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Columns : Editorial

Caught in the Middle of Public Rage Against the Government

Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are fighting mad against the government…And you represent the government.

August 14, 2014  |  by - Also by this author

Back in early 2002, I had just been hired for this position and one of my first assignments was to attend the annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas. One thing I'll never forget about that show was walking to the back of the convention center to enter the designated "Law Enforcement" area. On my way into the LE area, I passed a booth that featured bumper stickers and T-shirts that said some very hostile things about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

This stuff was a leftover from the Clinton era when many people in the gun community were outraged by incidents like Waco and Ruby Ridge, but that didn't excuse its presence so close to the law enforcement section.

I realize that people often disagree with the government. And the 1990s was a time that was particularly divisive, with some people joining militias and fearful that federal officers, the military, or UN troops would be landing in black helicopters sweeping through their towns and seizing their guns.

Those people were entitled to their opinions. The vast majority of them were harmless. But all the anti-government rhetoric they preached spawned a monster. Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy McVeigh swallowed all that stuff about the U.S. government stomping on individual rights hook, line, and sinker. And he regurgitated it in hate and death.

The atmosphere of the country is now beginning to remind me of the 1990s. Anti-government feelings are roiling. And I wonder what kinds of monstrous new McVeighs are slouching toward us.

Some active and retired municipal and county officers may even be joining the anti-government ranks. These officers can protest all they want, but they shouldn't be joining armed groups that confront brother and sister officers. Yet that's exactly what may have happened in April in Bunkerville, Nev., at the Cliven Bundy Ranch standoff where armed protestors prevented Bureau of Land Management agents and other federal officers from confiscating cattle because their owner owes the BLM more than $1 million in grazing fees.

It is no secret that among the protesters at the Bundy ranch there were likely off-duty and retired law enforcement officers. His supporters included the Oath Keepers—a group of active and retired military and law enforcement who pledge to oppose unconstitutional overreach of the federal government. The Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs who both supported Bundy say they were on scene just to keep the peace.

Still, I think these groups should be more careful choosing their causes. From his many statements to the press, it's clear that Bundy does not recognize the existence of the federal government and espouses many of the doctrines of Sovereign Citizens. Sovereigns believe no one has the constitutional power to enforce laws other than elected sheriffs. So they are antagonistic toward all other law enforcement officers, and that antagonism can lead to violence. In the past decade, known Sovereigns have killed seven officers.

Bundy, of course, is not a cop killer. But there was an actual future cop killer in the crowd of protesters at the Bundy Ranch. Jerad Miller, who in June joined with his wife to ambush and murder Las Vegas Metro officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo while they ate lunch, was interviewed by Reno TV on the scene in Bunkerville. It should alarm any officer who supported the Bundy cause that Miller was on scene at the ranch, even if he was reportedly asked to leave.

Now I understand that some of you are not fond of the federal government. I'm not always a fan either. But be careful about what groups you join and who you support because anti-federal government feelings can morph into anti-federal officer feelings for your brothers and sisters of the badge.

Also, remember federal officers are not alone in drawing the ire of anti-government types. There's a lot of rage nationwide against all authority. It is born of tough economic times, pro-Snowden surveillance paranoia, contempt for banks, anger toward President Obama and his predecessors' approach to immigration laws, the inequities of drug sentencing, worries about "militarized" police, fear of gun confiscation, war weariness, and just general anxiety about the "decline" of the American way. People, both left and right on the political spectrum, who are seething against the amorphous entity called "the government" can quickly focus their hatred on anyone with a badge. And that leaves you caught in the middle with a bull's-eye on your chest.

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