(NOTE: a condensed version of this report appears in the Autumn, 2014 issue of “Range” magazine, on newsstands now.)
After years of bluff, bluster, and one-sided hearings in the federal courts (whose politically appointed judges never answer any of the ranchers’ questions about the limits of federal jurisdiction) the federal Bureau of Land Management this April sent hundreds of armed men, including SWAT teams and snipers dug in along the ridge lines, to barricade roads and attempt to seal off hundreds of thousands of acres south of Mesquite, Nevada — about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas — in order to confront a single, 67-year-old rancher, Cliven Bundy.
Their goal, depending on who you ask, was to a) round up Bundy’s 600 head of cattle and remove them from land to which he has the undisputed grazing right and which his family has been grazing for more than a century, or else to b) lure him into an armed response to men bulldozing his water lines, torching his water tanks, and shooting his bulls, so that they could jail or kill him, to serve as an example to other ranchers elsewhere in the West who might be tempted to similarly resist the bankruptcy which looms for all as the BLM continues to annually reduce the number of cattle they’re allowed to graze.
Either way, they failed. One reason? The government can no longer control people’s access to the real news — a big change from the days when all they needed to do was make sure the evening newscasters on three or four major networks kept repeating the boilerplate sound bite that this was all about “a trespassing rancher who refused to pay a million dollars in grazing fees.”
As public outrage at the government’s absurdly heavy-handed tactics swelled, a thousand patriots, some armed, individually or in small groups found their way to the scene to support a single besieged old rancher and his family, and inquiries about the role in all this of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, his friends and backers the Red Chinese, and his lined-up-at-the-feed-trough offspring, went viral in ways the Reid team (including BLM Boss Neil Kornze, who worked as a “policy advisor” for Sen. Reid from 2003 to 2011) must have found extremely disturbing.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie is a local politician who up till then had done nothing but step aside and let the BLM invaders have their way — who never did try to disarm federal agents with no police authority who were committing the crime of “assault” left and right. Even at the end, Sheriff Gillespie kept trying to “meet with the Bundy family in private.”
Instead, rancher Bundy insisted Gillespie say what he had to say in front of the crowd on a makeshift stage on the banks of the Virgin River. There, on Saturday morning April 12, Sheriff Gillespie announced the BLM had agreed to turn tail and withdraw. Hours later, around 3 p.m., a crowd of about 150 Bundy supporters advanced on a corral where the BLM had penned up nearly 400 head of Bundy’s cattle (the ones the BLM and their contract cowboys hadn’t shot and buried in a secret grave), and succeeded in getting them set free.
This is huge. The BLM was not stymied by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who did nothing but write a letter ridiculing the “Free Speech Zones.” They were not forced to back off by the local Clark County sheriff and his thousands of Las Vegas-based police, who stayed home and told local residents of the towns of Mesquite and Bunkerville they were on their own. No, what stunned the BLM was to find themselves facing a thousand everyday Americans who showed up from all across the West -– many bearing semi-automatic rifles. And this militia drove off the Washington-based invaders without firing a shot, simply by standing firm with an old rancher.
After a week in which they arrested one of Bundy’s kids for having the nerve to take videos of their behavior (they called it “refusing to disperse,” though how a single person can “disperse” remains unclear), tased a pregnant woman and a few other non-violent citizens, and opened themselves to widespread ridicule by erecting remote, fenced off “First Amendment zones” into which they hoped to herd any protesters, the BLM goons tucked their tails between their legs and withdrew, prompting Harry Reid, easily the nation’s most unpopular sitting senator among his own rural constituents, to start hopping up and down like a frustrated Rumplestiltskin, cackling that Bundy’s non-violent supporters were “violent domestic terrorists” and vowing “It’s not over.”
Oddly, these “violent domestic terrorists” had not opened fire on anyone; they do not stand accused of having poisoned any reservoirs, blown up any buildings, hijacked any airliners, stolen any quarters from blind newsboys, or even jaywalking. The BLM, on the other hand, was backed up by helmeted men who aimed their M-16s with full cheek-welds at law-abiding civilians, men dressed in full combat gear which military veterans at the scene describe as “Homeland Security combat troops.” Veterans who were there on April 12 say “If one person on either side had popped off a round, there would have been a massacre.”
