‘Scofflaws’ (1)

While there is a lot an 85 year old nun and a 67 year old Nevada rancher certainly do not share, however there are two things they do have in common. Firstly there is their strong belief in Christianity (but with very different interpretations) while the second relates to being a ‘scofflaw’. Both these elements, the Christianity and the ‘scofflaw’-ry, combine powerfully in the confrontational ‘mindscape’ of both Sister Megan Rice and Cliven Bundy, to the point they could also be called ‘eco-terrorists’.

In the case of Sister Rice her conviction for sabotage is linked to a long-held anti-nuclear weapons stance involving peaceful protests, while Bundy’s case relates to his beliefs of land usage that hark back to the ‘manifest destiny’ of the rural American Dream. This time last year Sister Rice had just started her prison stretch for breaking and entering into the Y-12 maximum security weapons-grade uranium storage facility in Tennessee; Cliven Bundy, meanwhile, was on the point of a stand-off with enforcement officers over unpaid grazing fees, spiced up by the appearance of Bundy’s gun-totting libertarian supporters from groups such as the Oath Keepers, White Mountain Militia and the Praetorian Guard. All these friends of Bundy are inspired by the sovereign citizen movement which believes that the County Sheriff is the most powerful law-enforcement officer in the country, with authority superior to that of any federal agent, local law-enforcement agency or any other elected official: ultimately, they believe, sovereignity rests with the individual.

Bundy, paunchy patriarch of a large Mormon family with over 50 grandchildren, first came into the spotlight when the federal government started impounding his 900 head of cattle in early April last year, following a 20-year battle over cattle-grazing on federal land from which Bundy has accrued over $1million in fines that remain unpaid. Over the last year both Sister Rice and Bundy have been in the headlines at various times, with Sister Rice and her ‘Ploughshares’ anti-nuclear weapons protest group being the subject of recent huge (20 pages) profile in The New Yorker magazine (web-link please see below); Bundy too has had more than his fair share of coverage.

With their open flouting of the law both Bundy and Sister Rice can be categorised as ‘scofflaws’: for this piece of verbal American arcana we can thank a Prohibition era competition by The Boston Herald which invited readers to describe anyone who flagrantly ignored the alcohol ban, either by drinking or selling. 25,000 people entered for the $200 prize which was awarded to two people who independently came up with ‘scofflaw’: while its ‘outlaw’ derivation is clear it neatly double flips on the word ‘scoff’ since it means to both express derision and to eat food (and drink) both quickly and greedily.

Sister Rice has a lengthy history of being both arrested – 50 times – and jailed for her anti-nuclear weapons protests: her father was a professor of obstetrics at New York University and her mother taught history, while it was stories told by her uncle about visiting Nagasaki soon after the end of World War Two that profoundly disturbed Sister Rice. She started protesting at the Nevada Test Site for nuclear weapons and developed a profound love of nature while in the Nevada desert. In Bundy’s case the agencies of law enforcement have employed a very different process to that of Sister Rice: they have backed off while the wheels of due process slowly grind.

So it seems curious that while both Sister Rice and Bundy are ‘scofflaws’ and their actions deemed illegal, her peaceful protests to save the Earth ends up with a prison sentence, while Bundy’s protests threaten terror and violence yet he remains ‘scot-free’: certainly a curious interpretation of ‘eco-terrorism’.          Jasper Humphreys

New Yorker web-link: ‘Break-In at Y-12’, The New Yorker, March 9, 2015: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/09/break-in-at-y-12

This entry was posted in Historical, Nuclear War, Protest, Religion, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

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