This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
The deep frustration felt by people hoping to set vast swaths of public land free from federal control has, unsurprisingly, led to a schism in the movement.
It would hardly be the first time in human history that a rebellion that doesn't seem to be going anywhere has boiled into internal divisions as factions fall out over goals, tactics and leadership.
In the case of this new Sagebrush Rebellion, though, it is just a matter of whether the abortive revolution will end quietly or in spasms of violence.
Those who counsel a peaceful, political and, at worst, litigious approach to the debate over public lands are now increasingly troubled, not only by their utter lack of progress, but also by splinter groups and philosophies that advocate cockamamie legal theories and the literal taking up of arms.
Among serious people, those acts can only undermine any legal, ethical or rational claim that western ranchers, miners or politicians might have.
Massing platoons of heavily armed volunteers to defend illegal grazing on public land, or to occupy a federal wildlife refuge, can do nothing but make those advocating for change appear foolish, dangerous or both. At the least, it seriously undermines the case, made by Gov. Gary Herbert and others, against the possibility that President Obama might order the protection of large areas of Utah as a national monument.
And those who urge ranchers with long-standing permits to graze their animals on public land to literally tear up those contracts and claim outright ownership of those sparse pastures are only setting their followers up for an epic fail.
When it turns out, as it will, that no federal agency, and no court, will recognize such spurious claims, the chances for a violent backlash are very real.
Thus are some of the cooler heads involved now placed in the difficult position of trying to control the very monster they helped to create.
A cause which is at best misunderstood, at worst an incitement to violence.
It could be amusing to watch the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks of the land-grab movement fall into internal warfare, ending their effectiveness and allowing the rest of us to go unmolested about our business. Except that the potential for violence as a by-product of that fission is very real.
The true leaders among us will do all they can to walk everyone back from that powder keg.
If it isn't already too late.