One of the central complaints of the cracker terrorists currently holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is about “government overreach.”
That phrase is commonly used on the right — applied to everything from income tax to background checks for gun sales — and it’s unavoidable if you follow the Republican presidential primary. Ben Carson, for example, wrote that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — a government agency that helps protect people from banks, debt collectors, payday lenders, and other predatory financial institutions — is “the ultimate example of regulatory overreach, a nanny state mechanism asserting its control over everyday Americans that they did not want, did not ask for and do not need.” Ted Cruz also has a problem with government overreach, which, he says, includes dozens of programs like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. Oddly, neither Carson nor Cruz think that forcing a woman seeking an abortion to listen to her fetus’ heartbeat counts as overreach, but that’s because they like the idea. Basically, “overreach” just means anything the government does that these guys don’t like.
The rogue ranchers in Oregon misuse the term in the same way. The Bundy family, which is spearheading this little terrorist sit-in, is pissed off that the government won’t let them graze their cattle on public lands for free because of this perceived “overreach.” They’re also mad that Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond were sentenced to five years in prison for violating the law by setting fire to federal lands; that’s overreach too. When, however, government action benefits them, the armed cowboys don’t see any overreach at all.
In fact, the Bundys and Hammonds have been generously subsidized by the Big Government they claim to oppose. Here are just a few examples of welfare programs these families and other ranchers receive:
- The Hammonds, whose arson conviction inspired the action in Malheur, received almost $300,000 in federal disaster payments and subsidies from the mid-90s to 2012.
- Ammon Bundy, spokesperson for the Malheur action, got a $530,000 Small Business Administration loan in 2010, costing taxpayers more than $22,000. And we don’t know if he’s even paid the loan back.
- The Hammonds benefited from a government program that kills predators so they won’t attack ranchers’ and farmers’ livestock, Reveal reports. Specifically, the U.S. government shot five coyotes from the air for the Hammonds between 2009 and 2011, which, according to one expert’s estimate, would have cost taxpayers about $8,000. In fact, USDA Wildlife Services — an opaque and ironically named agency — spends $100 million annually to kill millions of animals, much of that in support of ranching and agricultural interests.
- The Bundys graze cattle on federal land, a privilege for which the government charges a dirt-cheap price. Federal grazing fees were just $1.35 for a cow and calf per month in 2012, while the going rate on private land was about $20 — that’s a 93 percent discount for ranchers using federal land, as FiveThirtyEight points out. (And even that wasn’t good enough for the Bundys; family patriarch Cliven Bundy has grazed his cattle on federal land without a permit since 1993, and refused to pay more than $1 million in fines and fees, which led to his infamous standoff last year.)
- Half of the grazing fees that ranchers pay the federal government come right back to benefit the ranchers. As U.S. News reported last year, “50 percent of grazing fees collected by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service (or $10 million, whichever is greater) go to a range betterment fund in the Treasury. According to the bureau, these so-called ‘Range Improvement Funds’ are used ‘solely for labor, materials, and final survey and design of projects,’ presumably benefiting ranchers.”
- Ranchers can cash in on a federal drought disaster relief program. In a particularly ironic case last year, some Nevada ranchers illegally grazed their cattle on public land that been closed to protect it during the ongoing Western drought, denying that the drought existed at all. But it turns out that two of the families leading that rebellion had received $2.2 million in federal drought relief funds the previous year.
- The U.S. Bureau of Land Management routinely removes wild horses from public lands to make way for cattle. In 2015, according to the BLM, this program cost the American public $75 million.
All of these subsidies to ranchers also cost the environment. The Center for Biological Diversity sums up the ecological costs of cattle grazing: “By destroying vegetation, damaging wildlife habitats and disrupting natural processes, livestock grazing wreaks ecological havoc on riparian areas, rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests alike — causing significant harm to species and the ecosystems on which they depend.”
Clearly, the vigilante ranchers — and Republican presidential hopefuls — are only concerned about “government overreach” when they see it as a threat to their own agendas. When it’s lining their pockets? Well, that’s just good government.