Are the feds culturally tone deaf in the desert West?

Back in July, I wrote here about relic hunter Norman Sparks: “another Cliven Bundy?”

The LA Times has just published online another story of feds behaving very badly—much worse than the “bad” guys and gals they were essentially entrapping in violations of antiquities laws: “A Sting in the Desert” is a gripping story of federal government overreach to tragic ends.

desert sting

The images of Moon House in Cedar Mesa near Blanding, Utah, accompanying the story are stunning: [wpvideo gRzbJxc8]

 This story is based on more than 200 interviews with members of a federal task force, defendants and their families, archaeologists, artifact collectors, appraisers and Native American leaders. Joe Mozingo reviewed FBI investigative files, court records, historical documents, police reports and the personal papers of Dr. James Redd and informant Ted Gardiner. He obtained and monitored more than 100 hours of FBI undercover video. Seven former and current federal officials requested anonymity before discussing the case. The U.S. attorney and the FBI in Utah declined to answer questions.

This is a good example of what online digital journalism can be—Pulitzer-quality stuff. The story includes snippets of undercover, button-camera video worn by the informant, a truly despicable character whom the feds get to shake down his friends. Mozingo could turn this into a Hillermanesque Indian Country mystery. It’d also make a great pilot for a TV series. The Cliven Bundys, Norm Sparks, Randy Weavers of the West and the federal agents who mishandled their cases—a tragicomic docudrama series.

A side issue: How can the LA Times afford to give this kind of stuff away to non-paying subscribers like me—and you, if you read it? I must admit there were a few annoying ads that popped up while I was reading the story, which I was somehow able to disable. Joe Mozingo spend a lot of time on this excellent piece.