by Kieran Sucking, executive director, Center for Biological Diversity
Arizona State Rep. Bob Thorpe issued a statement supporting disgraced, racist rancher Cliven Bundy in which he compared the armed militia movement to America’s founding fathers. The statement repeats discredited theories of the violent, racist posse comitatus movement, raising disturbing questions about Thorpe’s true political agenda.
While conservative leaders across the country are distancing themselves from Cliven Bundy in the wake of his racist rants, Rep. Thorpe is revealing how extreme his politics are by coming to Bundy’s defense, espousing extremist militia movement theories, and calling armed thugs ‘very nice, patriotic people.
Comparing America’s founding fathers to a ranting racist is beyond the pale. Thorpe owes the people of Arizona an apology and an explanation. Everyone — right, left or middle — agrees that violence, intimidation, lawlessness and racism have no place in the American political system. Thorpe’s statement is not just a lapse in judgment, it’s a failure of character and decency.
Bundy has illegally grazed his cattle on public federal lands since 1993 while refusing to pay the minimal federal grazing fee adhered to by the other 26,000 federal land ranchers in the West. He also illegally grazed his cattle on state and private land.
Since 1998, he has been ordered by three federal judges to remove the trespass cattle and stop stealing federal property (i.e. grass and water). Espousing the extremist ideas of the racist posse comitatus movement, Bundy has refused to obey the court orders. Bundy asserts he is not a citizen of the United States, that the federal government and court system has no authority, that he does not follow federal laws, that he will not submit to federal law enforcement, and that the only legal police power belongs to the county sheriff.
Because Bundy has repeatedly threatened federal officials with violence, the 2013 court order expressly prohibited him from physically intervening in federal efforts to round up his trespass cattle. When the BLM went onto the federal land it manages for the American people to round up the illegal, trespass cattle, Bundy violated this order as well and his militia followers aimed semi-automatic rifles and pistols at the federal officials. They announced a plan to use women as human shields if a shoot-out ensued.
The BLM canceled the roundup rather than risk the lives of its employees and private citizens.
Bundy this week made public racist statements saying “the Negro” was better off as a slave. Black men he said, are aborting their children and going to jail because they don’t know how to pick cotton any more. Called to task for the statement, Bundy again repeated that African Americans might be happier as slaves today.
Just as disturbingly, Thorpe’s statement repeats the core beliefs of the posse comitatus movement. The movement denies all federal authority, including land ownership, but especially its police authority. Posse comitatus members believe the county sheriff to be the highest and only rightful police authority and to have a responsibility to disarm all federal police, (as Bundy repeatedly called on them to do).
In his statement, Thorpe espouses these discredited, clearly false legal theories that have led to violence and murder many times in the past four decades:
In addition to terrible judgment, Thorpe’s statement is full of inaccuracies:
The Bundy family has not been “ranching … on the land that they have worked since the 1870s.” Though Bundy has claimed this repeatedly, Thorpe should know that that the media has exposed this as a lie. Bundy moved with his parents to Nevada from Arizona in 1948. They began ranching the land in 1954.
The BLM did not send “hundreds of heavily-armed federal agents” to round up the trespass cattle.
The roundup effort did not “target” Cliven Bundy and was not a “debt collection” process. It did not seek to interact with Bundy in any way. Its one and only mission was to round up trespass cattle on public lands. It was Bundy and his followers who targeted BLM employees by choosing to physically intervene despite a federal court order not to.
There was no environmentalist lawsuit to stop ranching on Bundy’s former grazing allotment.
Removing trespass cattle from BLM land is the responsibility of the BLM. Protecting federal employees threatened by armed, gun-pointing, militia members is the responsibility and duty of federal law enforcement. Thorpe’s statement that this is a “county matter” is a false assertion.
Thorpe says he is “unfamiliar with the merits of the legal case” against Bundy. It has been reported that Bundy has lost his legal case three times in federal court between 1998 and 2013. If Thorpe, having embroiled himself in the issue and even briefed the Arizona Legislature on it, is indeed “unfamiliar” with the case, his credentials as a lawmaker are highly questionable.