Jolley: Five Minutes with the Cliven Bundy fiasco

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Cliven Bundy, Nevada, CattleReutersSupporters of Cliven Bundy came out in droves to face the BLM. In the beginning, there were rumors and innuendo.  Everyone sitting on the either of the political extremes seemed anxious to create a scenario around this patriotic American rancher/freeloading tax evader - you pick the definition that best fits your personal prejudices. 

We knew for sure that he raised cattle in the scrublands of southern Nevada.  We knew that he had refused to pay grazing fees for 20 years.  We knew that he had gone to court to plead his case at least twice but lost both times. We knew that he had said something about a new range war.  We knew that hundreds of people traveled to his ranch to protect him from the BLM's effort to collect the debt or his cattle. Beyond that?  Pure speculation.

Speculation: His family ranched on that 160 acres since 1877, giving him certain personal rights that predate the rights of the U.S. Government.

Fact #1:  His family didn't have legal title to the land until 1948 and ranching didn't begin until 1954.

Fact #2: Nevada became a state on October 31,1864, promising to abide by the laws of the federal government 13 years before the first Bundy allegedly stepped on state soil.

Speculation:  Harry Reid and his son were in cahoots with the Chinese to develop the land around the Bundy ranch and that was the real reason behind the belated BLM land grab - or federal cattle rustling.

Fact: Reid and son vacated any agreement over a year ago.  They have no financial interest in the property.

Speculation:  The well-armed but not well-regulated militia that showed up to protect Bundy's rights were willing to put unarmed women on the front lines if things got out of hand and shooting started.

Fact: That was, indeed, a major self-confessed consideration.  They wanted the world to see the BLM shooting women in order to win points with the public.

But let's stop with this exercise which will only serve to annoy many of those who made up their minds early.  And let's pass on saying anything about his unfortunate post-event comments that have nothing to do with the BLM battle. How about a review of some of the most interesting comments made by outside observers?  We will lay the groundwork with a comment from Cliven Bundy that started the standoff.

Cliven Bundy: “My family has preemptive, adjudicated livestock water rights filed with the state of Nevada. They were established in 1877 when the first pioneers entered the valley. Among those first pioneers were my grandparents from my mother’s side. My father either bought or inherited his Nevada state livestock water rights and I, in turn, have done the same.”

Trent Loos, High Plains Journal: "First of all and most importantly, the Cliven Bundy family has been grazing government-owned land since 1877. As a result of the early pioneers seeking an opportunity and thanks to the Homestead Act 0f 1862, a few ranchers made the voyage and claimed land near water supplies. When that was all said and done the Nevada desert had about 10 percent claimed and the balance fell back to the state."

KLAS TV, Las Vegas, NV: "Clark County Recorder documents show the 160-acre Bunkerville ranch Bundy calls home was purchased by his parents, David and Bodel Bundy, from Raoul and Ruth Leavitt on Jan. 5, 1948. The purchase included the transfer to the Bundys of certain water rights, including water from the nearby Virgin River."

WVOC FM, Columbia, MO: "In the court documents Bundy also says his family started ranching that land in 1954....a hell of a lot later than his most recent tale of the 1880's. But even if it was the 1880's, it would make no difference because Cliven has never claimed that his family owned that land. He just claims his family used that land. In 1934 (20 years before Bundy's family really started using the land) the Taylor Grazing Act was passed. It says people can pay grazing fees, also known as leasing, for certain portions of federal land. Bundy and his family paid those fees for about 40 years (1954-1993) at which time Cliven says he fired the Bureau of Land Management."

Joan McCarter, Daily Kos: "Cliven Bundy doesn't represent the West. He doesn't represent cattle ranchers. He represents a minority of right-wing cranks who are good at making a lot of noise through threats of violence. He's also nothing more than a common crook."

U.S. News & World Report: "Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze was right when he said, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million. Public lands belong to the American public. Regardless of his convoluted read of the Nevada Constitution, Bundy owes all of us that tidy sum. And he should us owe much, much more."

Alan O’Neill, superintendent of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area: “He calls himself a patriot, and says he loves America.  And yet he says he won’t follow any federal laws. You just can’t let this go by, or everybody is going to be like, ‘If Bundy can break the law, why can’t I?’ ”

David Horsey, Los Angeles Times: "Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is a scofflaw with screwy ideas about the Constitution, and the armed oddballs who have joined his skirmish with the Bureau of Land Management are a nutty vanguard of the deluded conspiracy-mongers who dominate the far right wing in American politics. Given their actions, they do not deserve to be called patriots, but neither are they terrorists." 

Former Governor of Montana Brian Schweitzer: “You notice there’s no cattlemen that are standing beside Bundy. The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, the stock owner associations from across the West are not with this guy. They support what the BLM does. This guy, Bundy, is, I mentioned before, I think he’s a grifter.”

Ron Torell, president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association: "This is my personal view — I view him as another rancher, I think he loves the land and the cattle business. I believe his philosophy differs from our views in the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association. I respect his position and tip my hat to him for sticking to his guns.”

Sean Hannity: All right. Let me get to the heart of something here because we keep hearing that you owe and everybody says you owe the government money. You owe the government taxes. And you owe the government over a million dollars. I'm trying to get -- is that fees, fines, penalties combined? In other words, how much does the federal government say you owe for the actual grazing? Because I got some cost estimates today. I want to run through some of these numbers. How much was the original cost that they say you owe them?

Cliven Bundy: Well, I don't know. They've never sent me a bill. And I say I owe them nothing, zero.

Hannity: OK. And you say you've never gotten a bill, but you got letters from them, and you told me last week you don't open their letters?

Bundy: I haven't opened the recent letters. There could be a bill in there that I don't know about.

Ryan Lenz, Southern Poverty Law Center: “We’re in a moment of critical mass. We have so anti-government groups who believe the federal government is working against them, who believe Obama is secretly a Muslim, a communist, or not even an American,” he said. “There are people who will stand up to the federal government and risk their lives to do so.”

Tucker Carlson on Fox News' Special Report: "I have a lot of sympathy for the Bundys. I think they were completely mistreated by the federal government. But I still think it's important to point out that this land does not belong to them and that's not a minor distinction, it's the essence of private property."

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TX  |  April, 25, 2014 at 09:04 AM

Pitiful that this "patriotic American" (?) has hijacked the media for weeks now all because of his flat-out refusal to follow the law. This is how we do things in America now? I don't like paying taxes so I just ask my friends to show up and circle my house with guns? Has it really gotten this ignorant/barbarian?

vA  |  April, 25, 2014 at 09:23 AM

Grazing fees are already so low that they give western ranchers an advantage over those in the east. This guy is a classic taker from the taxpayers of America. Can we agree that Hannity is an fact denying fool who is trapped in a delusional ideology?

Kansas  |  April, 25, 2014 at 12:45 PM

To Will and Wally, yes and yes. And I am amazed at the people who are still anxious to rally around this ranching welfare queen when the real story about an unfair BLM land grab is taking place in Texas.

charles fox    
Wheeling, WV  |  April, 25, 2014 at 12:50 PM

Just some 'top of the head' math. 500 to 900 head for 20 years for $1million. That's $100 to $56 per head per year. Can you buy land that will carry 1 animal unit anywhere in North America for $2,000 to $1,100? Mountain pasture is now valued at a minimum of $3,000 per acre. Even 20 years ago it was $1,000+. BLM leases are subsidy programs for those ranchers.

Darol Dickinson    
Ohio  |  April, 26, 2014 at 08:45 AM

This is a small part of the government's massive on-going land management errors. The governments, whether state or federal, should not be in the ranch or land management business. They will have more and more battles as they work to take land out of the tax base and add it into government wasted uses. The government must do an orderly 20 year process of selling all USA open lands to private enterprise. Government makes a dastardly land owner and manager. Horrible. Ignorant!!! They will never understand ranching, nor develop a valid love of the land.

Colo  |  April, 26, 2014 at 06:52 PM

Land AND water grab in all the western states - aided and abetted by the Forest Service and the Parks Service.

Randy Stevenson    
Wheatland Wyoming  |  April, 27, 2014 at 07:18 PM

The "subsidy" was in fact an incentive to settle the land. The homestead act of 1862 was for 160 acres, As the settlers moved west the land became less desireable,the act was amended to allow for 320 acres.In 1916 The homestead act as again amended with the Stock grazing act and allowed for 640 acres. This time however the govt retained the mineral rights but allowed grazing on open range. This is simular to the railroads being given every other section for a township on the north and south of the rail line to build the transcontinental line, it was their property. The right to graze open range for settling 640 acres should be viewed as an equal property right. To do otherwise would leave a "trail of Tears". Our Native Americans could have foretold the outcome.

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