerated again.
When a mass shooting occurs, conservative media rush to blame mental health, video games, a lack of armed people present, and even liberal values -- anything but the fact that the shooter was able to get a gun.
But the single proximate factor in all mass shootings, and in all gun violence really, is that it is easy for dangerous people to access high-powered firearms. Lack of access to firearms typically makes it difficult for would-be mass murderers to carry out their plans. For instance, experts say mass stabbings are extremely rare in the United States. To the contrary, 69 percent of all homicides are committed with a gun. Of 37 public mass killings since 2006, 33 involved firearms, while the Boston Marathon bombings, an incident involving a car, and two cases of arson accounted for the other four incidents.
Furthermore, academic research has linked the easy availability of firearms to homicide. According to numerous studies, "where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide." Compared to other high income nations which typically more strongly regulate the availability of firearms, the United States' gun homicide rate is 19.5 times higher, leading to an overall homicide rate that is 6.9 times higher. Research has also shown, "across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded."
Following the April 2 shooting at Fort Hood that left three victims dead and 16 others wounded, conservative media have refused to acknowledge the role of easy access to firearms in shootings and have instead claimed mass shootings are caused by video games, mental health problems, the "culture war," and by a deficiency in the number of firearms carried by the general public.
Right-wing media champions of voter purges have been quiet in response to a federal appeals court's decision that Florida officials' attempts to remove noncitizens from voter rolls clearly violated federal law, which protects citizens from these overbroad and error-riden challenges.
Shortly before the 2012 election, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) and his Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner (R) undertook an effort to purportedly purge the state's voter rolls of noncitizens. The Department of Justice challenged the purge in court, arguing that Florida had violated federal law that prohibits states from booting voters off the rolls within 90 days of a federal election. This law is in place to prevent depriving citizens of the vote because of faulty database checks, performed without enough time to correct the state's errors.
At the time, right-wing media outlets like The Wall Street Journal and National Review Online were overwhelmingly supportive of Governor Scott and his attempts to block people from voting. WSJ's senior editorial writer Jason Riley dismissed the DOJ's challenge, since "[t]he Obama Administration sees racial animus and voter-suppression conspiracies in any Republican-led effort to improve ballot integrity." NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky also dedicated numerous posts to the issue, calling the DOJ's lawsuit "spurious," and evidence of "politics and ideology driving the legal decision-making" at the agency "as opposed to nonpartisan, objective analysis of the facts and the law."
Von Spakovsky had even more to say on the subject. In a different post about the case in 2012, he complained about the DOJ's "lawlessness" in its attempts to restore the voting rights of affected citizens in Florida:
Time and again, the Holder Justice Department has exhibited politically driven law enforcement. But its latest instance of lawlessness is absolutely brazen.
This goes far beyond Holder's previous actions, such as belittling claims of voter fraud and trying to stop voter ID and other reform measures intended to improve the integrity of the election process. This letter would directly abet vote thieves in a key state as Holder's boss seeks reelection [in 2012].
The Wall Street Journal editorial board was quick to support a Supreme Court decision on campaign finance, in which the conservative justices once again ignored legal precedent and usurped the role of Congress to legislate complicated policy.
On April 2, the Supreme Court decided McCutcheon v. FEC (also known as "the next Citizens United"), and held that overall campaign contribution limits -- previously set at $123,200 -- were unconstitutional. Although the Court did not rule on the individual campaign limits of $5,200 per candidate in the two-year election cycle, the conservative justices struck down the aggregate limits, allowing future contributions to be spread among an unlimited amount of candidates, political parties, and PACs. Although Congress had set those overall campaign limits in the wake of the Watergate scandals to guard against institutional corruption or the appearance of corruption -- a goal repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court -- the Court in McCutcheon ignored this precedent, judicially narrowing future regulation so that "Congress may target only a specific type of corruption -- 'quid pro quo' corruption."
The WSJ, which has been misinforming about this case from the beginning, was predictably pleased with the outcome in McCutcheon. Although the WSJ editorial board lectures about fidelity to the law when it comes to legal decisions that might affect corporate wealth, it was not so bothered at the Court's rejection of precedent in McCutcheon. In an April 2 editorial, it celebrated the decision as a win for "the core promise of American liberty" and applauded the Court for "walking back" a "historic blunder." In fact, the WSJ really only had one complaint about the McCutcheon decision: why didn't conservative Chief Justice John Roberts go even further?
In its original First Amendment sin, Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, the Court said government can regulate political contributions to limit the risk of "quid pro quo" corruption. That is, money in return for a political favor. But Congress has gone well beyond that narrow definition of corruption to include trying to limit some donors but not others or simply the amount of money in politics.
We wish the Court had gone further and overturned all of Buckley, as Justice Clarence Thomas urged in his concurring opinion. As he put it, Buckley is now "a rule without a rationale" given how much the Court has eroded its original logic. But the Justices didn't need to go that far to overturn overall donor limits, and Chief Justice Roberts prefers incremental legal progress. Justice Thomas is nonetheless a John the Baptist on political speech, and the current majority may vindicate his logic in a future case.
We hope it's soon given the pernicious doctrine laid out in the dissent joined by all four liberals. "The First Amendment advances not only the individual's right to engage in political speech, but also the public's interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer (his italics).
"Collective speech" sounds Orwellian as a legal doctrine that invites government as a leveller of free speech and is alien to the U.S. constitutional tradition. The scary thought is that the Court is only one heart attack away from gutting the core promise of American liberty.