Ever since the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft plan last year to sharply limit motor-vehicle access to the 2.5 million acres of the San Juan forest, [Douglas] Maxwell and growing numbers of like-minded Westerners have been organizing against a government they see as tyrannical. In Dolores County, Maxwell's compatriots have threatened to "arrest" federal officials. They've hanged Smokey Bear in effigy and demanded the return of "liberty."I would sleep much more soundly at night if I believed that this was all smoke and no fire. And then I think back to things like the Republicans deciding it was a good idea to read the Constitution on the floor of Congress and remember that no, actually, there are plenty of people that buy into this kind of "constitutionalist" kind of thinking.
What is happening in this sparsely populated and economically depressed southwest corner of Colorado is a reprise of other Western land-use uprisings of the past 40 years, including the "Sagebrush Rebellion" and the "Wise Use" and "County Supremacy" movements. But in a more immediate way, it is a part of the second wave of the antigovernment "Patriot" movement that roiled America and spawned much violence in the 1990s. And like that movement, it has blended issues of genuine concern, such as the federal management of Western public lands, with a staggering dose of radical-right conspiracy theories.
The rebellion is finding allies in local elected officials, some of whom argue — against well-established law — that they have a legitimate right to defy federal laws and regulations. In Montezuma County, the recently elected sheriff [Dennis Spruell], who takes four-hour classes from a local "constitutionalist," appeared on a white supremacist radio show in February to assert that county sheriffs are "the ultimate law enforcement authority."
The simple fact of the matter is that the federal government of the United States, the national one in Washington, D.C., reigns supreme within the boundaries of the United States, by the authority of the exact same Constitution that so many people seem to be using as a weapon against the federal government. Its laws are binding for all state authorities, regardless of the laws or even the constitutions in the states in question.
If there's a federal law that oversteps federal authority, well, last I checked there were ways for dealing with that that didn't involve claiming power that one doesn't have. They're called the courts, which do have the authority to decide whether or not a law is constitutional. Random sheriffs, much less individual citizens with no governmental authority whatsoever? Don't.
And as long as we're talking about authority and rightful use of power, this idea of arresting federal agents and defying federal authority? Yeah, individual citizens and minor government officials don't get to do that either. And trying it will provoke a response from the federal government, that actually does have the authority to enforce its laws.
In short? The hand we've been dealt, by our Constitution and by the 200+ years of established law built on top of it, says that the federal government wins these debates. Period. End of story. Groups like these that have a problem with that are not "patriots" in any sense of the word I care to name. Not when their only recourse against that is an armed rebellion that would quite thoroughly destroy the very same Constitution that they falsely claim to value so highly.