In terms of civil liberties, what is the difference between Kaci Hickox and Ammon Bundy? They both claim their freedoms and rights as citizens have been violated recently. Why do many Americans criticize Hickox while holding Bundy up as a defender of personal freedom? Upon examination of the facts, it seems people have it backwards.
Kaci Hickox is a nurse who went to Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders to combat Ebola. She contributed her time, money and expertise to relieve suffering, contain the disease, and keep Ebola from spreading around the world. She lived amidst the disease for six weeks learning the risks, the symptoms and how to protect herself.
When Hickox returned to the United States she was quarantined in a tent in Newark, NJ. She protested that the conditions were extreme, inhumane and violated her civil rights. After a health check and testing negative for Ebola, Hickox was released to return to her home in Maine. The governor of Maine, Paul LePage, imposed a 21 day quarantine on Hickox. She was to remain trapped in her home until the public could be sure that she was not sick. However, medical science has been studying Ebola for three decades. People show symptoms within a week if they are infected and people are not contagious until the virus has multiplied enough to show symptoms, the first of which is a fever. She had a slight elevation of temperature when her plane landed, but it receded and multiple tests for the virus showed no infection. Hickox refused to obey the quarantine which she claimed had no medical basis and restricted her freedoms.
What did she do? She took a bike ride. Hickox chose an activity which got her out of her house without endangering anyone with close contact. Well, anyone except the reporters flocking around her. For some reason, they were concerned she broke quarantine but not concerned about catching Ebola.
Hickox’s actions caused an uproar among many Americans. They could not understand why she did not just stay home to protect U.S. citizens from an Ebola outbreak. Hickox and her supporters did not understand why willful ignorance of scientific research should be allowed to control public policy. They saw restriction of her freedom as unconstitutional.
On Oct. 31, a District Court judge overruled the quarantine saying local health officials did not prove a need for a stricter quarantine. Hickox is required to maintain direct, active monitoring of her health and has agreed to avoid well-trafficked areas of town of her own volition.
On the other side of the country, Ammon Bundy, son of rancher Cliven Bundy, is also complaining that his civil liberties were violated. Ammon claims he was detained at an airport as a domestic terrorist because he was blacklisted by Harry Reid, the Democratic Senator from Nevada. He posted a picture of his plane ticket marked with an SSSS which flagged him to airport personnel. He was subjected to a lengthy search of his luggage. He would have been allowed to fly afterward, but he and his young daughter had missed the plane that would have gotten them to a family event in time and so went home. He did receive a refund for his tickets from the airline.
The Bundy family has had issues with the government since the West was still a patchwork of territories. The Bundys have consistently grazed their cattle on land put aside for the public. The Constitution for the State of Nevada declares the Bunkerville Allotment to belong to the United States government, never to be used for private profit. Some ranchers apply for permits and pay fees so that their cattle can graze on the public land of Nevada. In 1989, the Desert Tortoise was declared a threatened species and the Bureau of Land Management got serious about protecting its habitat, especially on U.S. land. It bought back grazing privileges from the ranchers. The Bundys refused to sell their grazing privileges, remove their cattle or pay the grazing fees. After the Bundy Ranch failed to pay fines assessed for illegal grazing on protected land, the BLM revoked its grazing permit. The Bundys continued to refuse to either pay up or limit their herd’s range. This went on until it reached the courts. Court after court ruled that the Bundys must cease and desist as well as pay fines. In August 2013, a federal court gave the Bundys 45 days to remove the cattle. In October 2013, a federal judge ordered Cliven Bundy not to interfere with any seizure or impoundment. In March 2014, the BLM sent Bundy a letter stating they plan to impound his trespass cattle.
How does Bundy respond? Bundy hunkers down with his 14 children and 52 grandchildren to await the BLM. He gives constant interviews about how his individual rights are being trampled. At this time, the BLM says Bundy owes the American people $1,000,000 in fees and fines. By the end of April Bundy has formed Camp Liberty and recruited an armed militia from around the nation. Hundreds of Bundy supports with all sorts of weapons face off against federal officials. They admit to lining up women and children in the front so that if there is a shootout they will be killed which would make the government look bad. The federal officials back down to avoid bloodshed.
Cliven Bundy’s most infamous quote from last April is, “I don’t recognize the United States Government as existing.” Sen. Harry Reid did label the Bundys domestic terrorists. He said, “There were hundreds of people from around the country that came there. There were sniper rifles on the freeway, assault weapons and automatic weapons. Children and women were lined up to get hurt.” Reid said that the Bundys and their supporters were not patriots because they refused to follow the laws of the land, they were domestic terrorists. It is not unlikely that Sen. Reid caused the official designation that stopped Ammon Bundy from boarding his plane.
How do Kaci Hickox’s circumstances and Ammon Bundy’s situation compare? They are not similar in the least. Yes, both had their activities curtailed by a government official, but their response to governmental authority was actually very different. The Bundys employed violence to defy a court order. Hickox peacefully protested an unfair mandate. Hickox participated in the system whereas Bundy tried to sabotage it. A threat of violence always undermines the democratic process. On the other hand, civil disobedience has always challenged democracy to improve.
There was no medical reason to imprison Hickox in her home. She appealed to the court and will abide by its decision. That is how people in the United States protect their civil liberties. The courts assess laws and rule whether the law violates personhood or whether a person violates the law. The Bundys went to court, but the courts sided with federal and state laws, so the Bundys resorted to armed insurrection.
Kaci Hickox did not put American lives in danger by taking a bike ride through the country one morning. She protested an unfair law, and allowed the courts to sort it out. The Bundys were willing to fire on federal officials and put other citizens in harm’s way. If that is not the definition of domestic terrorism, what is? Hickox deserves unrestricted freedom after her 21 days end on Nov. 10. The Bundys deserve to be labeled as domestic terrorists and deal with the repercussions of their actions. In terms of civil liberties, that is the difference between Kaci Hickox and Ammon Bundy.
Opinion by Rebecca Savastio