FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Poison Letters

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Down in Tonapah, Nevada, BLM manager Ted Angle served as the key government official on the receiving end of the county power movement’s attempt to push the federal government off the public range. On August 2, 1994, the Nye County board of commissioners wrote to Angle:

“Our board decided that, since you have yet to provide proof that the BLM has ownership of the public lands, or that the BLM has constitutionally granted jurisdiction, or that you have been delegated the proper authority over grazing allotments in Nye County, your decisions are of no consequence. 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.”

On January 15, 1995, Dick Carver, the vice-chair of the Nye County board, again demanded “proof” that federal government owned the federal lands. Carver warned: “Should follow through with further economic devastation to this grazing right, this board will take action to see that charges are filed against the person or persons involved for acting outside of their delegated authority.”

Comical as they sound, these chop-logic letters were the tokens of an insurrection.

Beginning in March 1995, Ted Angle received a flurry of letters from local ranchers who claimed, citing the Constitution, that the federal government has no authority over public lands. The writers insisted that whatever claims the federal government might have had to the public lands ended in 1864 when Nevada became a state, and that jurisdiction today lies with the state, not the feds.

Therefore, the renegade ranchers argued, they are not in violation of any law and that any federal employee attempting to enforce the law is operating “outside the scope of his or her written delegation of authority” and has therefore “lost his or her federal immunity to prosecution.”

Finally, one letter threatened, “Should such an act occur I may take proper legal action, both criminal and civil, against the individual or individuals involved.”

The government was slow to react to these escalating tensions. Angle alerted his superiors to the situation, but he later said, “It took a while for them to decide what type of strategy to develop in response. They basically said we would take an indirect approach insofar as trying to implement the decisions.”

At that moment, at least five Nye County ranchers were intentionally (and illegally) running cattle on BLM lands under Angle’s jurisdiction. The government avoided a confrontation.

These types of conflicts took place all over Nevada during the Clinton years. There’s the Bundy case down near Las Vegas, and another along the California border where a rancher threatened to kill federal agents if they tried to reduce his cattle numbers.

In the northeastern corner of Nevada, the town of Elko sued the Forest Service over water rights in the Humboldt National Forest. Jim Nelson described the situation this way: “It goes back the to the DeVall case, where a guy claimed that the water from Kelly Springs on national forest property was his and he built a diversion. We took him to court. The court agreed with us and issued a citation. We plugged the ditch. Then DeVall came back with a party of 100 people packing guns to rebuild the diversion. They were out there threatening our three folks. And the town backed them up with a suit.”

In the Ruby Mountains, south of Elko, a husband and wife team of Forest Service range conservationists were faced with nearly daily intimidation. In this heavily Mormon country, federal officials are ostracized by the local communities. People won’t sit next to them in church. Their children are shunned at school, and daily life becomes increasingly difficult.

The federal government’s response was limp and toothless. Cliff Gardner, a renegade rancher in the Elko area, ran his cows illegally on federal lands and repeatedly threatened Forest Service officials. In response, he was cited for trespass. But the suit only asked for civil damages. Not much of a deterrent.

Ted Angle felt alone on the front lines and uncertain about how the federal government back his decisions or whether it would protect him and his family against threats of violence. He was once paid a visit by a local rancher, accompanied by the head of a property rights group. “The guy gave me a letter that said basically, these are Nevada state lands. The regulations that I had cited were of no consequence, and that if I proceeded to try to enforce my decisions charges would be pressed against me in local court. He asked me if I had read the letter, and I said, yes, I read it. And he said, well, that good because now we can take your house and your boat and your car.”

Unsure of what might happen next and sitting on the receiving end of threats from these vigilante ranchers, Angle felt compelled to purchase a $2 million liability insurance policy from a private company in Washington, D. C.

“Just to put it on a real personal level, the whole approach is to intimidate the local folks on the ground so they’ll stay in the office and not go out there to see what’s happening to the land, count the numbers of livestock and make decisions to change some of the things that are going on.”

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

(This article is excerpted from Green Scare: the New War on Environmentalism by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR and Joshua Frank, forthcoming from Haymarket Books. It is based in part on reporting done in 1995 by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR and Jim Ridgeway for the Village Voice.)

 

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail