Fox News went to bat for a Virginia lobbyist-turned-farmer unhappy with the easement restrictions agreed to as a condition on the purchase of her property, characterizing the execution of the easement as an attempted “land grab” and government invasion.
On the October 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade summarized the story of farmer and right-wing political activist Martha Boneta with the tease, “Caught on camera: A woman's farm invaded by the government.” Boneta appeared for an interview to explain how, in the words of co-host Steve Doocy, a “land grab” of her farm was in the works.
Boneta, a GOP donor and so-called "Tea party farmer," complained that because the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) owns conservation easements on her land, the group is conducting “invasive” and “abusive” inspections of the property. She proclaimed, “What we have here is an organization that has the power over thousands of acres of American farm land and yet there is no accountability to the American people or the democratic process.”
Conservation easements are legally binding agreements entered into by private parties. And PEC is a private party, with a private property right attached to Boneta's farm that the organization's representatives are responsible for inspecting. Boneta's claim that PEC is “an organization that has the power over thousands of acres of American farm land” is simply her devious way of describing the basic right of a person or organization to purchase and own property and control the conditions upon which they transfer that property.
Boneta purchased her farm land from PEC conditioned upon the inclusion of certain conservation easements. Boneta now believes she should not be subject to the easements. A statement from PEC elaborated on the purchase agreement and subsequent enforcement of the easements:
In 2006, PEC donated a conservation easement on the subject 64 acre property in the village of Paris, Virginia in order to keep the land open, to preserve the historical character of structures on the property, and to protect public views from scenic highways and the Appalachian Trail. Ms Boneta purchased the property at a price that reflected those conditions and with full knowledge of the easement terms. Under Virginia law, PEC is responsible for ensuring compliance with the easement terms.
With the exception of Ms. Boneta, PEC enjoys good relationships with landowners on whose property it holds conservation easements. In fact, in its forty-one year history, Ms. Boneta is the only landowner with whom PEC has been involved in litigation regarding easement enforcement issues.
As noted above, Ms. Boneta was well aware of the terms of the easement when she purchased the property. In fact, she bought the property at a significant discount because of the easement's terms.
Indeed, despite the rhetoric from Boneta and Friends, the government doesn't appear to play any role in the situation.
Fox News has established a bizarre habit of helping people cry wolf over government “land grabs” in situations where an individual's property rights are threatened by their own refusal to obey longstanding rules of law and contract. Meanwhile, the network ignores the farmers and ranchers whose land is being seized by the oil and gas industry in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Boneta first became a darling of the right in 2012, when she was threatened with fines for refusing to acquire permits to conduct commercial activities, events, and sales on her farm. In 2013, Fox's Greta Van Susteren hosted the farmer on her show and vaguely suggested she was being targeted by the IRS for political reasons. Now, Fox is hyping Boneta's complaints just days before she is scheduled to appear as the keynote speaker at a conference put on by the advocacy group Property Rights Foundation of America.