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January 14, 2021

In this issue: War All the Time | Shedding Light on the Moapa Solar Project | Media Sommelier

PARLER, THE RIGHT-WING “free speech” social media network based in Henderson, shut down this week after Amazon pulled the plug. You didn’t miss much. Parler was a bleak pocket universe of racist vitriol and giddy Trumpian nihilism. Whether Parler comes back, and in what form, is anyone’s guess. But one certainty is that in its brief, manic life, Parler managed to make history: It was broadly implicated in helping to incite the siege on the Capitol Jan. 6, accused of stoking the violent and inflammatory rhetoric that culminated in a mob attack on Congress that led to the deaths of five.

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Perhaps you did a double-take when you first learned Parler was based, of all places, in Henderson. It certainly seems random. In the bigger picture, however, it makes sense. Parler represents the digital apex of a deplorable Nevada tradition: Virulent, threatening, paranoid, extremist right-wing rhetoric. So, Henderson? Of course!

To consider our state’s history as a font of hard-right, anti-government zeal requires acknowledging that freedom is in Nevada’s DNA. Yes, “Freedom is in Nevada’s DNA” sounds like a facile, red-meat applause line from a speech Michele Fiore makes in her dreams, but it’s actually true, in different and complicated ways. For one, it’s in our state’s origin story. Refresher: At the outset of the Civil War, Nevada was created as a federal territory to help bankroll the Union cause with mining taxes, and then admitted as a state to support President Lincoln’s re-election, his Reconstruction policies, and the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. (So next time a Nevada politician tries to drop “Battle Born!” as some kind of rugged alpha flex, remind them that the whole point of Nevada’s existence was based on the crazy idea of ending chattel bondage and restoring the Union.)

That DNA is also woven into our identity as a gaming destination. Gambling as a frontier custom of Nevada prospectors persisted stubbornly in the state despite multiple bans on the pastime, until the state Legislature finally legalized gambling in 1931. That ancestral streak of Wild West defiance is realized, too, in rural suspicion and distrust of the federal government (which controls the vast majority of Nevada’s land), taking shape in movements such as the Sagebrush Rebellion. That’s a book in itself, but the Sagebrush Rebellion basically started in the 1970s when ranchers, mining concerns, and other groups began agitating for local control of federal land as the government eyed Western wilderness for ambitious preservation programs. (Unsettlingly prophetic moment: Ronald Reagan considered himself a member of their ranks. “I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion,” he said in a 1980 campaign speech. “Count me in as a rebel.”) Today, Nevada’s libertarian ethos ripples across the state in numerous forms and flavors, even here. In Southern Nevada, it’s glamorized in the spirit of Las Vegas itself, a hedonic bubble where people can give the finger to propriety and eat, drink, gamble, and carouse to their Visa limit’s content.

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But that DNA mutated. Many of its more cancerous expressions in the Silver State are laced with the same belligerent, reactionary denial of basic facts and shared reality that resulted in the deadly storming of the Capitol. Gradually, and then not so gradually, the mode of stern Reagan conservatism that rejected the idea of government as manager of the social contract tried on a more wild look, and Nevada has since produced a cast of characters who plied a hotter brand of retail anti-government paranoia. There’s James Gordon “Bo” Gritz (rhymes with “whites”) of Sandy Valley, an Army Special Forces veteran and populist mystagogue who had a moment here. Fusing survivalist bravado and New World Order fear-mongering, he ran in the Republican primary in 1988 for a Nevada congressional seat, and in 1992 ran for president on the Populist ticket with the slogan “God, Guns, and Gritz.” Little surprise that his espousal of Christian Identity ideology has earned him cameos on the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center websites.

Let’s not forget figures of more recent vintage. There’s Tea Party debutante Sharron Angle (right), who ran as a Republican for U.S. Senate

against Sen. Harry Reid in 2010. Energized by resurgent conservative fervor, she zuzhed up her candidacy with veiled threats and not-so-veiled xenophobia. In one interview with a conservative talk-show host, she suggested that if Reid were re-elected, people might start shooting up the place: “I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies,” she wink-winked. “I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.” (More than a few observers saw a connection between her rhetoric and the January 2011 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson.) Oh, the xenophobia part: Angle also once claimed that militant Sharia law was threatening to overthrow Dearborn, Michigan and Frankford, Texas. Meanwhile, offering their own American version of theocracy, the Elko-based Independent American Party of Nevada, with its anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-gun platform, has been stoking fear and churning perennial candidates through rural tickets for decades.

Former Nevada assemblywoman and current City Councilwoman Michele Fiore is a member of the club. Well-known for her baffling gun fetishism, she sent out a Christmas card in December 2015 portraying her family amid festive holiday decor, the fam strapped with shotguns, pistols, and rifles. (Yes, even the toddler.) This may pass as cute for Olive Garden

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Rambos, but post-Jan. 6, hindsight suggests a certain je ne sais ... encoded implicit menace? Fiore’s cheerful dalliance with anti-government extremists such as rancher Cliven Bundy — another rich vein of radical right-wing incitement — is certainly clarifying. In a TV news interview, parroting the kind of high-heat language that would do the Bundys proud, Fiore called the Bureau of Land Management “a bureaucratic agency of terrorism.”

In that sense, the Sagebrush Rebellion never ended, and the Bundys are its darkest avatar to date. Their April 2014 armed standoff with the BLM in Bunkerville over unpaid grazing fees represents an apotheosis of the extreme right’s primal embrace of unreality married to a self-sanctified mandate to take up arms in a revolution of almost biblical import. “We’re about ready to take the country over with force!” Bundy (below ) told supporters at the infamous standoff, which ended when the BLM backed down and released Bundy’s livestock. (Paramilitary posturing is one way to dine and dash: Bundy still owes the federal government more than a million dollars in grazing fees.) Clearly encouraged, in January 2016, Cliven’s son Ammon Bundy led an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon for more than a month.

Don’t work too hard connecting the dots to the Capitol attack. In a Jan. 6 post (since deleted) on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page, the Bundys did everyone a favor and drew a straight line themselves as they cheered on the Jan. 6 insurrection: “You can’t clean the swamp by standing off at a distance and smelling it,” the post read. “At Bundy Ranch we had a job to do, go get it done, and We the People went forward and finished the job. … (On Jan. 6) We the People did clear the chambers of Congress and 100,000 should have spent the night in the halls and 100,000 should have protected them.” All of which presents an opportune moment to make the thesis explicit: The effects of this radical rhetoric stack up. Each bellicose utterance legitimizes, normalizes, encourages, and emboldens the next, more extreme one. These aren’t aberrant kinks that ultimately get worked out in the flex and torsion of civil political discourse. It’s not a software bug, it’s a feature.

Closer to home at the Review-Journal (secretly purchased by pro-Trump GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson in 2015), the recliner rebels of its editorial pages rage-quit reality long before Trump enshrined it as a presidential hobby. The newspaper’s political intelligentsia that champions staunch fiscal conservatism and grumpy libertarianism has regularly and reliably auto-tuned its voice to a key of freakish lunacy. Consider former R-J opinion edgelord Vin Suprynowicz, who frequently used his column to rail against public education as “mandatory government youth camps” (title, no joke: “Why We Must Destroy the Government Schools”), deny climate change, perpetuate anti-vax insanity, and lambaste gun control (to him, the wimpy National Rifle Association is a “nest of compromisers”) — all because, you know, Government. (He also published a 2005 novel, The Black Arrow, about a bow-wielding, impossibly handsome lone-wolf vigilante taking on an autocratic globalist regime; think The Punisher meets The Turner Diaries.) The ex-columnist is still around, apparently blogging out of Pahrump. In Suprynowicz’s mind, his dystopian fiction is becoming terrifyingly real; as I write this, he’s peddling a grim persecution fantasia about Jan. 6 being a “false-flag” operation orchestrated by — wait for it — Antifa in order for the “Uniparty” to begin “The Purge.”

