“To me, the only reason the federal government would act this way is to have unlimited power. They want to assume the sovereignty, laws and land, and policing power. Not only do they assume these things, they believe they already have them. When they were challenged, their response was to show me I have none of these things,” began Cliven Bundy of the reason behind the BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management) recent extreme show of force against he and his family’s operation.
The history of grazing fees
It has been 20 years since Bundy paid a grazing fee to the BLM, a major point of contention to some. But the issue is far deeper and more complex than that single statement reads.
“There are multiple angles to explain on this topic. What I would like to express more than anything is that the BLM does not own the land. In other words, it is not federal land, it is state land. A lot of people, even ranchers, think they’re buying grass or pasture when they pay a grazing fee or permit, but that is incorrect. That grass is theirs by preemptive rights by beneficial use, and those rights began when that grazing use began — 137 years ago in my case. What you pay the BLM for is management and range improvements. Of every dollar spent on grazing fees, 12.5 percent is supposed to go the BLM for managing the land, and the other 80-some percent is supposed to come back to the land as range improvements. When you look at the law those are the only two purposes for your grazing fees.
“So, go back 20 years to when I quit paying grazing fees to the federal government. The administrative regulatory pressure at the time was being used to run myself and my neighbors out of business. They came along with a full force and effect decision on the basis of an endangered species, and said we couldn’t graze for 3-4 months in the peak of the spring. That was followed by another full force and effect decision that said the land was totally closed to grazing. In that process my neighbors, 52 ranching families in Clark County and hundreds of others across the Mohave Desert to the Pacific Ocean, were run out of business. I chose to send administrative notices to the solitary offices and BLM district office in Reno, Nev., stating I was not going to allow the BLM to manage my ranch out of business, and would not pay them for their management services anymore, and I didn’t,” explained Bundy.
Upon his decision to stop paying a fee, and sign the associated contract, Bundy cleared himself of contract of law with the federal government as stated in the Constitution, eliminating any ties between himself and that government.
“That is a difference between myself and most ranchers. Without a permit I can keep myself clean of their courts, and challenge them on the basis of state sovereignty, asking whether the federal government or the people of Nevada own the land in question. When they’re questioned in this manner, they either have to prove they have the authority, or the other side, Bundy in this case, wins. I consider Nevada a sovereign state with its own law and rights, which I abide by in full,” he explained, adding he would have no issues paying a grazing fee to the proper authority of Clark County, Nev., which he has done. Bundy said he has submitted payment to the county. After cashing the check, the county tried to return it but Bundy did not accept the return and the county has the funds in their account as of today.
The blow up
“We have known about the BLM’s proposed roundup for some time, and their reasoning that we were not adhering by their codes or laws, giving them the right to remove our cattle,” stated Cliven’s son Ammon Bundy.
However, what the Bundy family was not prepared for was the size, scope and intensity of the BLM’s operation or the response of their friends and neighbors across America, who they refer to as “We the People.”
“Two things surprised me in this. One was that the government would spend that much, I think it was $3 million or more, on this project, and that they actually took over the policing power of the state and county and labeled us ‘domestic terrorists.’ I didn’t expect them to go to force with snipers, ground force and fully armed men. That was a little overwhelming,” noted Cliven.
Ammon agreed, adding the agency brought about 200 vehicles, counting the contract cowboys and federal agents, into the area and set up what he referred to as a compound on March 27.
“The hills around the ranch were covered with agents and vehicles. You could see helicopters, vehicles on every road, and wherever there was a larger space between roads they had cameras set up. They literally had the whole place on lockdown, and everywhere they went it was a pack that included a contract cowboy, agents, and 5-6 armed vehicles following front and back. If anyone stepped off a road, they would immediately go and hassle them,” explained Ammon.
Incidents between the BLM and Bundy supporters occurred with increasing frequency, and climaxed on Saturday, April 12 when 300-plus people and approximately 50 horsemen converged on the federal forces in a washout off I-15 with the intent of making them put down their weapons, release the Bundy cattle, and leave the area.
“The second thing that was surprising was how the people rebelled as a whole and said no more to the point they actually faced the federal guns and moved them. What a story,” stated Cliven.
It was the people, not the Bundy family, who insisted on the release of the cattle during a 9 a.m. public press conference that same Saturday between the local sheriff and the Bundys to discuss negotiations. Ammon explained that the sheriff was neutralized on the issue, and would not even respond to 911 calls placed by Bundy family members or their supporters during any of the altercations with the BLM personnel.
“The sheriff announced at the press conference, following its opening with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance, that the BLM was leaving the area and would stop collecting cattle, but needed a week to get out. There were between 1,500 and 2,000 people in attendance, and they are who raised the question of what would be done with the cattle already collected. The word was the BLM would not release those cattle, and the people wouldn’t have it.
“After a very short conversation back and forth, my father gave the sheriff one hour to communicate that to the BLM. When the cattle weren’t release the people literally got in their vehicles and drove up I-15 to the site where the cattle were held. They were met by approximately 100 fully armed agents dressed in full tactical gear, helmets and everything else,” explained Ammon.
As seen in multiple online videos, the group peacefully and slowly converged on the BLM’s blockade, choosing to ignore threats that they would be shot if they came closer, and requests to have an individual come forward alone. Dan Love of Oregon BLM was the head officer, and met them at the portable panel fence with additional threats and attempts at manipulation.
“He was basically saying we needed to back down, and we were replying that we wouldn’t, and the entire time there were weapons on us from about 20 feet away. Then something very relieving happened – down the wash on the BLM side comes one of our sheriff deputies named Tom Roberts with a guard. He said he was there for us, tell him what we wanted him to do. I replied that short of not allowing us to finish what we came to do, we would follow his orders,” said Ammon.
Dan Love attempted to manipulate Tom Roberts until Ammon loudly proclaimed that Love did not have any authority, but that Roberts was the authority of the people and who they would listen to.
“Roberts demanded the BLM back down and put their arms down, which they did. He asked us to back off also, then basically had a conversation with us asking what we wanted. We explained we wanted the BLM out of there, and that we would give them 30 minutes to get the first vehicle out. He relayed that and they began backing up and got their vehicles completely away from us. We were extremely happy. At 30 minutes they sent a single vehicle out, then at about 45 minutes to an hour the rest left in a convoy of 107 vehicles and fled to Utah,” noted Ammon, adding they left generators running, personal belongings, vehicles and numerous other items behind in their haste to leave.
At that point the cattle were released and trailed down the wash and out of the BLM’s temporary corral.
“Traffic was backed up on I-15 for 80 miles for four hours. There were thousands of people lined up on the freeway and along the edge of the wash. When those cattle came down the people were hugging and cheering and crying – it was an amazing experience, noted Ammon.
Everyone followed the cattle back to the protest site, and immediately began celebrating their victory. But Ammon, his brother and a small group took the time to walk back to the wash and lay down the panels between the wash and the BLM’s compound.
“We took the time to quietly lay down probably around 100 panels to symbolize that our cattle were not going to be stolen, that our people would not have arms pressed against them and that we have freedoms and rights as Americans,” explained Ammon.
Cliven added that while intense, the people had no fear because they knew they were within their constitutional rights as well as those of the Lord.
On a personal level, the Bundy family continues cleaning up the wreckage left in the BLM’s wake, caring for injured livestock, looking for additional sick, injured or dead livestock and taking note of the destruction of water lines, troughs and storage tanks. The BLM claimed to have gathered 384 head, but with the dead toll included the Bundy’s have only recovered 352 head thus far. They remain uncertain whether there are additional dead on the property, they were hauled off the ranch or the BLM’s count was inaccurate.
Ammon noted that watching his cattle gathered by helicopter at a run on 90-degree days, with no regard for their health or the separation of cows and their calves was particularly difficult on Cliven.
While also a struggle for he and his brothers, Ammon said they were able to stay focused on their goal of breaking the federal government’s pattern of taking control of land and removing the people from it. ❖