The Bundy standoff is a 20-year legal dispute between the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and cattle rancher Cliven Bundy in southeastern Nevada over unpaid grazing fees that eventually developed into an armed confrontation between protesters and law enforcement. The ongoing dispute began in 1993, when in protest against changes to grazing rules, Bundy declined to renew his permit for cattle grazing on BLM-administered lands near Bunkerville, Nevada. A trespass cattle roundup commenced on April 5, an arrest was made on April 6. On April 12, a group of protesters, some of whom were armed advanced on what the BLM described as a "cattle gather." Sheriff Doug Gillespie negotiated with Cliven Bundy and newly confirmed BLM director, Neil Kornze, who elected to release the cattle and de-escalate the situation.
After making remarks discussing whether black people would be better off as slaves than under government subsidies, Bundy was widely condemned in the media, and was repudiated by Republican politicians and talk-show hosts that had previously supported him, many of whom forcefully condemned his remarks as racist. Federal rangelands in Nevada have been since 1934 managed principally by either the Bureau of Land Management, its predecessor the United States Grazing Service, or the United States Forest Service. Currently, 56,961,778 acres of land in Nevada are managed by the BLM. Over 18,000 grazing permits and leases are known to exist on BLM managed public lands. Season of use and forage use are stipulated on the permits and leases; grazing control can be targeted.
Under BLM permits first issued in 1954, Bundy grazed his cattle legally and paid his grazing fees on an area of public land surrounding Bunkerville called the Gold Butte area in Clark County until 1993. But when grazing rules were changed reducing his allowed number of cattle to 150, a number that he claimed would put him out of business, he protested the decision by declining to renew his grazing permits due February 28, 1993. Bundy has since accumulated more than $1 million of unpaid grazing fees and court-ordered fines.
Bundy does not recognize and will not submit to federal police power over land that he believes belongs to the sovereign state of Nevada. He said "I abide by all Nevada state laws. But I don't recognize the United States government as even existing." Bundy also denies the jurisdiction of the federal court system over Nevada land, and filed an unsuccessful motion to dismiss the BLM legal case by claiming the federal courts have no jurisdiction over his case because he is a "citizen of Nevada, not the territory of Nevada". According to The Guardian, Bundy told his supporters that "We definitely don't recognize jurisdiction or authority, his arresting power or policing power in any way", and in interviews he used the language of the Sovereign citizen movement, gaining the support from members of the Oath Keepers, the White Mountain Militia and the Praetorian Guard militias. The sovereign citizen movement believes that the U.S. Government is illegitimate, and it is considered by the FBI as the nation’s top domestic terrorism threat.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks anti-government and hate groups, says that Bundy's views are closely aligned with the those of the Posse Comitatus, who believe that county and state authority are above the federal government, and that Jewish cabals of bankers control national power. They also assert that self-ascribed "patriot" groups are focused on secession, nullification, state sovereignty, and the primacy of the 10th Amendment, and their views overlap with other groups organized around hate.
Grazing on US federal rangeland in Nevada
Laws that apply to management of public land grazing include the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 (TGA), the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978, and the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. In 1933, Edward T. Taylor, a Representative from Colorado, reintroduced a bill to set up the grazing bureau or service in the Department of Interior to administer range lands. The TGA regulates grazing on public lands (excluding in Alaska) to improve rangeland conditions. The Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office in 1946 to form the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), managing about 167 million acres (676,000 km²) of publicly owned rangeland in the United States, with the United States Forest Service managing approximately 95 million acres (380,000 km²) more.
Legal actions, 1998-2012
United States v. Bundy "arose out of Bundy’s unauthorized grazing of his livestock on property owned by the United States and administered by the Department of the Interior through the BLM and the National Park Service."
