State official joins illegal "fencing party"
(IPS) ELKO, Nevada -- While the Clinton administration
boasts an iron hand in crackdowns on immigrants and urban crime,
it has donned kid gloves to deal with mainly white men -- including
elected officials -- in the western states, who are flagrantly
defying the law.
In September 1994, John Carpenter, a member of Nevada's state legislature, shared the podium with local officials at a "fencing party" in the Ruby Valley, near Elko, in northeastern Nevada.
Acting in defiance of a judge's order, the partyers fenced off a spring on U.S. federal land and posted "no trespassing" signs claiming it for the state of Nevada.
"I want to tell you ranchers...the day of the (U.S.) Forest Service pushing you around unreasonably...is going to end," Carpenter told a cheering crowd, his words recorded on a videotape made by party organizers.
Sixteen months later, the fence still stands. Asked if the government letting the Elko group get away with its defiance, Forest Service Supervisor Jim Nelson said: "Not when we take it out." When? "When we decide to," he replied.
Dozens of Western county governments have passed ordinances claiming national forest and rangeland
here do not think that decision will come soon.
As defiance of federal law sweeps across the West, the Clinton
administration has opted for a policy of nonconfrontation with the
perpetrators of a spate of these kinds of incidents.
The so-called county supremacists -- a network of elected officials like John Carpenter and ranchers, miners and loggers with permits to use public lands -- are not only unchallenged. They are getting encouragement in their anti-federal stance from Republicans in Congress.
Sparked by the administration's efforts to halt overgrazing on public lands and to protect endangered species, the county movement seeks to end Washington's control of public lands.
While militia activists are arming for a future war against the government, the militant county officials are legislating themselves jurisdiction over nationally-owned lands. Some have directly challenged the authority of the Forest Service and the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Fish and Wildlife Service.
Dozens of Western county governments have passed ordinances claiming national forest and rangeland within their borders for their state governments, thus giving themselves the "right" to control grazing, logging, mining and other land uses. Otero County, New Mexico, has ordered local ranchers to pay grazing fees to the county, rather than the Forest Service or BLM.
Nye County, Nevada, one of the most militant counties, has used an ordinance to threaten federal land managers with criminal prosecution for carrying out their duties. In 1994, the county commission sent local BLM chief Ted Angle a letter saying "your decisions are of no consequence" and warning: "Should anyone make any attempt to enforce your final decisions this Board will take action to see that charges are brought against those persons as individuals for acting outside of their authority."
The defiant Westerners have drawn support from Republican pledges to "get government off our backs" and fierce attacks on environmental laws, according to an internal Interior Department memo.
Especially resonant with anti-federal Westerners have been the congressional Republicans' focus -- in speeches and weeks of hearings -- on federal law enforcement agencies' fatal handling of incidents at Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
Last year, rangers and hikers found several unexploded bombs in the Gila National Wilderness
off the anti-federal sentiment that swept Republicans
into Congress in 1994, the county and militia movements have grown
in tandem, sometimes with direct linkages.
At the forefront of the rebellion, the Catron County government in New Mexico encouraged the formation of a militia to fend off federal intervention. After militias were linked to the April 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, however, the Catron militia dissolved. But area environmentalists believe it has just gone underground, according to Susan Schock, executive director of Gila Watch, in Silver City, New Mexico.
Militia members are attend appearances by Nye County Commissioner Richard Carver. While Carver has tried to distance himself from them, he cited the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents, along with federal gun control legislation, as important building blocks of the county movement in two recent interviews. Gun control laws have been crucial for militia recruiting. Waco and Ruby Ridge are key militia rallying cries.
County supremacists often share the bizarre and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories favored by the militias. These center on the military takeover by the United Nations of the United States, assisted by murky forces within the federal government.
U.S. environmental laws linked to international treaties are often cited as "proof" that officials are deliberately undermining national sovereignty in preparation for a "new world order." Often the militia conspiracy theories are cloned onto old anti-Semitic shibboleths.
Both the militias and the county supremacy movement have targeted land management agencies, according to Interior Dept. documents and numerous interviews with frontline employees of the BLM and the Forest Service. A January 1994 Interior Dept. internal memo noted that many department offices around the country had received bomb threats during the previous year.
Last year, rangers and hikers found several unexploded bombs in the Gila National Wilderness in New Mexico. In Nevada, BLM and Forest Service facilities have been bombed four times since October 1993. Although the perpetrators have not been identified, Nevada Senator Harry Reid has linked the attacks the county supremacy movement.
The Clinton administration has so far limited its response to a lawsuit against Nye County -- filed a full eight months after the county commission bulldozed open a road through the Toiyabe National Forest. Several land management officials privately expressed dismay that, even though Commissioner Carver drove the bulldozer straight at a forest ranger, the administration opted not to bring criminal charges.
"In filing the suit, we hoped to send a strong signal to counties throughout the West that we mean to enforce the law," says Jim Sweeney, a Justice Department spokesman. But environmentalists and civil rights activists throughout the West have not been impressed.
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