Bishop is fanning the flames of radicalism in the West

Last summer when President Obama announced new national monuments in Texas, Nevada and California, the Republican responses ranged from former first lady Laura Bush saying she and President Bush “are thrilled,” to mild grumbling from some Nevada lawmakers. The notable exception was the reaction of Utah Congressman Rob Bishop.

Bishop condemned the designations — none of which were in Utah — with overthe­top rhetoric that seemed more designed to inflame passions than to address the issue.

He said, “I condemn this shameful power move, which makes states and citizens fearful that the federal government can invade at any time to seize more lands like bandits in the night.”

Bishop knows full well that those designations did nothing to alter land ownership. Monument designations under the Antiquities Act are limited to existing federal public lands. So why would he choose words like “invade,” “seize” and “bandits”? It makes no sense unless he was trying to provoke outrage.

Similarly, at a public event in Utah last year, Bishop was recorded saying, “If anyone here likes the Antiquities Act the way it is written, die, I mean stupidity out of the gene pool.” He then referred to the 110­year­old law as “the most evil act ever invented.”

Again, the congressman’s comments are excessive and inflammatory. By wishing death on those he disagrees with, even if intended as a laugh line, Bishop feeds the “us vs. them” mentality that drives the Bundys and other militants.

Nor is it helpful to dub a longstanding Republican conservation law that has protected American icons like the Grand Canyon, the Tetons and Utah’s great arches, as “evil.”

Bishop also uses terms such as “Soviet­style,” “authoritarian” and “asinine” to described federal public land management, and has called the Department of Interior a “mausoleum.”

In his statement announcing the Federal Land Action Group he launched with fellow Utah Congressman Chris Stewart, Bishop — referring to public lands that currently belong to every American — said the group’s goal is “to return these lands back to the rightful owners.”

Bishop’s language here is indistinguishable from that of Ammon Bundy, who demanded during his recent takeover of the Malheur wildlife refuge “the land and resources must be made available to its rightful owners.”

As a former history teacher, surely Bishop knows that the land he is referring to has always been part of the public domain, ever since the United States obtained it in the treaty ending the Mexican­American War.

Perhaps even more telling is that during the 41­day armed takeover of the Malheur Refuge, Bishop — who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee — declined a request by the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D­-Ariz., to jointly offer a bipartisan resolution condemning the illegal occupation.

Instead, Bishop’s comments to the press sympathized with the militants, accusing federal agencies of being “very heavy­handed” and saying that he understands the “frustration and feelings people have working with land agencies.”

When asked about holding hearings on the takeover, he doubled down, saying that instead he wants to continue oversight of “what we feel is the abuse of individuals by the federal land management agencies, the poor decisions they have made.”

Whether Bishop fully subscribes to the Bundy clan’s unhinged beliefs or not, he certainly seems to be in a similar neighborhood.

By stirring up anti­government sentiments with his rhetoric, coddling militants who have repeatedly threatened law enforcement officers and siding with the Bundy worldview through his legislative agenda, Bishop is irresponsibly fanning the flames militant radicalism in the West — and threatening to upend more than a century of conservative American stewardship.

This piece was originally printed on February 26, 2016, in The Salt Lake Tribune.

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