Legal actions, 2012-14
The cattle expanded into additional public lands over the years. In May 2012, the United States again initiated United States v. Bundy, seeking relief for Bundy's trespassing on a new set of additional lands not covered by the original 1998 ruling: "including public lands within the Gold Butte area that are administered by the BLM, and National Park System land within the Overton Arm and Gold Butte areas of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area." Another order was issued by the Hicks Court on October 8, 2013, which stemmed from the earlier 1998 civil action against Bundy. The orders allow the United States to "protect the ... Bunkerville Allotment against ... trespass" by Bundy and "to seize and remove to impound" any of his cattle that remain in those areas. Bundy alternatively argued in legal cases that federal grazing rules infringe on his states' rights. Bundy lost his special rights arguments in the United States v. Bundy cases. Bundy had only base property and normal AUM grazing allotment permits, like the permits of thousands of other ranchers throughout the western United States. The court found that Bundy and his father actually first began grazing their cattle on the Bunkerville Allotment in 1954, and used it for several years. They paid for cattle grazing again from 1973 until 1993, when Bundy paid the last grazing fees for his last grazing application for December 1, 1992, through February 28, 1993. On January 24, 1994, the BLM delivered a Proposed Decision Order to Remove and Demand for Payment to Bundy by placing it on the dashboard of Bundy's vehicle while he was in the vehicle. BLM officials allege that Bundy became agitated, walked out of his truck and accused the BLM of harassing him. He then returned to his truck, threw the decision out of the window, and drove away. One of Bundy's sons then picked up the decision, tore it into pieces and threw it on the ground. On February 17, 1994, the BLM issued a final decision canceling Bundy's ephemeral range grazing permit. Bundy subsequently informed the BLM in several administrative notices that he intended to graze cattle "pursuant to my vested grazing rights." Bundy failed to demonstrate the existence of any such special rights when given an opportunity to do so in court. The BLM stated on its website: The regional off-site mitigation strategies of non-governmental organizations are also delayed for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone, and a matching $400,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to restore habitat for the Southwest Willow Flycatcher along the Virgin River is delayed on the condition that trespass cattle be removed by Bundy.
BLM preparations and execution
A closure (effective March 27, 2014 to May 12, 2014), of the public lands known as Gold Butte, Mormon Mesa, and Bunkerville Flats Areas was approved by the Department of the Interior on March 24, 2014. Additionally, the Federal Record states:
"This temporary closure is necessary to limit public access, use, and occupancy during an impoundment of illegally grazing cattle to ensure the safety and welfare of the public, contractors, and government employees."
with only one of the two First Amendment zones at any one time at the daily discretion of the, "Incident Command staff". A third area, I-15 and Toquap Wash (between mile marker 114 and 115), was designated as a media area and "...BLM/NPS credentialed media..." could request tours by appointment inside the enclosure area to obtain b-roll video, no live feed and satellite trucks allowed.
Government contractors using horses and a small helicopter succeeded in penning almost 400 trespass cattle from April 5 to 9, 2014. "According to state brand inspectors, almost 90 percent of the cattle rounded up by midweek bore Bundy's brand. Of the remaining animals, five belonged to a neighboring rancher, four were marked with brands that couldn't be read, and the rest were slicks, a ranching term for unmarked livestock." A state brand inspector said the bull "might have got frightened, but that's no reason to shoot a bull." Another said that bulls sometimes charge at people, adding that it takes "a pretty good-size weapon" to kill Bundy's breed of bull.
After the roundup was suspended due to public safety concerns, BLM spokesman Craig Leff said the agency would continue to try to resolve the matter "administratively and judicially." Leff said, "The door isn't closed. We'll figure out how to move forward with this," and "The BLM and National Park Service did not cut any deal and negotiate anything."
Confrontations and protests in April 2014
In late March, Bundy sent letters entitled "Range War Emergency Notice and Demand for Protection" to county, state, and federal officials. In media interviews, Bundy used the language of the sovereign citizen movement as a rallying call, beckoning support from members of the Oath Keepers, the White Mountain Militia, and the Praetorian Guard. In early April, armed individuals and private militia members from across the United States joined peaceful protesters against the trespass cattle roundup in what has become known punningly as the Battle of Bunkerville. BLM enforcement agents were dispatched in response to what were seen as threatening statements by Bundy, such as calling the events a "range war". On April 8, 2014, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval issued a statement calling for the removal of the First Amendment restrictions he described as offensive. After stating that peaceful protests had crossed into illegal activity, the federal agencies allowed protesters to go anywhere on the public land as long as they were peaceful.
April 10 confrontations and protests
On April 10, protesters crowded around a convoy to find out why a BLM truck was being used. One protestor struck a truck and blocked it with his all-terrain vehicle. Officers protecting the civilian truck driver had Tasers and police dogs. The protesters angrily confronted the rangers. According to CNN, "Federal officials say a police dog was kicked and officers were assaulted. Bundy family members say they were thrown to the ground or jolted with a Taser." Protesters also converged at the mouth of Gold Butte, the preserve where the cattle were corralled, where a tense, hour-long standoff ensued. BLM rangers warned over loudspeakers that they were prepared to use tear gas. Protestors took position on a highway overpass, seemingly offering cover as horse-mounted wranglers led protesters to face off against heavily equipped BLM rangers and snipers. citing safety reasons. Clark County Sheriff Gillespie mediated the agreement between the Bundy family and the BLM, saying, "hen 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."
