Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
Cliven Bundy, Nevada cattle rancher and leader of an armed standoff with federal agents in 2014, speaking at a forum hosted by the American Academy for Constitutional Education (AAFCE) at the Burke Basic School in Mesa, Arizona in 2014.

Recently, I had a heated standoff with a parking enforcement agent. I was awoken in the middle of the night by my girlfriend who said I had to hurry outside because someone was putting a boot on my truck. Discombobulated and irked for having to get out of bed at 11p.m. on a Saturday, I went to the parking lot and found that, indeed, my truck had a boot on the back left wheel, rendering my vehicle useless until it was removed.

The man who put it there demanded that I pay $100 immediately to get it off, and he claimed to be sanctioned by the property owner and the police. I expressed my doubt about this claim.

He had a gun on his hip.

I don’t own a gun, so I was unarmed other than the weapons of mass destruction attached to my shoulders.

We exchanged words. I disputed his authority as a parking enforcer. He told me the fee would only increase in later days if I didn’t pay up now.

Ultimately, I paid the $100, knowing that I could solve the issue later using the full force of the law. He got his money and was happy.

The confrontation was tense, and I know he had even more tense confrontations with my neighbors, who also got booted. But, there were no threats of violence, no guns drawn, and the whole affair was pretty civilized.

The same can’t be said of the confrontation in 2014 between Cliven Bundy, a cattle rancher in Southern Nevada, and the Federal Government.

The standoff occurred after a decades-long dispute over grazing fees between the Bundy Ranch and the Federal Government. Bundy thought the Obama Administration’s designation of public land and their demand that he pay fees for his cattle to graze was beyond the government’s constitutional powers, so he refused to pay. When the Feds came to collect the cattle, Bundy, his sons and like-minded protesters engaged in an armed confrontation with Bureau of Land Management rangers and local police.

If this standoff happened in another country with a less stable government, headlines in America would’ve read “Militarized extremist rebel militia confronts ‘oppressive’ regime over land dispute.”

Here, it became a story about states’ rights. Bundy’s followers and other so-called “sovereign citizens” considered the armed protest an act of patriotism and likened the protesters to American patriots of the 1776 revolution.

A federal judge, last month, threw out Bundy’s case because the prosecution withheld evidence. Now Bundy is a free citizen, giving speeches, most recently as the keynote of the Independent American Party of Nevada’s state convention where he was hailed as a true American hero.

Bundy and his sons have said they weren’t trying to incite a violent revolution. But, their movement may be inadvertently encouraging violent groups of similar anti-government views.

In an interview with ThinkProgress, J.J. MacNab, who covers anti-government extremism for Forbes, said while Bundy was most interested in claiming public lands for the states, his armed supporters were members of an extreme anti-government movement, which “contains a mix of sovereign citizens, tax protesters, Constitutional Sheriffs, and private paramilitary groups such as the militias, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters. They generally knew nothing about public land issues before they traveled to Bunkerville, Nevada.”

Oath Keepers is a group of former military and police, who aim to protect the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic by disobeying any order they feel violates the Constitution. Sovereign citizens follow the law the way they interpret it. Constitutional Sheriffs only believe in local policing. These groups use guns to enforce their authority.

Before the standoff at his ranch, Bundy was involved in a long legal dispute with the government. He represented himself, and he lost many times. And when the BLM came to kick him off the land he lost fair and square, he defended it with guns. Maybe he should’ve sold his guns and paid for a better lawyer.

There’s no need to use violence to protest in this country. Maybe the Obama Administration did overstep in their conservation efforts with Nevada’s lands. Maybe Bundy and his sons are right to protest. But, they should’ve settled the issue in court.

Now, after winning their freedom on a technicality, they should denounce any political violence. Groups who might think the Bundys’ freedom vilifies their actions in the standoff should be discouraged from using violence in the future.

In my own parking dispute, I talked to the property owner after paying the fee, and their office said the parking enforcer was not authorized to boot my truck. Now, I have a $100 check waiting for me. I won, and I didn’t even have to employ the use of my massive biceps on that sketchy parking guy.

You can argue the authority of any government institution. You can lobby for your beliefs. You can sue anybody you want. You can elect a president who better appeals to your beliefs. The law is one of the greatest weapons Americans possess, and it’s always a reasonable way to fight. You just can’t bring a gun to a legal fight.

Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Ryan Suppe studies journalism and philosophy. He can be reached at rsuppe@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @salsuppe