And all this over less than $300,000 in grazing fees. The BLM charges $1.35 per Animal Unit Month, which would add up to either $195,000 or $290,000 over 20 years, depending on whether you use Bundy’s estimate of 600 head or the BLM ‘s highest count to date, which was 900. But such fees, of course, have to be based on voluntary “range-management” contracts. And Bundy stopped signing the contracts in 1993 because, if he’d signed, he would have been required to pull his cattle off the range every spring, which would have put him out of business, in which case he couldn’t have paid any fees, anyway.
On the bright side, Nevada’s sane senator, Dean Heller, went on TV to debate Harry Reid, and replied that he sees the courageous Americans who stood up to the BLM bully boys as “patriots, not terrorists.”
NO ONE WOULD BUY THE CATTLE, SHIP THE CATTLE, FEED THE CATTLE
At the Bundy Ranch 12 days later, Cliven’s wife, Carol Bundy, told me the blustering Sen. Reid resembles “a little boy who’s had his lollipop taken away.” She also told me she and Cliven were not in the gully by the I-15 overpass on that Saturday afternoon when the gate was opened to release the cattle, and that was on purpose.
“Cliven said ‘If I open the gate then it’s just “Cliven released the cattle,” but if we’re not there then it’ll be “We The People” who released those cattle.’
“The BLM said they wanted two more hours, they’d release the cattle in two hours,” Carol said, “but they (the Bundy supporters) said, ‘Why two hours? If you’re going to release ‘em why not do it now?’
“The BLM were waiting for reinforcements that were coming from Las Vegas, they had reinforcements on the way and also buses they were going to use to arrest those people and haul ‘em away to jail,” Mrs. Bundy continued. “But they couldn’t get through ‘cause the highway was blocked off. Some of the (Bundy supporters) just parked their trucks on the highway and took the keys with ‘em so it was blocked, it wasn’t moving, and the reinforcements couldn’t get here.”
(Nevada State Highway Patrol Trooper Loy Hixson told Fox5 television news it was police who closed the highway, since “many of the protesters were armed, and that posed a threat to passing traffic.” Why the armed BLM agents and Homeland Security combat troops -– who actually threatened to fire -– weren’t named among those who posed a “threat to passing traffic” was not clear.)
That highway shutdown must have created some pretty irate motorists, I figured.
“No, they knew what was going on here, most of ’em, so actually they were saying, ‘Wow, we get to be a part of this?’” said Carol Bundy. “My nephew was there, he looked at his brother-in-law, he said his eyes were as big as this, but he pulled his hat down on his head and said, ‘This is a good day to die.’ So they took a step forward (toward the holding pen). He said that first step was the hardest one, facing all those guns. And then they took a second step, and each step got easier until they got to the pen and they let those cattle go.”
A letter from the Governor of Utah, warning the BLM not to bring any of their rustled cattle into his state for sale, may have contributed to the federal agency withdrawing without even hauling away their surviving rustled stock, leaving them nothing to show for their trouble. Cattle from this remote corner of southeast Nevada are usually sold in Utah. Thus, Gov. Gary Herbert’s letter reportedly left BLM officials desperately phoning auction yards as far away as California, trying to find a buyer.
Cliven Bundy says Gov. Gary Herbert had no choice: “We put him on notice those were rustled cattle: It would have been illegal for them to sell our branded cattle in Utah without our permission.”
Former Las Vegas Review-Journal editor Tom Mitchell reports on his 4thST8 blog the BLM could find no rancher or trucker in four states to haul their cattle, buy their cattle, or even sell them a bale of hay — civil disobedience on a massive and highly effective scale.
At www.pahvantpost.com/?p=1018, the Pahvant Post confirms: “After the State of Utah had insisted that the impounded cattle not enter the State of Utah to be sold, the BLM began frantically searching for another place and a plan to dispose of the cattle, including going to California, if necessary. Ultimately, however, according to our inside sources . . . the Nevada State Brand Department advised the BLM that it would not provide the BLM with brand inspections, in accordance with applicable state law, transferring ownership of the cattle to the BLM, or authorizing the BLM to transport the cattle anywhere, Consequently, although the BLM was spending close to five million dollars to gather the cattle, and was holding them on BLM land, it could not legally move or do anything else with the cattle.”
