Majority of One

A Continuation—Number 2

Four years ago I posted on the Edward Snowden business:

Snowden has seen something that is wrong with this country, and he has acted to correct it. From his point of view. The issue is currently being batted about in the halls of government, and some are saying PRISM and FISA are bad, and some are saying they are good. The discussion will likely go on for some time, and in the end some disagreement is sure to persist.

In the mean time Snowden has nullified all those other votes with his one vote. He has become a Majority of One. It would appear that sometimes it is necessary to destroy one part of democracy in order to save another part.

There’s a long tradition of defying the law to do what’s right. Mohandas Gandhi was one such person. Martin Luther King was another. We have to wonder whether Snowden saw himself in the same light as these two. Both saw a wrong that needed to be corrected, and both went beyond the law. Of course, there’s a difference. Gandhi and King owned up, didn’t flee, didn’t back away. They offered themselves up to suffer the legal consequences of their actions. Both were murdered. Snowden, to the contrary, sought refuge from justice within the purview of one of the most corrupt and anti-democratic regimes on the planet, refusing to submit to the legal consequences of what he did. It takes some of the shine off.

That said, I never condoned Snowden’s methods. The government actions he exposed were not part of a great scheme to subjugate people and to suppress equal opportunity under the law. Furthermore, there is serious question whether anybody’s civil rights were in jeopardy. Snowden figured he had a vote in the matter, and he cast it—a majority of one.

There’s more.

While the Edward Snowden affair was still fresh in people’s minds, others figured they had a better lock on what was right and just than the American court system. There was the episode I titled High-Pocket Pickpocket.

Bundy’s family has been grazing cattle on the disputed piece of public land since the 1800s. The government allows private entities to use public lands for commercial purposes on a fee basis. The trouble with Bundy began in 1993 when the government changed the rules for grazing in this area, and Bundy quit paying the fees in protest. From all appearances, Bundy is getting a lot of support from locals and from out-of-towners who share a disdain for government regulations:

What I found most impressive was the support Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy got from those whose pockets he was picking. The cold facts are this. Bundy’s ranch was grazing its cattle on government land for which a fee was required. He refused to pay the fee. In essence, he was getting for free the use of the land and the grazing. Contrast this to somebody in competition with the Bundy ranch. The competition, those raising cattle and selling to the same market, either owned their land or else leased it, often from the government. It’s a nice arrangement for Bundy, he can 1) undercut the competition and still break even, or 2) he can go head to head with the competition and pocket more of the proceeds. Either way, it’s a win for Bundy. As I mentioned three years ago, this arrangement put Bundy ahead of his competition to the tune of $1.3 million over the previous 20 years. And civil liberties be damned.

What really caught the news was the armed confrontation with government agents. Bundy’s friends and neighbors were not of the same ilk as Gandhi and King. They brought their guns. And they pointed them at the G-men. There were further developments and ultimately consequences. See the image above from the FBI video in Oregon last year. Bundy’s sons and some like-minded people took command of a government building in the wilderness and held out for several days. They had guns. As the confrontation with the FBI came to a conclusion, one of the Bundy fans, Robert LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by an agent. So much for a majority of one.

Subsequently there was a trial, and the anti-government gunmen were acquitted of the charges against them. Additionally, an FBI agent who participated in the confrontation with Finicum has been indicted for making false statements concerning the event:

An FBI agent, W. Joseph Astarita, is alleged to have fired two shots at Finicum’s pickup, one of which penetrated the roof of the pickup and exited through a window. FBI agents were believed to have recovered the ejected empty cartridges. A five-count indictment for lying about the circumstances at the scene of Finicum’s death, and obstruction of justice, has been obtained in Portland against Astarita by the Department of Justice. He is being represented by a public defender.

There have been other developments. The consequences of Bundy and supporters pointing guns at federal agents are winding their way through the justice system. The first to go down has been one Gregory Burleson:

The weight of a heavy sentence landed in the quiet federal courtroom Wednesday morning, leaving Gregory Burleson occasionally stroking his graying beard and his attorney pleading unsuccessfully for leniency.

The 53-year-old Burleson was the first to be sentenced for his role in the 2014 standoff between federal agents and supporters of Cliven Bundy near his Nevada ranch.

He got 68 years in prison.

Again, so much for a majority of one. An additional Bundy friend has been convicted and is due to be sentenced in September, unlikely to get the breaks obtained by Burleson. Four others obtained acquittals on offenses related to the ranch standoff, but they are now schedule for trial on federal charges. Once that trial is concluded, according to the Los Angeles Times, Cliven Bundy and his son Ammon will go to trial for their part.

As you may have guessed, that’s not the end of the list of people who think American law is for other people. Most recently we have the case of former  Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In years past he made a name for himself as the toughest sheriff in the United States of A. This by being rough on prisoners and also on those not yet prisoners. On multiple occasions the courts have had to smack Sheriff Joe down for wandering outside the laws governing civil rights in this country. Bypassing all that and getting to the most recent, a federal judge enjoined the sheriff from enforcing his policy of profiling suspected illegal aliens, an injunction which he disregarded. He was charged with contempt of court, and about the same time the voters of Maricopa County ended his decades-long tenure. And the majority of one has also come to an end:

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio committed a crime by defying a court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants, a judge ruled on Monday, in the latest rebuke for a once-popular politician who was voted out of office last year.

United States District Judge Susan R. Bolton found Mr. Arpaio, 85, guilty of criminal contempt of court, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. Mr. Arpaio’s lawyers said he would appeal.

So that’s what it all comes to. There is the rule of law, and there is personal preference. Keep your personal preference close to your heart and defy the law at your peril:

Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody’s going to jail

And Edward Snowden will need to learn to speak Russian.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s