This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
One man is dead, and a great many more armed confrontations are likely, as understandably frustrated but horribly misled people from around the Western United States pursue a nostalgic vision of an America that never existed.
Defusing that situation will be difficult. And it cannot be left to front-line law enforcement agencies alone. Those who hold, or seek, high political office have a duty to carefully, but firmly, walk back any aid and comfort they might have given to a nascent rebel movement that seeks to defy the law and deprive all the people of the United States of their ownership and control of public lands.
Federal authorities, from all appearances, showed great forbearance in handling the armed posse that took control of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife bird refuge in eastern Oregon. Still, when officials moved last week to arrest some of the standoff's leaders, shots were fired and one of the occupiers, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was killed.
Avoiding further bloodshed should, of course, be the overriding goal of all government officials moving forward. But, for that to happen, some of those officials are going to have to provide some leadership, the kind of leadership that entails telling your followers things they may not want to hear.
For example, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop should stop encouraging the Utah Legislature to pursue its pie-in-the-sky dream of obtaining, through an exorbitantly expensive lawsuit, ownership of millions of acres of federal land in the state. That entire effort, pushed by state Rep. Ken Ivory and his American Lands Council, is an embarrassing snipe hunt, on which the Legislature is primed to toss away $14 million.
But the money is nothing compared to the potential for more armed conflicts between federal agencies and self-styled patriots whose real concern is not for their nation but for their own ability to use, or misuse, public lands to serve their own short-term interests.
Half-baked legal theories being promoted include the idea that those who run cattle on public land have somehow earned an enforceable claim to own the territory. No such law or court ruling exists. Without it, these few cattlemen are like people who have rented a house for several years asserting that they now own the building.
Politicians promoting the land grab movement are, mostly, smart enough to know what a fraud it all is. But they may have fooled themselves into thinking it was a mostly harmless tactic to win votes and campaign contributions.
They, and the rest of us, should now see just how dangerous this phony rebellion is becoming. It's time to call it off. Before more people get killed.