Las Vegas police stated that business owners in Mesquite had received threats because of the conflict. Militiamen were reportedly seen carrying high-caliber weapons, keeping a round-the-clock security detail on Bundy, and setting up checkpoints.
On April 19, 2014, Bundy spoke about witnessing a civil disturbance, the 1965 Watts riots.
In reference to Mexican people, he said, "hey come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders, but they're here, and they're people ... Don't tell me they don't work, and don't tell me they don't pay taxes. And don't tell me they don't have better family structures than most of us white people."
Ranking Democratic Senator Harry Reid condemned the Bundy statement and said Bundy had "revealed himself to be a hateful racist. But by denigrating people who work hard and play by the rules while he mooches off public land he also revealed himself to be a hypocrite... It is the height of irresponsibility for any individual or entity in a position of power or influence to glorify or romanticize such a dangerous individual... For their part, national Republican leaders could help show a united front against this kind of hateful, dangerous extremism by publicly condemning Bundy."
A number of Republican politicians and talk-show hosts who previously had supported Bundy, forcefully condemned his remarks as racist, including junior NV Senator Dean Heller, who previously had described Bundy defenders as "patriots”, and Senator Rand Paul who also previously had supported Bundy. On April 23, Heller said through a spokesperson that he "completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way".
Sean Hannity, who supported Bundy in his Fox News talk show, interviewed Bundy several times, and called him "a friend and frequent guest of the show", said that Bundy's remarks were "beyond repugnant". Glenn Beck criticized Bundy's comments, saying that the rancher is "unhinged from reality" and urged his supporters to "end your relationship" with him.
According to Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, Bundy lost his personal credibility with his racist remarks, but argues that the discussion about Federal land use in the West should not be abandoned, and that Congress should act to correct the “harsh and unfair federal misuse of state lands”.
Reactions by public officials
On April 15, 2014, a group of Republican state legislators from Arizona, including Representatives Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff), David Livingston (R-Peoria), Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa), Senators Judy Burges (R-Sun City West), and Kelli Ward (R-Lake Havasu City) traveled to Mesquite, Nevada, to support Bundy in his standoff with the BLM.
Public officials reacted to the confrontations and protests. Governor Brian Sandoval sided with Bundy, saying "No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans. The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly."
Arizona Representative Kelly Townsend said that the scenes at the ranch amid the dispute gave her a "visceral reaction... It sounds dramatic, but it reminded me of Tiananmen Square. I don’t recognize my country at this point." Her colleague, Bob Thorpe of Flagstaff, said that he was with about three dozen other state legislators to question federal and Nevada officials.
US Senator Dean Heller of Nevada complained of federal actions during the standoff, saying, "I told him (BLM Director Neil Kornze) very clearly that law-abiding Nevadans must not be penalized by an over-reaching BLM".
On April 19, 2014, Texas Republican Steve Stockman sent a letter to President Barack Obama, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and BLM Director Neil Kornze, stating that the BLM was overreaching its law enforcement authority with what he called a "paramilitary raid."
Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford contacted Sheriff Doug Gillespie regarding complaints by community members, of Bundy armed militia supporters "establishing a presence" and setting up a checkpoint against residents of the Bunkerville area.
On May 1, 2014, Republican Sen. Dean Heller said that Bundy should pay the BLM the more than $1 million in grazing fees owed to the agency.
Republican Representative Chris Stewart (R-Utah) decried the BLM and other agencies for staffing their departments with what he called “paramilitary units” and “SWAT team”. However, the Bureau of Land Management does not have a SWAT team, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, which editorialized that Stewart's views "may be one of the worst ideas in the history of bad ideas." In an interview after the BLM's withdrawal, Sean Hannity asked Bundy if he had a reply to Senator Harry Reid's comment that the situation was not over. Bundy said, "I don't have a response for Harry Reid, but I have a response for every county sheriff across the United States. Disarm the federal bureaucrats."
After militia leader Mike Vanderboegh, the founder of the Three Percenters group which remained at Bundy’s ranch after federal officials attempted to impound trespass cattle, allegedly made threats to Senator Harry Reid, and accused him of provoking a “civil war”, a spokesman for the US Capitol Police, said the they were investigating these threatening statements as part of an ongoing investigation.
At a Bunkerville town hall meeting on May 1, 2014, residents and council members praised the militias and expressed their frustration with the BLM, the Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, and the media.
On May 2, 2014, Bundy and his family filed a complaint with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department alleging crimes committed by federal agents, including illegally blocking roads, harassing photographers, using attack dogs, pointing weapons and threatening people.
