As bad it was for a cattleman to be exposed as a foolish, a bigoted embarrassment to the industry, the Cliven Bundy saga continues. Now, his sons are ruining other ranchers’ reputations.
Nearly two years ago, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, along with a pack of self-described militia men, confronted Bureau of Land Management officials and local law enforcement over Bundy’s decades-long refusal to pay years of grazing fees and fines.
The government claimed that the then 67-year-old Bundy owed more than $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees and penalties for continuing to let his cattle graze on BLM rangeland some 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas after federal officials in 1993 established the area as a protected habitat for the endangered desert tortoise.
Let’s be crystal clear: Bundy’s so-called patriotic standoff and his ridiculous attempt to pretend that the federal government has no authority over him was all about his outrage over the decision to curtail his grazing allotment.
None of his posturing, nor that of the dozens of armed idiots who showed up to support him, was about Constitutional rights. The confrontation was all about his “right” to use taxpayer-owned public lands at very affordable prices to run his cattle and earn profits, and when that was taken away, suddenly he started pretending he was Thomas Paine in a Stetson hat.
As a result of Bundy’s 2014 “victory” when government officials decided to avoid a potential armed confrontation and pursue administrative remedies, the so-called militia movement has been emboldened to think that anyone with a pickup truck and a stash of weapons doesn’t have to obey the law.
Now, Bundy’s son Ammon and his brothers have taken over and occupied the headquarters facilities of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., in a remote area in the eastern part of the state.
Conveniently, Bundy and company waited until the New Year’s holiday weekend, when the site was closed and no staff were present, to occupy the buildings, set up a roadblock and post an armed sentry in a guard tower used to spot wildfires.
As was true in Nevada, local law enforcement told media sources they do not intend to confront the Bundy-led group, nor to monitor the situation on site.
Can’t blame them. Rural sheriffs have plenty to do without having to post deputies at some wildlife refuge to watch a bunch of crazies packing a small arsenal of firearms.
The excuse for the Bundys’ actions was a protest against the convictions of Oregon ranchers Steven and Dwight Hammond, Jr., who were ordered by a federal judge last week to report to the Terminal Island prison in San Pedro, Calif., to serve out prison sentences.
According to ABC News, the men were convicted of setting fires on BLM land, burning 142 acres on which the Hammonds had grazing rights in an attempt to control invasive species on the range.
Here’s the real irony of the Bundys’ illegal takeover: The Hammonds say they don’t want their help.
“Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group [or] organization speaks for the Hammond family," wrote Hammond lawyer W. Alan Schroeder to Harney County Sheriff David Ward, according to the Associated Press.
Dwight Hammond said he and his son plan to peacefully report to prison this week as ordered.
“We gave our word that’s what we would do, and we intend to act on it,” he told the AP.
Ammon Bundy tried to characterize the wildlife refuge takeover as some sort of patriotic response to government oppression.
“If we do not make a hard stand,” he told reporters, “we will be in a position where we won’t be able to [do so] as a people.”
In a Facebook video, Bundy said that “people have been abused,” that “EPA has taken and away land from people” by “controlling resources” such that “they” benefit, not the people.
Unfortunately, “they” is we the people. For all the anti-government folks who seem to be content using public lands for profit as long as nobody tells them what to do, there is a legal remedy available to redress grievances.
It’s called voting. It’s right there in the Constitution that outlaws like the Bundys profess to embrace.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator.