April 19, 2014
Even his homespun-sounding name—Cliven Bundy—hints that he is part of a dying breed. Reputed to be the “last rancher in South Nevada,” he locked horns with the US Bureau of Land Management last week in a highly public battle of wills.
Bundy is a father of 14 and a descendant of a ranching family he says has been grazing cattle on these dusty desert lands since the 1870s. His ranch, near the town of Bunkerville about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, assumed a bunker mentality last week as armed federal agents stormed his land, began rounding up his cattle, arrested one of his sons and Tasered another, and allegedly shoved his sister—a cancer survivor—to the ground.
The feds claim that Bundy owes them roughly $1 million in “grazing fees” that have gone unpaid since 1993. They also say that he’s stubbornly ignored a 1998 court order to remove his cattle from public land set aside for the preservation of the desert tortoise, a creature that federal officials apparently value more than they do cattle ranchers. According to statistics from 2012, the US federal government claims ownership of 81% of Nevada’s land. The feds refer to such areas of conquest as “public lands.” We are told that “the people” own them, which must be the reason why the people are forbidden from owning them.
Bundy, however, is from the old school and says the feds have no jurisdiction over the land. He claims he’s been dutifully paying his fees to Clark County, NV, the whole time. He also says that federal policies have made it impossible for dozens of other ranchers to eke out a living, gradually driving them away and leaving him the last rancher standing in Clark County.
As news of the “Old West-style showdown” spread last week, armed militia members and self-proclaimed patriot types began streaming onto the ranch, escalating tensions and stoking fears that the situation might unspool into another Waco or Ruby Ridge.