Cliven Bundy And The Real Victimized Ranchers

The conservative media figures who lionized racist Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy made a feeble attempt at saving face by claiming this entire saga was never about Bundy, it was always about “land grabs” that are depriving hard-working Americans of their property rights. Yet some of these same figures have turned a blind eye to the actual land grabs taking place across the heartland of America at the hands of fossil fuel interests and the Republican state legislators that have supported their cause.

Bundy's 15 minutes appears to have come to a rapid close after the scofflaw rancher suggested African-Americans might be better off as slaves than on “government subsidy.”

Fox News abandoned the rancher, and some of his most vocal cheerleaders in right-wing media distanced themselves from his racist remarks, while remaining loyal to his cause. “The ranch standoff,” remarked Fox News host Sean Hannity, “was not about a man named Cliven Bundy.” Instead, he argued, it was about average Americans being “victimized by eminent domain.”

Bundy's standoff had nothing whatsoever to do with eminent domain, as he did not own the land that he was grazing his cattle on without payment. But the oil and gas industry, wielding the power of state eminent domain statutes, has actually snatched away land from ranchers in middle America.

If we take Hannity at his word that he believes himself to be the champion of average Americans whose homes have been threatened by land grabs, then one would imagine he's used his prominent public profile to help folks like Julia Trigg Crawford, a north Texas property owner whose land was unceremoniously stripped away from her control by TransCanada, the oil company pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite Crawford's objections, TransCanada went forward with the construction and subsequent operation of the southern portions of the pipeline on her property thanks to a Texas statute that “grants eminent domain authority to pipeline companies that simply check a box on a one-page form.” Her case is currently in court.

One would also imagine that Hannity has championed the cause of Raymond Hill, who had part of his land seized after he refused TransCanada's offers to buy his part of his land in east Texas because he wanted to preserve the peace and quiet his property offered. Crawford and Hill are just two of dozens of landowners in Texas whose property has been seized by TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

Instead, Hannity and others in right-wing media have been highlighting another bogus dispute in Texas over federal land that has been settled law for decades -- trying to frame it as the Bureau of Land Management trampling the rights of law-abiding Americans.

Nor has Hannity come to the aid of the Pennsylvania landowners who have been victimized by "forced pooling" statutes, in which natural gas companies such as Texas-based Hilcorp Energy can perform fracking operations on an individual's property regardless of having permission to do so -- as long as the majority of that individual's neighbors have signed leases allowing the drilling on their land. Forced pooling laws exist about 40 states, and energy companies have been exploiting them recently in high-profile cases in Ohio and Illinois. Victims of the law have raised concerns about the effect the seizures will have on their remaining property value and expressed fears about potential water contamination.

Not only have these corporate land grabs not drawn the attention of Hannity, he has actually used his media presence to cheerlead for expansions in fracking and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

In March, Hannity took to his Fox News show and his radio show to argue strenuously for expanded natural gas extraction across America, erroneously suggesting that it would imperil Russian leader Vladimir Putin. He urged the Republican party to make fracking their primary platform:

HANNITY: Drill here, now, everywhere, frack everywhere, and we'll turn every state in the union into North Dakota, jobs aplenty, dependency ends, revenues increase to the government, problems like Social Security, Medicare -- solved. If they would adopt those simple things


KT McFarland said if we frack, we can tell Putin to frack you. Love that line, I wish I'd thought of it.

So if the inconsistency of Hannity's eminent domain activism undermines his suggestions that it's the true cause he's been championing all this time, then what's the true motivation at play here?

How about money? As Media Matters has outlined, Hannity's promotion of the idea that states should have control of federal lands happens to be in line with the business interests of the Koch brothers -- billionaire energy magnates who have been pushing for state-control of federal lands so that they can buy this land for oil and gas extraction. The Koch brothers fund the Heritage Foundation and the Tea Party Patriots, which are both sponsors of his radio show.