Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, The Great Basin: America's wasteland seeks a new identity.
The fight against the MX missile was a turning point in the Great Basin, the first time the region said a resounding "no" to a major federal pork-barrel project.
The Great Basin MX Alliance - a coalition of environmentalists, ranchers and miners, activists and academics, and state officials - is still seen by many activists as a model for a "Sagebrush Alliance" against the federal government.
"The miners and ranchers are still the first guys I call when the military wants more land," says Grace Bukowski, a former Citizen Alert staffer who has taken this organizing model nationwide with the Rural Alliance for Military Accountability.
"We follow the same model and it continues to work," says Steve Erickson of Downwinders in Utah. "If you can shed turf battles, mistrust and the animosity that exist between Western constituencies, and accept that they come from their own culture and background and not make value judgments, then our interests converge more often than we think."
But there are times when value judgments cry out to be made. This was driven home in the far reaches of Utah's West Desert last summer as I drove along the old Pony Express trail. There I spotted Cecil Garland's name on a mailbox.
Garland became a folk hero in Utah when he stood up at an MX hearing in the early 1980s and said, "We've heard about the racetrack-basing mode and the railroad-basing mode, well, I think they should all be put in the commode." Garland is also widely respected as an environmentalist. Before he came to Utah, he owned a hardware store in Montana that was boycotted by loggers because of his support for wilderness. Environmentalists say his ranch is a paragon of stewardship.
Garland invited me in for some iced tea. But before I could even ask about the MX days, he launched into a tirade. "The greatest environmental disaster we face is the Blacks, Asians and Mexicans invading our country," he said. "Every place they're in control is a basket case. No place controlled by anyone but white North American Europeans has an environmental ethic. And you can't talk about it or publish it because the Jews control the media."
Later, I learned that some of Garland's former allies in the MX alliance had also heard this kind of talk, but had kept quiet to hold together the coalition.
Wayne Hage, a Nevada "rancher for peace," was vocal in the fight against the MX. Everyone knew his philosophical bent, but they tolerated it for the sake of the alliance.
Hage has since sued the Forest Service for "taking" his central Nevada ranch by cutting his grazing permit without compensation. "There are no public lands," he told a recent "Win Back the West" rally. "Private property is the cornerstone of all civil liberties. If you don't have property, you don't have any civil liberties. It's the same old battle of 1776 and before, whether free people will exist or we'll be serfs under an elite class that is destined to rule.
"We are faced with a do-or-die situation," Hage said. "We hope this can be accomplished through courts of law and legislation because God help us if it has to be done another way."