Legal and rule-of-law reactions
Atlantic reporter Matt Ford pointed out that Bundy's claim, "I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing," is at odds with Nevada's law, specifically the state's constitution. Framed during the Civil War, Nevada's constitution specifically mentions the rights of the federal government, stating in Article 1, Section 2, "The Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States...whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority."
The Salt Lake City Tribune published an editorial on April 15 entitled "Bundy is a lawbreaker, not a hero", in which it said, "Don't let him get away with it" and "The only winner in this was a scofflaw who has twice lost in the courts for running cattle where they don’t belong and skipping out on grazing fees. Some 20,000 ranchers in Western states abide by BLM regulations, so what makes Bundy special?" To sum it up, the Tribune said, "When some manage to avoid justice by extralegal means, the rule of law is weakened for all Americans."
Some of Bundy's neighbors were not impressed by his actions. "I feel that the rule of law supersedes armed militias coming in from all over the country to stand with a law-breaking rancher, which is what he is", Mesquite resident Elaine Hurd told local television station KLAS.
Dallas Hyland, in his column in Utah's St. George News, wrote, "The stand-down was necessary to prevent bloodshed, but it must be recognized that if Bundy and a multitude of his supporters, militia friends, and even family members who broke the law, are allowed to go unpunished, anarchy will follow. In the case of Bundy and the Gold Butte designations, the government did it right. They continued to do it right in the face of the lawless behavior of a rancher and his militia henchmen."
In comparison to the outcome in the Bundy case, the Dann sisters, Mary and Carrie, who also refused to pay grazing fees on this land, claiming that this was acknowledged to be Shoshone land. The land was invaded by agents of the BLM, and cattle seized with a fine of $3 million. A petition was lodged with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the "Commission”) against the United States of America by the Indian Law Resource Center in defense of the Dann sisters. The Commission concluded that the State failed to ensure the Danns’ right to property under conditions of equality contrary to Articles II, XVIII and XXIII of the American Declaration in connection with their claims to property rights in the Western Shoshone ancestral lands.The cattle were auctioned off by the BLM the next day. The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticized the U.S. for human rights violations, but no further action taken.
Political commentary reactions
David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that there is "a great ability on the part of these folks to overlook the reality of how much the federal government subsidized Nevada in terms of big projects - the Hoover Dam, the mining subsidies. It's a welfare cowboy mindset."
The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity stated, "Despite having no legal right to do so, cattle from Bundy's ranch have continued to graze throughout the Gold Butte area, competing with tortoises for food, hindering the ability of plants to recover from extensive wildfires, trampling rare plants, damaging ancient American Indian cultural sites and threatening the safety of recreationists." David Bundy had married Margaret Bodel Jensen of Bunkerville, and after starting a family in Arizona, they purchased their property outside of Bunkerville in 1948. This argument has basis in Cliven's maternal grandmother's ancestral line, but not among his paternal or other maternal lines. Cliven's mother's father, John Jensen, was born in Utah, but her mother, Abigail Christina Abbott, was born in the Bunkerville/Mesquite area. Abigail Christina Abbott's parents, both born in Utah, were among early settlers of Bunkerville/Mesquite in the 1880s; this includes lines from the Leavitt and Abbott families. These early families moved in and out of the area on several occasions, and polygamous marriages meant some wives and their families were kept in different towns. As such, there is no continuous line of family births and habitation in Bunkerville/Mesquite from Cliven Bundy to the few ancestors who settled the area. and selling his Gunlock, Utah, property, he moved to Bunkerville, Nevada. The original location he settled was south of Mesquite, northeast of present-day Bunkerville. The community was named after Edward Bunker, Sr., the leader of the group of 23 men (the United Order) who originally agreed to move west. All property was originally shared in common, which caused great strife within the community. The communal property was then divided up, with Dudley expressing displeasure at his small portion. He then moved from the community across the river to Mesquite by 1881. When the Virgin River flooded, he moved again and was contracted to carry mail across a round-trip distance from St. George, Utah, to St. Thomas, Nevada. He placed his five families in various locations along the route. The family of Mary Jane Leavitt (Cliven Bundy's great-grandmother) was kept at Leavittville, Arizona.
Abbott family connection
Cliven Bundy's great-great-grandfather was Myron Abbott. After the United Order dissolved, Abbott spent his time plowing and tending farmland, in addition to transporting salt from St. Thomas to Santa Clara, Utah. His son, William Abbott, married Dudley Leavitt's daughter Mary Jane Leavitt at the St. George Utah Temple in 1890;