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Journalism and the Cowboy Myth: Bite the Bullet

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The Guardian recently published a pegged fluff piece on Cliven Bundy and his Sagebrush Rebel followers titled Rebel cowboys: how the Bundy family sparked a new battle for the American west, with writer Sam Levin fully buying into the myth of the downtrodden Cowboy oppressed by the world around him. The oppressors include the government, the weather, and the urban elites who, having never lived there, know little about the rural culture of the intermountain west where public lands ranching largely occurs.

The Bundys and their followers should consider themselves blessed that they have urban elites like Levin and his editors in the same pockets that hold their Mormon Constitutions, as these journalists lament a vanishing culture that should have died long ago, overlooking the very real environmental harm the industry causes on their public lands. And this for the sake of supposed independent locals who accept public subsidies as part of their destructive business.

Journalists like Levin seem no longer interested in truth and fact, mostly due to the constraints of their even more bourgeois editors, their ancillary knowledge of what they cover, and their need to not bite the hand that feeds them. Instead, like their television counterparts, they are interested in treating all opinions with “respect,” giving all equal weight – even when it is not due. Even if they have the capacity to ask, many like Levin no longer ask hard questions, and in the case of Malheur and the Bundys appear to be frontier-myth starstruck, perhaps having been given the obligatory horseback tour and the open fire dinner at the chuckwagon,.

Consider another piece of dramatic, non-content journalism that is based on personality rather than substance, a piece written by James Pogue for Vice titled “Ammon Bundy’s Right-Wing Crusaders Will Liberate the West or Die Trying.” Flowery prose that details several Malheur principles in a midnight run back to Utah to appeal to the LDS Church to change its mind denouncing them – but without any reference to the direct causes of the conflict, that being the theology and manifest destiny of the Mormon chosen.

I’ve written two pieces that directly address these issues. One, Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie, published in September 2015, detailed the LDS/Koch influence over the public lands debate and warned of LaVoy Finicum and his efforts to start a cowboy revolt against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The other, The 50-year Leap, chronicled the “master plan” of Cleon Skousen and the LDS Church, providing evidence that Skousen

“was charged by a prophet of God to undertake a plan to indoctrinate both Mormons and gentiles so that the Mormons may ascend to their rightful place in leading the United States of America — without the gentiles even knowing what hit them.”

It is painfully obvious that the Mormon faith – and not just individual members like the Bundys – has had great influence over the Sagebrush Rebellion, this decades-long attempt to subvert the federal environmental regulation of the Western public lands for maximal exploitation by private interests. A hard question few journalists or academics want to address: How deep is the Mormon influence over public lands policy in the West?

It is no secret that Mormon theology drove the Bundy contingent to action and that the church itself has a role to play in both holding those who used their doctrine accountable and for ensuring that future events do not unfold in the name of their doctrine. The role of Mormonism is blatant in both of these standoffs, the direct role of the Church and its leaders in developing an indoctrination racket with Skousen well documented. It’s also well documented that all of the Bundys, along with co-conspirators like Shawna Cox, LaVoy Finicum and many of the other principles have expressed their continuing efforts are the battle between ‘good and evil.’

The original seditionists who fought for their State of Deseret, Utah was late to become a state in part because Mormons were seen as “un-American” – and the Church needed to change this public perception. Skousen and his contemporary Church leaders like Ezra Benson and LDS Prophet Thomas Monson came up with an ideological answer to this problem: their “originalist” constitutional indoctrination program that was and still is used to redefine the Mormon faith as being the very definition of the patriotic American.

Skousen had his own direct “revelations” that resulted in writing books like the Naked Communist and The 5000-Year Leap, establishing the Freemen Institute and an educational indoctrination network, and propaganda materials like that vaunted pocket constitution that rejected all constitutional case law (he called it “hamburger”) in favor of his personal interpretation of “nothing more or less than” what the “founding fathers” wrote under the inspiration of their God.

Today’s journalists appear ignorant, careless or indifferent to inquire about these complex matters which lie at the heart of the Bundy story.

Cliven Bundy’s revelation was the Nay Book that combines LDS theology, apocalyptic end times, and Skousen Constitutionalism. The Nay Book was disclosed early in in the Malheur standoff by a now former Brigham Young University – Idaho professor who was concerned about the mixing of scripture with the objectives of those at the occupation. He travelled to Malheur, visited with the LDS contingent, and was allowed to take some photos of about one half. He graciously allowed me to use the Nay Book cover image in my piece about theo-constitutionalism and to describe it as,

“Written in the late 1990s, it is the revelatory playbook that Cliven used in 2014 in Bunkerville and that his sons used in Malheur in 2016. It is a vivid example of how his 1950s–80s John Birch Society/Skousen indoctrination formulated his adulthood opinions that have since been passed on to his posterity and beyond.”

naybook

To this day, Sam Levin, James Pogue and others in the corporate media have failed to ask the hard questions regarding the Nay Book and it’s influence on both the Bunkerville and Malheur events.

Why?

Because most journalists (and people, for that matter):

*Do not want to appear as a bigot addressing religion.

*Do not know Mormon history and theology.

*Do not want to offend an audience, sources, or donors/advertisers.

It is time to get over it.

The issues are very serious and deserve a commensurate level of journalistic integrity.

One Bundyite, LaVoy Finicum, has already “sacrificed” his life, gunned down by police while evading arrest – and Cliven thanked him for it. Most of those going to trial over either the Malheur or Bunkerville standoffs are the Mormon contingent who are, in effect, sacrificing themselves for their righteous cause. And, they remain members in good standing.

Others are still out in the wild promoting the same insidious, infectious version of indoctrinated seditious rebellion, including the legal system itself when you consider Utah’s several outspoken Constitutional Sheriffs who threaten to deputize citizens to physically oppose federal land managers or the theo-con freakazoid Congressional delegation that includes the likes of Rep. Rob Bishop, Chair of the House Resources Committee, who believes “…there are whole other pieces of land and property that could easily be developed and should be developed and there’s no reason for the federal government to keep them.”

Public lands continue to be ecologically hammered less and less by photogenic, sympathetic, parasitic, small time welfare ranchers in a dying family industry but more and more by Gaia-raping welfare capitalist global extractive corporations enabled by politicians with a common free market, patriotic agenda – including the LDS Church and its Deseret Management Corporation.

The Bundy saga through the eyes of Sam Levin and The Guardian illustrate a continued cowboy brown-nosing. And what is stunning to me, an amateur freelance journalist, is what I’m discussing here – what many mainstream journalists won’t discuss — not only addresses the questions of “why” and “what next” but also abides by the investigator’s axiom of following the money. It is a question of simple journalistic competence and it is time they and their corporate peers get off the stick and bite the bullet: We must name the Mormon problem concerning public lands policy in the West.

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Chris Zinda is an activist and writer living in Oregon.

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