The issue of land ownership in America is as old as this nation, itself. However, still, Americans in the West are forced to live in states and work on lands that the federal government greedily declares is theirs, not ours.
It’s long overdue for that to change.
The issue of the federal government’s hoarding of land came to prominence in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s with what many called the “Sagebrush Rebellion.” Even Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan proudly boasted of his support for more land in the hands of the states, declaring in an August 1980 speech in Utah, “I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion Count me in as a rebel.”
The standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch is a classic example of what happens when militarized bureaucracy meets frontier-style concepts of right and wrong. Many within the Tea Party Movement supported Bundy’s right to use public lands - the same public lands his family had been using since the 1880’s.
Why did Bundy take a stand? Because he had witnessed the federal government run off every single one of his neighboring ranchers who relied on this land - somewhere around 50 ranches. What was the federal government’s response to his stance? They showed up with rifles, snipers, helicopters and emboldened police to intimidate and corral protesters into a designated “free speech zone.”
Many in the East might have wondered what the big deal was. The mainstream media glossed over the fact that the federal government claims dominion over 87% of Nevada, my home state and the location of the Bundy showdown. The government claimed for themselves 87% for so-called “public lands,” but refuses to let the public use these lands.
The government claims control of land out West with the attitude similar to Russian czars having control over the land of the serfs. That phenomenon of ownership and power creates the high probability of crony capitalism.
The Bundy showdown was not an isolated incident. Having raised awareness of this issue, other patriots started speaking up. Similar abuses were occurring in states like New Mexico and Texas, where the federal government bullied and abused citizens and claimed land for themselves.
People in the East - even conservatives - have wondered what the big deal was. However, those in the East, by and large, enjoy the use and unchallenged ownership of their own land. I am the Executive Director, of TheTeaParty.net, an organization that has been instrumental in highlighting and nationalizing this issue.
Dedicated to facilitating communications with lawmakers and with a massive grassroots outreach, TheTeaParty.Net boasts a membership of 2.5 million Tea Party activists nationwide and a social media universe that reaches 30 million people per week.
In short: This problem comes closer to resolution when conservatives are rowing in the same direction. TheTeaParty.net has worked to create a line of communication and understanding of this important issue between Tea Partiers out West, so-called flyover territory and the corridors of power in the East.
The Constitution allows the federal government to claim lands in very narrow circumstances. Outside of Washington, D.C., the federal government is permitted to appropriate lands for “the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards and other needful buildings.”
The Constitution, however, makes no mention of a right to permanently co-opt states for themselves, forever leaving the citizens of that state with only the economic crumbs.
The government’s heavy-handedness surrounding land usage is just one of many problems facing Western Americans today. Constant government overregulation from authorities at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and a variety of other federal regulatory agencies threatens American prosperity and freedom each and every day.
Beyond the obvious freedom-crushing implications of powerful government intrusion on land ownership, such federal overreaches have the power to rob Americans and states of prosperity.
Consider the American energy revolution. A coalition of bureaucratic elites, environmental extremists and good ol’ fashioned anti-growth socialists have come together to block the most powerful economic development of the age. The federal government continues to crackdown on offshore oil drilling while, maddeningly, investing in other nations’ offshore rigs. It blocks the Keystone XL pipeline. Perhaps most devastatingly, the government has failed to maximize the fracking phenomenon that would afford the United States the potential to become the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. How many potential Dakotas out West are sitting on federally controlled land?
It is not all bad news, however. The spirit of the Tea Party has forced these important issues to prominence in discussion. Western elected officials now must encounter this previously obscure issue at townhalls, and many are seeking means of renegotiating the balance of land ownership with the federal government.
That’s thanks to the Tea Party and other principled conservatives who have stood up with signs, with articles, with hoarse voices at townhalls, demanding an end to the neo-serfdom that has existed out West for far too long. It’s a long process, but Americans are finally on the path to regaining their land from an abusive government - a fight many believed was won over two centuries ago.
People from all walks of life came to support and engage in this modern day Sagebrush Rebellion and while the fight is far from over, lines have been drawn and the point has been made: the federal government may find it easy to push around one citizen, one rancher, but we, as a movement, are millions strong.
Western Americans have to deal with the consequences of the federal government doing what it is constitutionally not permitted to do, while also dealing with the consequences of the federal government refusing to do what they are constitutionally obliged to do: secure our border against the continual waves of illegal immigrants surging into our country.
But more than any other issue, the outcome of the rebellion against the land grabbing neo-serfdom of the federal government will determine the fate of the West and the destiny of the Republic.
Niger Innis is the Executive Director of the Tea Party.Net, which has 2.5 million members nationwide.