It is the beginning of 2018 and we have just given the high sign to the Bundy clan and all their followers, in case Roger Stone publicly lobbying for them weren’t enough. That would be worrisome by itself in a vacuum, or would have been a decade ago. But this is not that country anymore.
This is the country where angry white people will kill you for saying black lives matter but the opposition to fascism is called unacceptably violent. This is the place that posts record high stocks day over day and can afford to build helipads for the adult children of the president to use at his private weekend retreat, while Flint is still waiting for water and Puerto Rico for electricity, food, and an accurate death toll. This is the nation, bitterly divided and savagely wounded, in which we cannot agree whether it is respectful to kneel humbly with your head bowed.
Prosecutors in this latest Bundy trial screwed up the case so badly that the judge dismissed the case with prejudice, which makes a new trial unlikely. Prosecutors failed to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense and hid the extent of surveillance cameras and snipers in use by federal agencies during the standoff in Bunkerville in 2014. The judge in the case called the prosecution “flagrant” and “reckless” when she dismissed the charges.
Between this and the previous trials—the Bundys have, of course, between them staged two armed standoffs with the feds—it seems as though they have largely gotten away with their total disrespect for not just our laws, but the society that they claim is oppressing their freedom. The Bundys claim that they have no obligation to respect federal law, and their ersatz logic combined with their willingness to risk peoples’ lives in defense of it has made them the poster children of the local control movement. The family enjoys near-mythic status in certain circles.
Cliven Bundy wanted to leave the courtroom in shackles, though the case against him had just been dismissed with prejudice and he was now a free man. Cliven likes a spectacle. America and even the world have known that since 2014 when he staged an armed standoff against the federal government. He likes being famous, too, though his careful aw-shucks demeanor is always finely calibrated to appear as humble as possible.
He stepped, sans shackles, into a world where we rightly celebrate Jake Tapper shutting down Stephen Miller—but where Stephen Miller got booked on Jake Tapper to begin with. Every major publication that has published a fawning profile of an avowed racist—from the dapper fascist to the racist-next-door—has been rightly taken to task, which doesn’t negate that the profiles reached far more people than the resulting criticism did.
We cannot ignore that while many people are looking into or interested in these topics because they are increasingly relevant, there is a large and growing audience for rabid nationalism and white supremacist thought (which are not the same thing but overlap far enough that they are nearly the same problem).
It beggars belief that we should not expect more mass shootings, more armed standoffs, more terror, in 2018. There has been no resolution of the problems that brought us those things last year, or the year before. We have further fractured and calcified as a nation, come to distrust and fear one another more the longer this goes on. We have trouble distinguishing fact from conspiracy, satire from reality. The news comes at such a rapid-fire pace we have trouble keeping up with it, and it begins to melt together into a new normal, because we are human and can get used to anything after a while.
It is tempting to dismiss these things as regrettable but hopefully temporary, to write them off as fringe because after all, it’s not like there’s a Nazi tiki rally every day, and there’s been nothing like that show of strength since. Plus we can vote the Republicans out in 2018 and soften the GOP’s stranglehold on power, goes the logic. But that view is dangerously short-sighted, and not widely shared among the people whose lives and health are at risk in the interim.
The cataclysmic changes that have swept through the system—cutting CHIP, constantly shifting rules on immigration, passing the tax bill—and the knock-on effects will begin to hit home this year. It’s also likely we see whatever Mueller’s got. Either would be fraught in such a factional society. Together they might add up to the American carnage Trump told us about in his inaugural speech, because while the Department of Justice searches for “black identity extremists,” it’s disaffected white men who are most likely to be terrorists in America, and in this environment they have plenty of reason to think they might be national heroes of a sort if they take on the government and win.
Nobody died at the first standoff in Bunkerville. LaVoy Finicum was killed at the second one in Malheur.
There will be a third. The question is when and where, and how many will die for the Bundy clan’s hubris this time.
Or, possibly more worryingly, whether it will be the Bundys next time at all.