In 2014, a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy led an armed militia in a standoff against federal rangers who, acting on a court order, had begun removing cattle that were illegally grazing on public land. Protesters with rifles blocked a highway and surrounded the agents on the ranch, preparing for battle. Not only did the police decide to back down, but Bundy held a press conference the next day calling the standoff a "success."
On August 1, 2016, a Maryland resident named Korryn Gaines refused to open her apartment door for police who, acting on a court order, were there to serve her a warrant for failing to appear in court. After an hourslong standoff, police kicked down Gaines' door, killed her and shot her 5-year-old son.
Bundy, 70, had been ignoring federal orders to remove his cows since 1993 and owed the government over $1 million in fees. Gaines, 23, was arrested at a traffic stop in March, and police bust down her door five months later.
FOX News and other Bundy supporters called him a "patriot" for exercising his rights, and the New York Times' headline lauded him as "defiant." Gaines has been called crazy and is being blamed for her own death.
What's the difference between Bundy and Gaines?
What they have in common is just as important. Both Gaines and Bundy allegedly believed in the concept of sovereign law. The FBI describes the sovereign citizen movement thusly:
"Sovereign citizens are anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or 'sovereign' from the United States. As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.
Other definitions say that sovereign citizens decide which laws to follow and which authoritative bodies to recognize. In Bundy's case, he decided that he did not have to obey the federal governmental agency, the Bureau of Land Management. His reasoned he has a "preemptive" right because his Mormon ancestors worked the land decades before the BLM was established. In a news conference, Bundy said, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to honor a federal court that has no jurisdiction or authority or arresting power over we the people.”
Jim Urquhart // Reuters
A Cliven Bundy supporter and militia member
In Gaines' case, her March traffic stop was allegedly because her car had cardboard signs instead of license plates. One read "Free Traveler." The other read "Any Government official who compromises this pursuit to happiness and right to travel, will be held criminally responsible and fined, as this is a natural right and freedom." Gaines filmed the traffic stop and her arrest and posted the video with this caption:
"Constitutional Law is the only true law. In order to be granted the role as Law enforcement u must take an oath to uphold the Constitution and be granted a DOAO DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY ORDER. The police are not Law enforcement they are Policy enforcers and operate outside of the laws of the Constitution which would make them organized criminals. They enforce CORPORATE Law (to generate revenue, in others words to get money, however in this case they know that i know this and this is them making trouble with me) which is not a true form of the law but so many of us have bended to their criminal ways. Not me."
So again, what's the difference between Bundy and Gaines?
For one, the Bundy family is still alive to stand by their beliefs. Cliven's son Ammon orchestrated his own standoff with police in January after seizing a government building in Oregon. Gaines' son is just 5 and is recovering from a gunshot wound inflicted by police.
For two, it's in the language history will use to define them. Was Gaines radical or empowered? Disobedient or defiant? Informed or crazy? Bundy was called a patriot and a leader and had the support of politicians like Sen. Rand Paul.
Also, there's this: How is it that Bundy organized over 100 people in a tactical standoff and beat the feds, but Gaines, one woman in her own apartment, scared the police so much they shot first?