Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm made a classic distinction between ‘bandits’ and ‘social bandits’: while the former ‘simultaneously challenges the economic, social and political order by challenging those who hold or lay claim to power, law and the control of resources’, the latter ‘are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society’. Hobsbawm added that in rural areas ‘social bandits’ were often seen as ‘men to be admired, helped and supported’.
The tale of rancher Cliven Bundy and his cattle in southern Nevada has become a rallying-point for militant conservatives and neo-conservatives in the United States who view Bundy as someone being both a Hobsbawm ‘social bandit’ fighting to preserve a rural livelihood as well as a libertarian martyr: two groups affiliated with ‘Americans for Prosperity’, a political organization on the radical Right funded primarily by the billionaire Koch brothers, launched a ‘tweet assault’ in support of Bundy.
In fact there is a curious similarity, albeit on very different scales of course, between the confrontations in Ukraine and the one in southern Nevada, with the status quo being established at the point of a gun.
The Nevada saga began with a far-reaching conservation programme that included protecting ‘Mojave Max’ and his fellow Desert Tortoises, and has ended up with well-armed ultra-conservative groups threatening a ‘shoot-out’ with federal police.
In 1993 Bundy agreed with the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to take his cattle off the Gold Butte area of southern Nevada’s Clark County as the BLM gradually instituted their conservation programme that included buying up all the grazing permits, a process completed by 1997.
However, Bundy has never stopped grazing his cattle on the land despite two court orders to remove them and nearly $1 million in unpaid fees and fines.
The Clark County Conservation Programme is wide-ranging in that it provides conservation for 78 species of plants and animals, including the threatened desert tortoise and the iconic ‘Mojave Max’, whose emergence each Spring in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is treated with all the razzamatazz of a ‘celebrity’ appearance.
The conservation programme aims to improve the survivability of species through research, habitat restoration and fencing along roadways to reduce tortoise mortality. The programme also implemented a desert tortoise translocation program in 1997 which moved some threatened tortoises to the Large-Scale Translocation Site near Jean, Nevada.
This month the BLM moved to confiscate Bundy’s cattle and a judge ordered Bundy not to physically interfere; in response, Bundy assembled protesters to confront the BLM officers who were holding his livestock.
After a dramatic, two-day standoff, federal officers backed down and handed the cows over to Bundy to avoid violence; photos from the scene show protesters perched on a highway over-pass and hunkered down in the brush with long-range weapons.
Meanwhile, an estimated 1,000 head of Bundy cattle continue to illegally roam Gold Butte: so what works in Ukraine clearly also works in southern Nevada. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre.