Liberty, independence, freedom from oppression: these are the values upon which America was founded, values that rural Westerners in Utah are now claiming as their standard in their protests against the federal government. This was evident most recently in a demonstration that included driving ATVs through Recapture Canyon, an area determined by the federal government to be off-limits, as the Associated Press reported. Soon however, these protesters may need an attorney in Salt Lake City to represent them against criminal charges filed by the Bureau of Land Management who wants to hold these lawbreakers accountable for their actions.
Riding not only ATVs, but a pretty tall moral high horse, some of the protesters are dismissing the idea that their prosecution would hold up in a court of law. Civil disobedience, after all, is another quintessentially American tradition that often promotes organized protests, garners media and public attention and works to affect change. San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge reported that the demonstration was indeed “peaceful, and there were no problems whatsoever.” But attorneys in Salt Lake City like Joseph Stewart who are monitoring the news of this situation aren’t so sure about the legal fate of the protesters.
Protests against the government have historically needed to gather quite a bit of steam before the feds are willing to make a change. So far, the Recapture Canyon protesters have the public support of few, but that few includes fellow anti-government protester Cliven Bundy who was in the news recently for his own holdout against the BLM. Bundy’s personal endorsement may sound like good news to the protesters, but may not hold water in a courtroom, attorneys in Salt Lake City speculate. Bundy’s own legal fate for not-as-civil disobedience is still up in the air.
Additionally, in an historically unlikely alliance, the BLM and Native American groups are siding with each other to help protect Recapture Canyon as thousands of Puebloan artifacts and burials are located there, some as many as 2,000 years old. These protest riders may have damaged some of these items that “tell the story of the first farmers in the Four Corners region,” according to the BLM Utah state director. In this light, the protesters actions become appallingly un-American as they deface and destroy precious clues to Native American history, disrespecting their own land, say some.
Well, whatever the public opinion verdict, it’s pretty likely that a judge will have her own, as the BLM has documented the identity of the protesters and is considering bringing charges against each of them. Attorneys in Salt Lake City may have their sense of patriotic integrity tested by the case should they be called upon to represent the Recapture protestors: is it more appropriately American to resist oppressive, mismanagement of public lands or do citizens have an ethical duty to the land to protect the land’s historical riddles and delicate environmental balance, even if it means letting the dreaded feds take charge?