Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy & Supporters Claim Victory as US Government Returns Seized Cattle
The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced Saturday that federal agents would end a month-long operation to seize 900 cattle from a rancher grazing them on government-owned land north of Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Las Vegas Sun reports the BLM announced its decision as hundreds of armed supporters of 68-year-old rancher Cliven Bundy, including militia and Tea Party members, converged on Bunkerville, Nevada, to confront federal agents and demand they release the 400 head of cattle seized from Bundy and herded into corrals. Armed government agents used helicopters, vehicles and temporary corrals to carry out the operation.
The BLM issued a statement confirming they had released all 400 cattle, citing “escalating tensions.”
“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” BLM director Neil Kornze said in a statement.
“We ask that all parties in the area remain peaceful and law-abiding as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service work to end the operation in an orderly manner,” Kornze added.
Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, who helped mediate the agreement between the Bundy family and the BLM, said he “cannot interfere with the federal government when it is operating on federal land.”
“And because this is BLM property, it is their jurisdiction,” Gillespie said in a statement. “But when a group of protesters threaten civil unrest or violence in this county, it is my job to step in and ensure the safety of citizens.”
According to authorities, business owners in Mesquite, 84 miles (135 km) northeast of Las Vegas, had received threats related to the standoff.
Earlier this week, Bundy supporters and BLM agents found themselves in a tense showdown in which the rancher’s brother, Ammon Bundy, was shot multiple times with a police stun gun and arrested, and his 57-year-old sister was knocked to the ground.
“One of the BLM officers grabbed me from behind and just threw me down,” the woman, Margaret Houston, told the St. George Spectrum. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Other peaceful protesters were also roughed up and arrested during the standoff.
Bundy had threatened a “range war” with the government, who he called “cattle thieves.”
The dispute between Bundy and the federal government began in 1993 when the rancher stopped paying a monthly $1.35 per cow-calf pair to graze on publicly owned land. According to the government, Bundy ignored the cancellation of his grazing leases and court orders to remove his cattle. The BLM says the family owes more than $1 million in unpaid fees.
The Bundys counter their water and livestock rights to use public lands were recognized by the state of Nevada since before the federal government assumed land management control in the 1940s.
The area is also the habitat of the endangered Mojave tortoise, whose survival is threatened by human encroachment in the form of military exercises, dune buggies, grazing livestock and now, solar farms. Since the 1950s, the tortoise’s population has declined by about 90 percent. Critics allege the Obama administration has chosen electricity generated by solar power over wildlife conservation.
The dispute between the Bundys and the federal government has been a lightning rod for states rights and liberty advocates, who have flocked to Nevada from as far afield as California, Montana, Florida, Utah, Texas and New Hampshire to stand with the Bundys and voice their outrage with Washington.
United under the umbrella group Operation Mutual Aid, various militia members and other supporters say they are rallying to protect the Bundys from government overreach.
“We need to be the barrier between the oppressed and the tyrants,” Ryan Payne, a member of the West Mountain Rangers who drove 12 hours from Montana, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Many have expressed alarm over what they call the heavy-handed government response to the dispute. Comparisons are being made between the current standoff and the deadly government operations at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 and at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas the following year. In both tragedies, government agents were accused of acting aggressively and escalating violence.
“If you saw the artillery and their presence, the intimidation they are trying to put on us, it could turn into that (Ruby Ridge),” Carol Bundy, Cliven’s wife and mother of the couple’s 14 children, told the Huffington Post.
Neavda’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, condemned the federal operation.
“No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans,” Sandoval told Fox News.
There have also been exaggerations and lies from pro-Bundy voices, including the claim that government agents blocked cell phone service in the area. Many reporters were seen using their cell phones in the area.
Some progressive observers have blamed Bundy for the escalation. The popular left-wing blog Daily Kos even called the rancher a “far-right domestic terrorist lawbreaker.”
“Bundy’s cattle have for decades been metabolizing publicly owned plant matter into edible flesh, which Mr. Bundy has sold to enrich himself and his clan,” wrote Wonkette’s Alex Ruthrauff.
The Nevada Progressive summed up what many wildlife conservationists and progressives have expressed:
It’s unfair to all the rest of us to allow one rancher to let his cattle trample upon the habitat of an endangered species. It’s especially unfair to let that rancher let his cattle run rampant and ruin land that belongs to all of us. And it’s particularly unfair to let this one rancher let his cattle run rampant when he’s refused to pay the fee that all area ranchers must pay to use public land…
A rancher is willfully violating the law and encouraging armed rebellion against the federal government because he doesn’t like the law. And meanwhile, the land itself and the original inhabitants of this land are reeling because we’ve allowed the land to be mistreated by the likes of Bundy.
Back in Bunkerville, the Bundys were celebrating their victory.
“This is what we prayed for,” sister Margaret Houston told Reuters. “We are so proud of the American people for being here with us and standing with us.”
“We won the battle,” said Ammon Bundy. “We are the people. This is America. And the whole world can do this, and it can be done peacefully. We proved that today,” he told KVVU.
But there were others who said the government’s surrender in the face of popular right-wing resistance could embolden militias and other anti-government forces in future crises.
“The sovereign militias are ruling the day,” Rob Mrowka, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Reuters. “Now that this precedent has been set and they’re emboldened by the government’s capitulation, what’s to stop them from applying the same tactics and threats elsewhere?”
“The [BLM] is going to be in a worse situation where they will have a much more difficult time getting those cattle off the land and getting Bundy in compliance with regulations,” retired BLM district manager Roger Taylor told Reuters.
But the BLM says it is not giving up, just strategically retreating in the name of public safety.
“The BLM will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially,” Kornze said in his statement.
Tagged Ammon Bundy, BLM, Bundy ranch, Bundy ranch standoff, Bunkerville, Bureau of Land Management, Carol Bundy, Cliven Bundy, Douglas Gillespie, Margaret Houston, militia movement, Mojave tortoise, Neil Kornze, Nevada range war, Nevada solar farms, Operation Mutual Aid, Ruby Ridge, state's rights, Tea Party, Waco siege