As he awaits possible criminal charges for an armed standoff earlier this year with federal authorities, recalcitrant rancher Cliven Bundy said he’s enjoying a break from government interference with his grazing operation.
“One thing that’s happened is, since the standoff, we’ve really enjoyed some liberty and freedoms out here,” Bundy said in an Oct. 30 interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
He said an armed standoff in April drove away “overreaching government policing agents,” particularly from the Bureau of Land Management, from the area.
“Since the standoff, we haven’t seen one BLM vehicle on any of these country roads around this ranch,” Bundy told the newspaper. “We haven’t seen one BLM ranger. We haven’t seen one (National) Park Service ranger. We haven’t really seen any undercover-type people. We haven’t seen snipers on top of our hills. We haven’t seen high-tech communication equipment. We haven’t seen any of those things.”
Federal agents ended their roundup of Bundy’s cattle due to public safety concerns, and months later, Bundy admits the standoff came perilously close to a violent conclusion.
“One backfire of a vehicle, one firecracker, one somebody makes a crazy gunshot -- it was that close, and it could have been either side’s fault,” he said. “It could have been We-The-People’s fault, or it could have been the government agency’s fault.”
He concedes “lots of people” could have been killed if the situation had spilled into gunfire, although he downplays the military-style response coordinated by his militia backers.
“I never did handle this thing with guns,” Bundy told the newspaper. “If you go back over my record through the last 20-something years, you never see me pointing a gun at anybody.”
Instead, he points out that agents from various federal agencies carried firearms as they carried out their duties near his land.
“We had plenty guns running up and down this hill,” he said. “We had BLM and Park Service, and Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife and all of those people.”
Two armed bodyguards protect the rancher, who briefly became a right-wing folk hero for his refusal to pay grazing fees and assorted fines the federal government said he owed for grazing hundreds of cattle on public lands near his family’s Nevada ranch, and Bundy said he has two primary fears these days.
“One, the question is, ‘Will the government come back?’ -- the United States government, will they come back with their army and basically try to take over control of Bundy’s ranch?” said Bundy, referring to himself in third person. “And the other thing would be some lunatic-type guy, some environmental wacko, somebody like that -- would they come and basically try to take my life or something like that?”
Armed supporters and assorted oddballs were drawn early this spring to the ranch, where they engaged in a standoff engineered by militia groups, but Bundy’s mainstream support quickly dried up when he repeatedly claimed black Americans were worse off now than they were as slaves.
He has repeated various legal theories promoted in right-wing extremist circles -- such as claiming that he never entered into a contract with the BLM -- to support his contention that he holds a right to graze his cattle for free on federally owned lands.
“I question their jurisdiction and authority,” Bundy told the newspaper. “Since when does the federal court have jurisdiction and authority over Nevada state land?”
“If I were grazing my cattle on the post office lawn down in Las Vegas, then they could send me a bill, and I guess I would probably pay it,” he continued. “But I don’t graze my cattle on the post office lawn, and I don’t graze my cattle on Nellis Air Force Base. I graze my cattle out here in Clark County in the sovereign state of Nevada.”
BLM officials have said the U.S. Department of Justice continues its “efforts to resolve the issue through the legal system,” but Bundy remains defiant.
“What are they going to charge me with? When you start talking about who the criminal is, if somebody is going to put handcuffs on me and take me to jail, what’s going to be the crime?” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve paid my grazing fees to a proper government -- so why should I pay my grazing fee to the United States government? They have no jurisdiction and authority, or own the land.”
He disputes a court order to remove his cattle trespassing on federal land, saying that has nothing to do with fees and fines the government claims he owes.
“If I owe so damn much money, like $1.2 million, why don’t they bill me?” Bundy said.
He suggested the government intends to make him pay for its efforts to round up his cattle.
“Unless they want to charge me for their efforts in gathering my cattle, and their efforts for counting my cattle, and their efforts for getting an army together to come sic down me, my family and my neighbors and we the people stole it?” Bundy said. “If they want to charge me for all of that, I could probably owe them maybe $5 million -- but they haven’t billed me for none of those things.”
Watch this video interview posted online by the Las Vegas Review-Journal: