The lengths to which some people will go to avoid taking personal responsibility surprises me. Take, for example, steward of Alaska's great outdoors, the rocker/gun rights activist/reality star Ted Nugent.
Last week, he struck a humble tone before a federal judge as he pleaded guilty to illegally shooting and transporting a black bear in Southeast Alaska three years ago.
He said he'd just been ignorant about a game law in the area. He'd been with his son on Sukkwan Island hunting baited bears. He shot an arrow at a bear and wounded it, but it scampered off. The extent of its injuries is unclear. Nugent's attorney, Wayne Anthony Ross, said it bled some. Nobody knows if it died.
If a hunter wounds a bear where Nugent was hunting--a rugged, mountainous region of Southeast-- the rule is that you don't get to shoot another one. You can find this rule highlighted in yellow at the bottom of page 25 of the hunting regulation book. You can also find it online. But Nugent, by his own admission, never saw this rule. Which is why he said he shot a second bear. And then shared the whole experience with the audience of his Outdoor Channel show, "Spirit of the Wild."
In court he said he'd made a mistake. It was his job to know the law, respect the law and conduct himself the way his father raised him to. He would "never knowingly break any game laws," he said.
"I'm afraid I was blindsided by this," he told the judge. "I sincerely apologize for it."
The Nuge could have left it at that. But this past week he put out a statement blasting "idiotic laws," and called Glenn Becks national radio/television program , where he struck a tone far different than he did in the courtroom.
Sure, he messed up in Alaska, he admitted to Beck's sympathetic ear. But the law was "goofy." The criminal charges didn't come because he broke the law and broadcast it to tens of thousands of people, they came because he was the target of a government conspiracy. The president was out to get him.
"They gave me the ultimatum the day after I endorsed Mitt Romney," he told Beck.
A few pieces of background to note: This is Nugent's second hunting violation. The other one, for using a chemical scent to attract a deer, occurred in California in 2009. Nugent also got attention recently from the Secret Service after telling an NRA crowd, "We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November," adding, "If Barack Obama becomes the next president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year."
I don't know how you see all that, but Nugent saw the hunting violations and his conversation with the Secret Service as a message from the U.S. government. The State of Alaska, Nugent told Beck, didn't want to charge him with the game violation but the feds did. Wasn't that suspicious? Especially because nobody had been charged under the law before. (Had anyone broadcast themselves breaking the law before? That point didn't come up.)
The judge in his case told him he wasn't familiar with the law, Nugent said.
"We can't find anybody who ever heard of this new unprecedented law!"
Nugent gave examples of other game regulations he found "indescribably bizarre and illogical." Beck did his part, driving the conspiracy train of thought so they could both jump aboard.
"I've been reading a lot of stuff from the Communist Manifesto and, uh, uh early communism because you're dealing with a lot of Marxists, uh, in this government now," Beck said.
This was just like communists, to target the rebels, he went on. Nugent was targeted and put through the wringer, Beck said, like so many of Beck's friends. That was the plot, to go after people in red states. To bully them! Interrogate them! Seize and destroy their property!
Oh, the drama! Anyway, you get the picture.
After watching the clip of Beck's show, I called the federal prosecutor in the case, Jack Schmidt, to ask if he was part of an anti-Nugent federal conspiracy. The idea cracked him up.
"For him to say that it has anything to do with politics is ridiculous," he said.
Somebody who knew the hunting regs watched Nugent's show and alerted the authorities, he said. They investigated. The complaint had merit so they brought the charge.
"The fact his violation occurred on TV, that definitely led to this investigation," Schmidt said.
Nugent was charged in federal court because the federal government did the investigation and the violation occurred on federal land, he said.
"As Nugent says there is no bag limit on happiness, but, obviously, there is a bag limit on bears in Alaska," he said.
I asked Neil Barten, Fish and Game's wildlife management coordinator in Southeast, if it was true that nobody knows about the regulation that Nugent violated.
"All of our hunting guides are very well aware of it because they wanted it in the first place," Barten said.
The regulation came about in 2004 at the request of guides, Barten said. A bear can be seriously wounded without bleeding too much. For that reason, and because of the terrain, it can be hard to track. Guides felt it wasn't ethical to wound one bear without knowing whether it had been killed and then to shoot and kill a second one, he said. Every year, Fish and Game gets reports from hunters who say they have wounded a bear. Apparently, the rule isn't as obscure as Nugent would have you believe.
Think what you want about presidential politics, gun rights and hunting regulations. All of that is beside the point. In this case, we're just dealing with a famous symbol of manliness, with his sleeveless camo and sniper rifles, who can't be man enough to say he's sorry when he's wrong and move on.