It was certainly heart-warming to see the BLM goons and their accompanying “Homeland Security” combat forces back down — after leveling their M-16s and threatening to shoot into a crowd full of women and children — that Saturday afternoon.
It was equally heart-warming to see state lawmakers from around the West gather in Utah the following week. The meeting to discuss state initiatives to re-gain control of the majority of lands in the Western states had already been scheduled, but participants put the failed Bundy attack center stage on their agenda.
It was less heart-warming on Easter weekend, when the Bundy family posted photos of the half-dozen cattle killed and buried in a 30-by-50-foot pit by these federal “law enforcers,” who also dug up the ranchers’ water lines with bulldozers, sawed off water lines where they emerge from the wellheads, tried to destroy the headhouse for the spring, and even used torches in an attempt to cut up and haul away a 12,000-gallon water tank belonging to Bundy — all important to the survival not just of the Bundy’s cattle but to a lot of the desert area’s wildlife, including deer and desert sheep.
The burial pit “was a mass grave,” Cliven said. “Let me tell you something, if they hadn’t backed off they would have had mass human bodies.”
“We found several places where their trucks have caved in tortoise dens,” son Ryan Bundy added. “Talk about hypocrisy.”
Two valuable bulls had been killed by being shot, though Bundy’s sons say the bulls were not aggressive; they’d turn and walk away if given the chance. One even appears to have shot after it was penned –- shot so many times the Bundys characterized it as a “thrill killing.”
Why? Couldn’t the bulls -– worth thousands of dollars apiece — have been sold to cover some of Bundy’s “delinquent fees”? (Cliven Bundy figures they “just wanted to take the easy ones, so they killed the rest.”) And why attempt to ruin the water infrastructure that helps support both cattle and the native wildlife on that desert range? If you were evicting a non-paying tenant -– and that’s the way the BLM was at pains to characterize their invasion — would you also seek to demolish the very house you hoped to rent out to a “better” tenant once he’s out? Or was there some other agenda here -– like making this vast tract of desert land permanently uninhabitable by and inaccessible to any member of the human race?
I’ve never heard any member of the Bundy family refer to United Nations Agenda 21, which calls for sweeping most of the earth’s surface free of human life. But the BLM’s actions sure bring the insane, human-hating proposal to MY mind.
And why schedule the destructive roundup for spring, when both baby cows and baby tortoises are on the range?
(The day I visited the ranch, the Bundys had just found a spring calf that had been stranded in the desert for two weeks without its mother, after the panicked animals were driven long distances by swooping helicopters. The Bundys were giving the calf water as it lay in the shade in their front yard, and by the end of the day the little critter could at least raise its head . . . but it died the next day. Cliven Bundy later estimated his losses from the raid at $100,000, plus at least 50 head.
Now, months later, even those who objected to the heavy-handed tactics of the Washington bureaucrats still seem reluctant to challenge the underlying sound bite: that Cliven Bundy owes a million dollars in fees for grazing cattle on federally owned land without proper permits.
Let’s see if we can tackle the questions in some kind of approximate order:
Does the federal government own this land? How are the other 51 families who 60 years ago were grazing cattle on the arid desert allotments of Clark County making out? After all, the BLM was established in 1946 to “promote productive use of the land,” including grazing, mining, and lumbering. Are those other 51 ranching families able to make a reasonable living while “paying their grazing fees” under their BLM “range management contracts”?
What is the role of “protecting the threatened Mojave desert tortoise” in all this? If Bundy is removed and the huge Gold Butte area is blocked off to human access and turned into a “wilderness,” would that financially benefit residents of local towns including Mesquite and Bunkerville? Would it even help the tortoises? And what about the Harry Reid connection? In how many ways are the fingerprints of the senator who mobsters from Cleveland and Las Vegas have long called “Mister Cleanface” all over this mess?
Let’s see if we can sort some of this out.
NEXT TIME: DOES THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OWN THE LAND?
(END PART ONE OF SIX, “Driving the Ranchers off the Land.”)
FOR PART TWO click HERE.
NOTE: Newsstand distribution of “Range” can be quirky, through no fault of the publishers. But anyone can call 1-800-RANGE-4-U and ask for a sample copy (or pay $5 to have the current issue mailed.)