April 19, 2014

Right or wrong, controversy surrounding Cliven Bundy continues

Cliven Bundy during a press conference, Bunkerville, Nev., April 14, 2014 (Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News)

Written by Mori Kessler
St. George News

ST. GEORGE – It has been a week since the standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and the supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Since then the 67-year-old rancher has been hailed as a hero and a villain. During this last week, Cliven Bundy has called for the disarmament of “federal bureaucracies” by county sheriffs; detractors have decried the supposed use of human shields during the standoff; dead cattle and destroyed infrastructure have been found on the ranch; and one of the nation’s most powerful Democrats has labeled Bundy supporters “domestic terrorists.”

There remain two very different opinions over what lies at the heart of the ongoing conflict between the BLM and Cliven Bundy.

  • The BLM maintains the rancher has illegally grazed his cattle on public land for 20 years and owes $1 million in grazing and trespass fees. To them, the rancher stands in violation of two federal court orders and continues to engage in illegal activity on public lands. The BLM began to round up Bundy’s cattle on April 5, but ultimately ended operations due to “grave concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.”
  • Cliven Bundy has declared that the federal government has no authority to own lands within a state according to the Constitution, and thus chooses to not recognize the federal authority. Cliven Bundy and his supporters see this as a states’ rights issue and example of government overreach and overreaction. For them, the issue is much bigger than unpaid fees and cows.

So who owns the land?

According to two federal district court orders, the federal government owns the land. The BLM itself manages the land as an arm of the Department of the Interior.

In both court orders, the first from 1998 and the second from 2013, the court ruled that the federal government has jurisdiction over the land.

Despite using arguments of state sovereignty, the court declared Bundy’s claims to be “without merit,” and that “suggestions to the contrary are entirely unavailing.”

For their part, the Bundys have never claimed to own land beyond their 150-acre ranch in Bunkerville, Nev. However, they claim grazing and water rights to the land predate those of the BLM, said Ammon Bundy, a son of Cliven Bundy and family spokesman. As such, those claims should be honored, the Bundy family has said.

The Bundys argue the public land is state-owned – period. As for the federal government, Cliven Bundy refuses to recognize it in this capacity.

In the end, as much as states’ rights advocates argue otherwise, the federal government retains control of the public lands in the West. However, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon are pursuing measures promoting the transfer of public lands over to state control.

The majority of the land overseen by the BLM is in the West. Nevada is over 80 percent public land, or, as argued by the BLM – over 80 percent of Nevada is owned by the federal government.

Human shield controversy

It has been widely reported that Richard Mack, a supporter of the Bundys and a former Arizona sheriff, told Fox News that a strategy had been put in place to set women on the front lines during the standoff, according to The Blaze.

“If they are going to start shooting,” Mack said, “it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers.”

Mack is the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officer’s Association, and arrived in Nevada to support the Bundys, albeit after the standoff took place, Ammon Bundy said.

“Sheriff Mack wasn’t even there,” Ammon Bundy said. “There was no strategy.”

He said the women were there because they chose to be there.

One of those woman was Lilley Bundy-Spencer, one of Cliven Bundy’s sisters.

“There were some tense moments that could have turned to tragedy, but didn’t,” Lilley Bundy-Spencer said.

“We do have tough women in our family and community,” Ammon Bundy said.

As for how the media is characterizing Mack’s words, Ammon Bundy said: “You can spin it how you want.”

Damaged infrastructure and dead cattle

In a press conference Monday, Ammon Bundy said a dead bull had been found on the range and some dead animals – two calves, 3-4 months old – were also found in the corrals where the BLM had been keeping the cattle before being forced to release them. There was also a corral full of injured animals, he said.

The Bundys have since found another dead bull and a grave where at least one cow was found buried. There was fresh dirt around the area where a cow’s leg was found sticking out of the ground, Ammon Bundy said.

Craig Leff, a BLM spokesman, said in an email: “Two bulls were euthanized, both of which posed a safety hazard. The gather and holding had been conducted according to best practices for gathering cattle.”

As for infrastructure, Ammon Bundy said a watering station has been destroyed. Fences and corrals were also reportedly damaged, as were water lines.

“As part of the operation,” Leff said, “the BLM was completing range improvements to remove structures illegally placed on public lands that damaged the land and water.”

As for any possible damage the roundup could have done to desert tortoise habitat, Leff said: “The BLM completed an environmental assessment prior to the operation that included measures to minimize the impact of the operation on desert tortoise and desert tortoise habitat.”

Manipulated by fringe elements?

In the wake of the April 9 viral video that showed an altercation between the BLM and Bundys, people from across the West and across the nation poured into the Bundy Ranch to show their support. Among those supporters were armed individuals and militia men who began to act as security and body guards for the Bundys.

Following the standoff between the BLM and the Bundys and their supporters, commentator Glenn Beck said on his program that Cliven Bundy’s cause – that public lands should belong to the states and not the federal government – was attracting a fringe element.

“They don’t care what the facts are, they just want a fight,” Beck said, according to TheBlaze.

“You’re always going to attract those kind of people,” Ammon Bundy said. “The BLM attracts them too – people attracted to power and authority.”

Asked whether or not he felt his father and his message were possibly being manipulated by outsiders that poured in with the militia, Ammon Bundy said “no”.

“No, not one bit,” he said. “Believe me, if the BLM can’t do it, no one can, and the BLM is all about manipulation.”

The people here love freedom and are worried about it, Ammon Bundy said. He also had something to say about the negative view popular media had toward the militia.

“Militia is not a bad word,” he said. “It’s a right in the Constitution. They are the people’s army that are called upon when the government fails.”

“Domestic terrorists” and Patriot Party

“Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They’re nothing more than domestic terrorists,” Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told the Las Vegas Review Journal Thursday during a press event.

Reid said he has spoken to Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and the FBI and Department of the Interior about the Cliven Bundy situation.

“It is an issue that we cannot let go, just walk away from,” Reid said.

Cliven Bundy and his supporters are taking the label in stride. The Bundys held a “Patriot Party” at their ranch Friday in honor of the people who supported them during the conflict with the BLM.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal was also at the Patriot Party, and reported Cliven Bundy being on stage and asking the crowd if they were domestic terrorists. The crowd responded with cheers and applause. Many of them wore name tags with “domestic terrorists” written on them.

Live music was provided by Madison Rising and Ron Keel, and while people gathered and celebrated, militia men continued to stand guard around the ranch.

The fight between Cliven Bundy and the federal government is far from over. The BLM has vowed to continue the fight “administratively and judicially.”

“Here’s a citizen defying them,” Ammon Bundy said. “Civilian disobedience. They can’t have that.”

He also said his father has had a number of lawyers approach him who are offering to look into his case for free. Having been to the federal level twice, however, some, including Reid, have said Cliven Bundy has exhausted his options in court.

Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said during the Washington County Republican Convention that Bundy’s dispute with the BLM has brought the issue of public lands to the forefront.

Gardner, like many commissioners across Utah, support having ownership and control of public land transferred from the federal government to the states. While other western states are exploring the possibility, Utah passed legislation to this affect in 2012.