He’s got neighborhood competition, though, for the Most Baroque Conspiracy Award. On the Nye County Republican Party website, Chairman Chris Zimmerman posted a letter Jan. 10 spinning out a byzantine, migraine-inducing conspiracy theory about the presidential election — complete with QAnon site links — that staggers comprehension. But the territory we’re in is way beyond comprehension — beyond fact, beyond reason, beyond truth, beyond any basis for hope of mutual understanding. For decades, Nevada has been the snow-globe version of America’s new civil conflict.

Do you ever scroll the news in a flippant, cranky, exhausted mood, maybe skim an article about the latest bombing or massacre in some long-simmering factional war in a region half a world away — say, the Yemeni conflict, or the Somali Civil War, or the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria — some intractable war whose original causes seem lost in the confused murk of history, and you think from your comfy Netflix cocoon of privileged naivete (that peculiar high of American exceptionalism): Geez, can’t they just work it out? I do that sometimes. Now I realize they can’t work it out, because the warring factions have long ceased to even agree on a shared reality. That’s what those wars are. They’re wars over reality itself. I hope this isn’t ours.

(I just noticed I didn’t use the word patriot once.)

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IF AREVIA POWER thought its proposed 850-megawatt Battle Born Solar Project would skate through the regulatory approval process as smoothly as its last one, Gemini, then the Glendale, California-based developer has another thing coming. A feisty group of local opponents has organized opposition to Battle Born claiming it will disrupt their way of life and the local tourism economy. Calling itself Save Our Mesa, the group held a protest in December, and when Desert Companion covered it, we promised to follow up with Arevia’s point of view. Here is the fulfillment of that promise: an interview with Arevia chief development officer and managing partner Ricardo Graf, who addresses many of Save Our Mesa’s concerns — while noting that the forum for really hashing things out will be the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, Review Process, to be overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

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What’s your general reaction to the concerns of the protesters?
I think folks are concerned. ...  So, we wanted to voluntarily get out there and get to know folks and have them voice their concerns. So, we know what their concerns are, and they're going to be addressed during the NEPA review process.

Can you tell me how they're going to be addressed?
So, specifically, one concern was around this concept of a heat island effect — that the project would emit, you know, temperatures or heat from the solar system that would create hotter temperatures in the region, which is unsubstantiated. So, that's one of the concerns that I think is pretty easily addressed.

The other big concern was around the off-road activities out there — if the project would be able to accommodate for them. And the answer is a resounding yes. We are going to plan the project accordingly to help maintain the OHV roads that people are utilizing out there. 

And then there was another concern around access to the project. Right now, what's currently planned is, the project would take access off of the Carp Elgin exit off of Highway 15 and go directly down south to the project. And that would be the main point of access for construction and operations for the facility. So, there won't be any traffic or construction or operations going through the Moapa Valley area. 

So, those are the three main concerns, I think, we heard, and we should be able to address those during the NEPA process and, you know, again, we're just giving them a sneak peek at what we're planning and how we're thinking it before we actually start the formal consultation process with the BLM.

Let me make sure that I've got the numbers right. The lease area you've requested is 24,000 acres for the whole project, but the actual solar panels themselves are 9,180 acres. And that's out of the 55,000-60,000 acre part of the mesa that's southeast of I15. Correct?
The original application filed in 2007 was for 24,000 acres. The study area — the areas that were studied, the technical surveys that were done for NEPA purposes — was about 9,000 acres. Currently what we're planning is about 7,400 acres of solar panels. 

As far as the recreational part goes, you're saying that having the solar project on that portion of the mesa that people use will not affect the trails? I thought it would be, basically, where the trails are.
No. So, first off, the project doesn't take up the entire mesa. It is really just a little bit less than the lower half of the Southern part of the mesa. And, as has been demonstrated with other solar projects, these (solar panels) are fairly modular. So, you can, you know, kind of like Lego blocks, put them together however you'd like. And they can actually be separated. So, by that separation, you can create these gaps in areas where you can maintain roads that are currently out there that are actively being used. So, that's very possible during the planning process to do that.

So, in other words, after the project is completed, the roads that they're currently using would still be there, but they'd be going in between and around sections of solar panels?
I think that's probably what we'd see. Again, we need to go through the NEPA consultation process with the BLM to further address that. 

The overriding concern that I heard from people was, the project being where it is will ruin the area as a recreational destination, which will have a negative impact on tourism. It’s kind of hard for to imagine hiking and riding horses in and around solar panels. It seems like the view and the scenery is part of what people would go there for. So, is there anything that can be done to mitigate that impact?
So, visually, one thing we had expressed during the town board meetings was visual impacts when you're driving up highway 15, you really won't be able to see the project. It's so tucked back into the mesa. So, it is really a smaller slice of the mesa that we're planning this on. And, look, we're looking to maintain the OHV routes so there is no economic hit to any of these folks that have an operation. We're going to be planning that. And, again, these consultations that we had with these folks were voluntary, so that we can figure out what their concerns are, so we can mindfully and carefully plan out things that would allow us to coexist.

Another concern protesters (right) brought up was about fugitive dust and the

health and quality-of-life impacts that might have. Have you addressed that also?
There's usually mitigation for construction dust … Any construction job like this would require construction water. So, the water would stop any kind of dust from flying into the valley if that's a concern. And it's really just during the construction phase. In the operation phase, there's really no dust at all.

And where will the water come from, to abate the dust?
From the region. Again, that's going to be part of the NEPA analysis that we're still considering, seeing where the source should come from. … The BLM will have a position on where we can and can't get water.

Vanette Christensen from the Moapa Valley Chamber of Commerce told me said she was concerned that the jobs created wouldn't go to anyone in the Moapa valley because they're highly specialized union jobs and no one there qualifies for them. Is that the case?
I can't speak for folks that may or may not be qualified for these jobs, but we're calculating, based on the economic analysis that we've done for the project, it will create 1,125 construction jobs and then anywhere between, roughly, 25 and 30 permanent jobs for operating the facility. So, that’s the best way I can answer that question.

I guess the overarching question is, what's the benefit of the project to the people who are protesting?
There are a lot of benefits. Obviously, the renewable energy aspect of this project. It can offset approximately 1.5 million metric tons of Co2 annually. It will generate $285 million of labor income, $530 million in GDP effects to the state, and there's a lot of property sales and use tax and other benefits that go to the region. So, it could be upwards of a $1-billion project. So, those are some of the biggest drivers and benefits to the area.

Is this site in one of the BLM’s recommended solar energy zones?
This is not in a solar energy zone. This would be a grandfathered application. It has certain rights that other applications may not have, by virtue of the fact that it was applied for in 2007. Kind of similar to the Gemini Solar Project that had a similar characteristic in its application.

And, given the community’s objections, why not move it to one of those solar energy zones?
Its proximity to infrastructure is pretty important. The Reid Gardner (Generating) Station, which was retired, has a lot of great electrical infrastructure for a project like this to interconnect to power. We're talking about 10-15 miles of line to go to that substation. It’s fairly short in relation to other places where you can site it and would have to run hundreds of miles of lines. The ideal solar projects make the most sense where the consumers of energy are located; in this case, the Southern Nevada consumers of energy. 

This facility would be generating power for Southern Nevadans? It wouldn't be for export?
No. All the power that's generated would stay within the state of Nevada. 

I want to go back to the 2007 date that you mentioned. Did Arevia do that application?
No, the application was Solar Partners VII. So, that was the entity that applied for the development rights here, for the 24,000 acres that was the original project application area. And that project entity was purchased by Arevia with its financial partner, Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners, in 2017. 

What happens next?
The BLM will basically announce that the project is under review. So, there will be an announcement made. They haven't done that. 

(Editor’s note: Save Our Mesa cofounder Lisa Childs shared a letter from the BLM saying the agency was prioritizing other projects with “lower potential for resource conflicts” and didn’t know when it would get around to Battle Born. Shonna Dooman, field manager for the BLM’s Las Vegas office, added that the agency would hold a public meeting in Moapa Valley to decide whether to “deny the (Battle Born) application or continue processing it.” If the project goes forward, then the NEPA process begins.)

