Blanding County Commissioner Phil Lyman charged with conspiracy, has justice been served?

County Commissioner Phil Lyman was charged with conspiracy for planning and leading an illegal OHV ride through Recapture Canyon in Blanding last year. It appears that justice has been served. But has it? Sure, in this instance, it appears that has and it is cathartic to finally see it. Our sense of right and wrong, of fairness, is somewhat assuaged by it; but in the bigger picture, it seems to barely scrape the surface of enforcing the law equally.

I was in Blanding for the protest. I watched a train of people illegally ride through that canyon and they all knew what they were doing. So why were only two people charged? I understand that going after the ringleader supports the theory that if you cut off the head, you kill the body. But what happened in Blanding was an extension of what happened in Bunkerville.

Commissioner Lyman called the Bundy’s and Ryan Bundy and his troops showed up to add a little muscle to the protest. When it appeared that Lyman was going to keep it at a peaceful protest and not ride through the canyon (even though he stated he had no problem with doing so), Ryan Bundy ratcheted up the rhetoric by stating that he came to “open a road.” He made it clear that if they weren’t going to open a road, he was going to take his toys and go home.

Although Lyman had no moral problem with crossing the line where OHVs are prohibited, he had originally stated that he believed doing so may do more harm to their cause than good. He had suggested that for the protest, it might be best to stop at that line. But the people from Bunkerville, energized by their “victory” over the BLM, were not in attendance for a peaceful protest. They were there “to open a road.” Or in my view, they were there for Bunkerville Part II.

I can only speculate as to what this did to Commissioner Lyman but it appeared he didn’t want to lose his star freedom fighter, or maybe he didn’t want lose face or look like a chicken, and after Bunkerville, there were expectations. Either way, it looked to me like Ryan Bundy and his entourage was were the ones who tipped the protest into a full-swing illegal ride, despite Lyman’s calls for the opposite, and Lyman obliged them.

As Ryan Bundy said, “We the people took Bundy ranch back. It’s the freest area in the entire country.” And riding on that wave, why would they back down to the BLM in Blanding? Everyone who drove an OHV through that canyon knew they were breaking the law and they did it with conviction. So why weren’t all of them charged? Or at least, why wasn’t Ryan Bundy?

I am no fan of Commissioner Lyman and find him to be all over the place in defense of his actions ranging from being okay with breaking the law to denying he knew he broke the law. I find his wriggling rewriting of history and attempt to induce fear by warning all county commissioners that they don’t have jurisdiction in their own counties to be rather weak in comparison to his initial appeal to the convictions of men like Thomas Pain and Henry David Thoreau in their defense of civil disobedience.

And clearly the judge didn’t buy it either. As U.S. District Court Judge Shelby said when Lyman tried to make his defense based on first amendment rights, “Speech is not protected if it is the vehicle of the crime itself.”

So I think it was just for him to be found guilty and for people who care about such things as ancient artifacts, preserving ancient cultures, and protecting our landscapes, this was definitely a win – especially in Utah, where most circle the wagons and support their own.

That being said, Lyman should not be the only person facing charges. Furthermore, it begs the question: What is going on in Nevada? How is it that the ringleader of rebellion against the federal government in Bunkerville has not been charged? With a track record of breaking the law for 20 years and capping it off with raising a weapon-wielding rebellion, it seems that there is more than enough for not just a charge, but incarceration.

But it’s more than even that. People have become emboldened by Bundy. In a recent article in St. George News about a proposal for a new national monument, rancher Bill Gubler said, “They’re backing the ranchers into a corner, and you’re going to see a lot of Cliven Bundys out there.”

I agree with him but not for the same reason.

Because Cliven Bundy has not been charged with breaking the law, and furthermore, backed the government down with armed resistance, many believe that’s the way to push back. Because ranchers have a grievance with the government, and one rancher’s shenanigans worked, there most probably will be copycats. When one person gets away with it, it is logical to wonder if everyone can get away with it. And that is why the law must be executed equally across the board. Otherwise, there will be no respect for it or adherence to it – and why there will be civil unrest when justice is executed quickly for others.

There are many who want to see the law executed equally, those who want to see public land managed according to law, and those who think the laws should be changed. It is an explosive and divisive issue without doubt, and one that must be handled with care – but handled it must be.

We all know that there are bad laws on the books. We know that bad laws get passed all the time. But the law is the foundation of this country. You can choose to break it, but then you must be prepared to face the consequences if you do. The other course of action is to seek to change it, and though not as glamorous or as speedy and with no guarantee you will get your way, keeps your butt out of jail and possibly makes a difference for others who feel the way that you do.

As Teddy Roosevelt said, “No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.”

Civil unrest happens when order is not maintained. We maintain order by enforcing the law. And we provide hope when justice is served. It is not fair under the law when one man gets charged and another walks away Scott free.

I’d say when it comes to justice being served, the jury’s still out.


Posted on May 9, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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