On the Salon website, images of Ferguson and Cliven Bundy were blended.

From the beginning of the Ferguson dispute over the killing of Michael Brown, parallels have been drawn between that tragedy and the April standoff in Nevada over tax scofflaw Cliven Bundy. And instead of that angle on the story dying out, as might be expected, it has continued playing out week after week.

In the Arizona Republic just last week, a letter to the editor appeared under the headline, “If BLM acted like cops, Cliven Bundy would be dead.”

“In Ferguson, law enforcement is vastly overreacting in the face of peaceful protesters, while at the Bundy Ranch, law enforcement vastly underreacted in the face of armed secessionists and scofflaws,” Bob Cesca wrote on the Daily Banter website as the Ferguson events first began unfolding.

“In Nevada, a rancher defied a federal court order with the support of hundreds of heavily armed self-styled militia members,” wrote Marc Ash at Reader Supported News early in the confrontation. “Together they confronted federal agents attempting to serve a warrant, in some cases training their weapons on the agents. In Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black man by a white police officer, angry black residents left their homes, stood unarmed in the streets, and faced down a fully militarized, almost entirely white police force. Yes, looting of local businesses is taking place, but it began after the entirely peaceful protests were met by Ferguson Police in full combat mode.”

In Germany, a Daniel Haufler wrote in the Berliner Zeitung that in the United States only whites can “brandish machine guns at the police,” without fear of reprisal, as did supporters of Cliven Bundy.

As the Ferguson events lengthened, the Nevada events became more prominent in the mix of debate. After right wing commentator Laura Ingraham called Ferguson protestors a “lynch mob,” Media Matters in America pointed out that Ingraham had claimed the Bundy mob was engaged in “an act of civil disobedience.”

When the issue of military hardware used by community police arose from the events in Ferguson, retired army major Dewey Galeas wrote in the Augusta [Georgia] Chronicle, “This use and show of force is not American, whether it is at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada, or the streets of Ferguson, Mo. Materiel designed to protect American military now is being used for code enforcement, lawful assembly and illegal lemonade stands. Asymmetrical combat and insurgency make these items necessary in foreign war theaters. The excuse for their acquisition in America was to prosecute the war on drugs. To not question their possession and use is a symptom of citizenship in lethargy.”

A Phoenix man named Brian Binder wrote in a letter to the editor to the Arizona Republic, “In these cases, people would still be alive today had they done one thing: simply do as the officers had asked. If you run from an officer, or run toward an officer, I’m sorry, but you deserve to be shot.”

Kevin Moler of Tonopah sent a reply to the Republic: “I remember not too long ago another situation in which a man was confronted by a governmental agency with policing powers who asked him to comply peacefully with their request. Far from being compliant, this person not only resisted but also called for others to join him in his fight. People did come, many with guns, further escalating the situation. In this case, the Bureau of Land Management officials showed better judgment than the police in Ferguson or New York City did. As a result, Cliven Bundy is still alive.”

North Carolina journalist Mary C. Curtis: “Imagine if the police and National Guard in Ferguson were met, as federal officers enforcing the law at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch were, with protesters pointing rifles at them.”

Alabama journalist Kyle Whitmire: “And how would the public react if the folks on the street in Ferguson began acting more like the militia who turned out in support for Cliven Bundy, who had broken the law by refusing to pay federal grazing fees in Nevada?”

Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada organizer Laura Martin: “Law enforcement has a lot of different views. … In Bunkerville, they responded by retreating. In Ferguson, they responded by using tear gas on people peacefully protesting and [by] arresting members of the press.”

The presence of members of Oath Keepers at both sites drew comment. At Daily Gawker, Adam Weinstein asked, “Why is it that the liberty-loving, government-loathing patriots who have for so long warned of a tank-driving, brutal police state were so willing to put their lives on the line for a Cliven Bundy, but not a Ferguson, Missouri?”

Some see the two cases as speaking to something fundamental in governance. In National Review, the conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley Jr., Kevin D. Williamson offered this analysis:

“We have seen withdrawals of consent before, and we will see more in the future. From cracked Texas secessionists and Cliven Bundy to the people throwing rocks at police in Ferguson, such gestures are rarely altogether admirable, but that does not make them necessarily illegitimate. (I must confess that I’d have more sympathy with the protesters in Ferguson if they were setting fire to tax offices rather than convenience stores.) (Not that I’m endorsing setting fire to tax offices.) (At this time.) And there are real reasons to consider the question of consent: From local politicians legally looting their communities to federal government that uses the IRS as a weapon of politics, there are real objections to be made. In practical terms, we have a government that interferes with our lives and livelihoods far more than did the one our Founders threw off. Which is not a call for revolution—it’s a call for rebalancing, for reestablishing exactly who works for whom.”

University of Nevada, Reno Sociologist James Richardson said it’s not surprising that people are seeking consistency between the two situations. But he said there is a history of centuries of using police to control blacks and it’s not easy to change that kind of conditioning quickly.

“Society thinks intuitively that blacks need to be controlled,” he said. “We have, over centuries, worked very hard not to allow assimilation of blacks. I’m not aware that we’ve had restricted covenants on any other racial group. It’s the legacy of our history. But I certainly think things will change and can change.”

At Salon, Brad Friedman wrote, “In any event, little changed after the dangerous armed stand-off in the Nevada desert. Real change may come about, eventually, thanks to the peaceful—and very brave—resistance of the unarmed protesters in Ferguson.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...