The members of the infamous Bundy clan, and a pair of fellow co-conspirators, have been indicted in U.S. District Court on a series of charges, including assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal officer, use of a firearm in a crime of violence, interference with interstate commerce through extortion and interstate travel in aid of extortion.
Not to mention the catchall “Aiding and Abetting.”
The defendants include patriarch Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Randy, fellow conspirator Ryan Payne and Peter Santilli, who apparently is an internet radio blogger who joined the “cause” the Bundys proclaimed after occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
If convicted on all charges, they are looking at a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and fines that could total $2.5 million, according to reporting by the Washington Post.
Couldn’t happen to a better bunch of outlaws.
By the way, the Nevada rangeland where the Bundys illegally ran their cattle for some 20 years has a history that is at least as sordid as the clan’s attempts to subvert federal laws governing the grazing operations permitted on public land.
Known as the Bunkerville Allotment, the area adjacent to the Bundy Ranch became the property of the United States 168 years ago, as a result of what historians have labeled the Mexican-American War. A quick refresher, because that conflict is one of the low lights in U.S. history.
During the 1830s, with the encouragement of the federal government, white settlers began pouring into what is now Texas, then a province of the Republic of Mexico. After a series of battles that get Texans all misty-eyed, the settlers broke from Mexico to establish the Lone Star Republic. Soon afterwards, then-President John Tyler began secretly negotiating with Texas President Sam Houston to annex the republic and admit Texas to the Union.
The deal was done over the objections of a coalition of northern politicians — including then-Rep. Abraham Lincoln — and Texas was admitted as a slave-holding state in 1845. Within the year, a series of “skirmishes” along the Rio Grande, actions encouraged by President James “Manifest Destiny” Polk, provided an excuse for U.S. Army troops to invade Mexico, which was outmanned, outgunned and soon surrendered. The resulting Treaty of Hildago ceded territories that now comprise California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada — including the Bunkerville Allotment the Bundys have tried to pretend belongs to them — for a payment of $18.25 million.
If you’re scoring at home, that’s 48 cents an acre, one of the greatest real estate swindles in the history of the world.
Another dark side to the story
As if all that isn’t bad enough, here’s a little-known aspect of this saga that strikes me as one of the worst things of which the Bundys have been accused: Animal abuse.
According to a memo filed by federal prosecutors in support of their indictment, the Bundy clan not only doesn’t deserve to keep their unpaid grazing lease, they don’t deserve to be called ranchers, either. Here’s what the memo alleged:
“While Bundy claims he is a cattle rancher, his ranching operation — to the extent it can be called that — is unconventional, if not bizarre. Rather than manage and control his cattle, he lets them run wild on the public lands with little, if any, human interaction until such time when he traps them and hauls them off to be sold or slaughtered for his own consumption. He does not vaccinate or treat his cattle for disease; does not employ cowboys to control and herd them; does not manage or control breeding; has no knowledge of where all the cattle are located at any given time; rarely brands them before he captures them; and has to bait them into traps in order to gather them.”
The prosecutors alleged that Bundy’s cattle have wandered as far as 50 miles from his ranch into the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. “They [are] getting stuck in mud, wandering onto golf courses, straying onto the freeway (causing accidents on occasion), foraging aimlessly and wildly, roaming in small groups over hundreds of thousands of acres that exist for the use of the public for . . . camping, hunting, and hiking.”
So not only is Cliven & Sons a bunch of lawless renegades, their self-serving claims to “ownership” of public lands for livestock production is belied by the apparent reality that they don’t bother to manage their herd, or the habitat on which they graze.
The family is the opposite of what patriots stand for, and now we find out that they they’re the opposite of what ranchers are all about, as well. □
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator