I think about the Federal Bureau of Land Management about as often as I contemplate the accomplishments of the Millard Filmore administration.
Yet, just as Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time for just about everything under the sun, and it’s time to think about the Bureau of Land Management. It is such a minor blip on the popular culture radar screen that even its initials, BLM, stand for something else in the public imagination these days.
So why should we concern ourselves with a congressional hearing regarding the nomination to lead a bureau of the federal government that nobody thinks about once, let alone twice? It matters because all nominees for these jobs reflect the values and objectives of the administration they will serve.
It certainly matters when the nominee is a person like Tracy Stone-Manning, who, at this moment in time, is but a few congressional votes short of overseeing almost a quarter-billion acres in the United States.
This nomination has had its controversy. There was an issue with the nominee when she was a graduate student and belonged to the environmental activist organization Earth First. Earth First people had a reputation of placing metal spikes in trees where they posed lethal consequences to loggers.
Stone-Manning insists the profanity-laced letter she wrote to the logging industry was a warning. Others suggested that the letter sounded more like a threat. We cannot know the facts one way or the other. We do know that Stone-Manning was given immunity from prosecution during the incident and, after her testimony, two Earth First tree-spikers went to jail.
I would never want to be nominated dog catcher if it meant having to testify before Congress and have every facet of every youthful indiscretion pried open for all to see. Just another reason to thank Jesus and the Church for the gift of the dark and confidential confession space.
Stone-Manning told Congress she never intended to cause harm. I will take her at her clarification. But the digging into her past has unearthed another piece of personal archaeology, and one she seems to have no interest to disavow.
I can think of a lot of things I said and did when I was in my 20s that make me cringe today. That is part of the wisdom thing. But what if someone says or writes something unwise or foolish long ago but continues to defend it?
Stone-Manning’s graduate thesis was titled “Into the Heart of the Beast/A Case for Environmental Advertising.” Her premise was how the environmental movement could use Madison Avenue advertising techniques to further their cause. On the surface, it sounds like a unique and intuitive concept.
But when you scratch the surface, you find something else. Her thesis included mock-ups of imaginary advertising she envisioned could be utilized to sway public opinion just the way Coke sways people away from Pepsi. There are several examples of this new kind of imagined advertising in Stone-Manning’s thesis that she hoped would help every species under the sun prosper and live in peace and harmony: every species except one.
It’s an ad one might expect to find storyboarded up in a Madison Avenue high rise office where slick ad men — and ad women — pitch a client how best to sell diapers and baby wipes. There’s a cute curly-headed toddler in the ad. Underneath the image is copy, though, that claims that the baby with the cherubic visage is a monster in disguise — a biohazard of the first order.
This population-control ad is 20-something Stone-Manning as an idealistic defender of the earth. Now, the middle-aged Stone-Manning testified before Congress, taking great pains to distance herself from the radical and violent environmentalist movement of her past. Yet she has made no similar attempt to part ways with her younger point of view regarding population control and neo-paganism that enshrines deity status to a rock hurtling through space. Population control may not be eugenics, but it is certainly eugenics-adjacent.
Being Catholic in a secular world has always meant dealing with people who do not believe everything you believe. Still, common ground was plentiful. If this person who sees a threat every time she sees a child is the next secretary of the Bureau of Land Management, that ground is shifting right where it stands.