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1. NOW WHAT? We’re one sanity-rattling week past the Capitol insurrection, and each news cycle mimics a bad Jackson Pollock, splashing and smearing in every unpredictable direction. Just when you want to chuckle with grim schadenfreude at the sight of tantrum revolutionaries being arrested, fired, or deplatformed, the FBI warns of potential violence in all 50 state capitals. Oh, and armed militias may be conspiring to encircle the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court, weapons drawn. All as the White House’s Nazgûl continue to deflect accountability. Impeachment! Incitement! Parler tricks! Closer to home, a GOP boss in Pahrump, where guns are people, too, my friend, issues a memo so batshit crazy the guano trade ought to seek an injunction. Not surprisingly, America’s hot-take industrial complex has been making it rain nonstop in order to keep up: reporting, opinion, commentary, analysis, tweet threads, and Substacked speculation. A vast word goop slathers the land. Where to start making big-picture sense of the situation? Here: “ The American Abyss,” by historian Timothy Snyder, an expert on fascism, from next Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. It’s the consensus pick as the tentpole commentary for this scarily fragile moment, the one chilling take to rule them all. “Like historical fascist leaders,” he writes, “Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth.” And this: " Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place.” Essential.

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2. The good news: Beyond our haywire politics, life goes on as usual. The bad news: the stuff that passes for usual. Racism, for example — no longer above the fold but still very much a thing, as made clear in this compelling account of an attempted Karening and its aftermath in Montclair, New Jersey. In some ways a successfully integrated city, Montclair nonetheless found itself roiled last summer when a white woman falsely told police her Black neighbor manhandled her. What sets this piece apart is its long-tail reporting: Sticking with the story, writer Allison P. Davis patiently traces the effects of the incident — not only on the Black family at its center, but on their white neighbors and the city itself — during the months that followed. Also still a problem, indeed, still the biggest problem: climate change. Rolling Stone interviews climate scientist Michael Mann, who talks about the urgent need to address the problem NOW, the deadly obstacles presented by the profit-first fossil-fuels industry, and the uselessness of p essimistic “inactivists” who’ve already given up.

3. Let’s lighten the mood with a short, palate-cleansing funread: a tart takedown of HR departments, courtesy of Air Mail: “There’s nothing human about their function,” writes Duff McDonald, “and the only resources they care about are the ones in corporate coffers” — a sentiment sure to be applauded by anyone who’s had to sit through an utterly pointless workplace-safety video just so management can say they showed it to you. Wonderfully nonessential. ( Fifth Street’s own HR department is, for anyone in the front office reading this, a rare and wonderful exception don’t make us watch another video thanks.)

4. Because of our pious faith in both the miracles of science and the veracity of TV cop shows, we tend to trust the hard truth of “biometric” evidence. You know, fingerprints, DNA — pretty much any bodily phenomenon that can be paired with the word analysis to sound extra-convincingly sciencey. It’s persuasive stuff ... perhaps more than it should be? Because, as investigative journalist Annie Jacobsen argues in this New York Times essay, the seemingly objective truth of such evidence can be easily corrupted by simple human fallibility. Using Trump’s controversial 2019 pardon of war criminal Clint Lorance as her starting point, Jacobsen traces remarkably basic errors in the “evidence” that bigly impressed the president.

5. On the podcast No Country you won’t find the sort of heavily reported narrative storytelling you do on more acclaimed pods. It’s not just a matter of resources, either — I suspect hosts J. David Osborne and Kris Saknussemm (a Las Vegas novelist perhaps familiar to Desert Companion readers) would find that rigorous format completely at odds with their exploratory intent. In a series of sometimes meandering, open-ended conversations, the two pursue offbeat ideas — morphic resonance, metaphysics, the function of art, and dozens of others — back and forth across the boundaries of art, science, philosophy, and other areas of knowledge. Smart, curious, intimate, skeptical, funny, No Country is worth a visit. Don’t worry, the coup will be here when you get back. Scott Dickensheets


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Photos and art: Trump protesters at the Clark County Election Department in North Las Vegas Nov. 14 by AP Photo/John Locher; Sharron Angle: Wikimedia Commons/American Solutions; Cliven Bundy: Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore; Graf courtesy of Ricardo Graf; Moapa protesters by Heidi Kyser

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