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Old 08-15-2009, 12:48 PM
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Off-roading advocates behave according to form in Salt Lake City
By Laurel Hagen

August 12, 2009

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Public displays of aggressive and hysterical ignorance being trendy among parts of the citizenry at "town hall" meetings this month, Utah doesn’t want to be left out of the frightening, frightening party.

Last weekend, a passel of brave freedom fighters mounted their ATVs, joined up with their fellows, and burbled at low speeds through the mean streets of residential Salt Lake City.

Their grievance: well, it’s hard to tell exactly, but it seemed to be the idea that SOMEONE [insert Obama, the Democrats, the BLM, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, environmentalists generally] is TAKING AWAY OUR [insert guns, land, ATVs, “right to ride*”] and it’s up to the REAL AMERICANS [which does not include me, I'm sure] to DO SOMETHING [presumably to hurt the aforementioned SOMEONEs, though they stop short of actually suggesting that, in the mouth-frothing inciter’s tradition of plausible deniability].

The crowd was joined by several elected speechifiers, including both US Senators (Bennett and Hatch), Utah State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop. Here are some quotes from articles in the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News and local TV station KSL:

"We're God-fearing and gun clinging," said Mike Swenson of the off-highway vehicle group USA-ALL, who offered a message for what he called radical environmental groups: "You guys that love rocks and trees more than human beings, you have awakened a sleeping giant. We are not going away. We've been way too easy on you. There is a new war in the western United States to take back our lands."

"Every ounce of (these restrictions) violate the Constitution," Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, shouted on a stage to the crowd of ardent listeners… Bishop laid out a historical and constitutional case against wilderness and federal ownership of public land.

[Mike] Noel [Utah State Representative from Kanab] said, “If you want to see what it's like to live in a socialist regime, go to southern Utah… They’re going to shut down public lands… This is a beginning. We have got to be extreme in the way we take back these public lands.”

Links to coverage of the rally: The Salt Lake Tribune, The Deseret News, KSL.

Is anyone else getting a very creepy Timothy McVeigh kind of vibe from all this? Like with that guy that was lurking near Obama’s speech site Monday, with his gun and his poster that said, “It’s time to water the Tree of Liberty,” as if no one knows the second part of that quote? **

In conclusion, the next time I find someone driving illegally in the middle of nowhere, and the dude on the ATV starts revving his engine and screaming at me about how his relatives have been driving their ATVs DOWN THIS RIVER for 500 YEARS, I am going to “institute a socialist regime” all over the place. Oh, snap. How’s that for a vague, easily disclaimed threat?

And in one more conclusion: we will be passing a wilderness bill in the next few years, and, for my part, this ignorant fear-mongering only lessens my willingness to work with those who will oppose it. It’s hard to think about sitting down and making meaningful compromises with people who publicly incite their followers to hatred and possible violence. Should I be worried? As an environmentalist, should I start wearing a bulletproof vest to attend county commission meetings?

*A friend of mine suggested that “Protect Your Right to Ride Month,” which was declared by off-roading advocates and the ORV manufacturing industry, should be changed to “Protect Your Right to Whine About False Entitlements Month.” I think this is an excellent idea.

**For non-poli-sci nerds, it’s a Jefferson quote that’s often misstated by adding “watered”: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. Such is its natural manure.” The quote is notable for being on Timothy McVeigh’s t-shirt when he was arrested. McVeigh is the guy who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people to demonstrate his hatred for the tyranny of the federal government. He made pre-bombing public statements like, “Once you take away the guns, you can do anything to the people. You give them an inch and they take a mile. I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government. The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful, and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.” It’s the similarity of McVeigh’s various statements to those being heard around the country right now, and at this rally, that is seriously creeping me out. But the people making the hateful speeches are culpable too. They come just short of actually endorsing violence, and then the McVeighs of the world take it on themselves to go one step further.


I very much resent being likened to the OKC Bomber!!...Dave
Dave Walters
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