THE BLM'S BUNDY BLUNDER-PATRIOTS VS. FASCISTS
By Joel F. Hansen, Chairman, Independent American Party of Nevada
Cliven Bundy’s ancestors on his mother’s side came, as pioneers, to the Gold Butte area of the southern Nevada desert in 1877 and began ranching from scratch. In doing this they established grazing rights and water rights—preemptive legal rights under Nevada law which gave them permanent rights to graze cattle on that land. Those legal rights were passed down through the years to Cliven Bundy and his family. In 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act was passed by Congress, an act designed to assist ranchers, especially in the arid American West, to raise cattle for the benefit Americans—by putting delicious and nutritious beef on their tables. The Bundy ranch is located about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, near the town of Bunkerville.
These pioneers conquered this hostile, arid land and made it into a productive ranch by making water and feed available to their cattle and learning how to manage the cows so that they could survive in such an arid place, an area mostly covered by sagebrush and creosote bushes. Because of the water and increased food made available by the ranchers’ efforts, wildlife flourished. The most numerous animal wildlife in the area is the desert tortoise. The tortoises flourished because the cows eat woody bushes which are above the level the tortoises can reach, and then they leave a delicacy for the tortoises on the ground where they can reach it. The tortoises’ main course and dessert is cow pies, which contain all of the nutrients and moisture the tortoises need for survival.
In 1946, the Bureau of Land Management was created by Congress with the mission of helping ranchers to succeed by helping them construct watering facilities, fences, and other things needed by cattle and by ranchers. The partnership was a good one, and Cliven Bundy paid the grazing fees required by the BLM for many years. The people who ran the BLM in the beginning were rancher friendly, having degrees in solid scientific areas like geology, range management, animal husbandry, and the like. But beginning in the 1970’s and growing in numbers at an ever increasing rate each year was a new generation of BLM-ocrats, those with degrees in the “environmental sciences.” This new generation saw ranchers not as fellow citizens cooperating in the effort to make the land productive, but as enemies who were destroying the environment. They had signs on their walls—“no more moo by 92” and “cattle free by 93.” As a result, in an effort to eliminate ranching in Nevada, the BLM began raising the annual fee for each cow on the range (AUM’s) and shortening the grazing season. Thus, out of over 50 ranchers in Clark County, only Cliven Bundy survived, as one by one all of his fellow ranchers gave up and went out of business because they couldn’t make a profit under the BLM’s oppressive rules.
But Cliven knew that the BLM was supposed to be his servant, not his master, and so, since his servant was trying to destroy him, he famously “fired” the BLM and told them he did not need their services anymore and to stay off his ranch. The BLM didn’t take too kindly to that, and so it obtained two federal court orders that rancher Bundy had to pay the grazing fees or clear out. Cliven responded that he would do “whatever it takes” to preserve his family’s ancestral rights in the land, rights which had existed for many years before the BLM was created. He took the position that neither the BLM nor the federal court had any jurisdiction over that land, because it belongs to the State of Nevada.
To understand this claim, one must understand that when the Territory of Nevada came into the Union, all of the unappropriated land in the Territory had belonged to the federal government under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico. Under the Northwest Ordinance, passed before the US Constitution was adopted, and continued by later Congresses, as new states came into the Union, all of the federally owned land in each state was to be turned over to the State, or to the people by sale. The philosophy was that each state should enter the union on an “equal footing” with all of the older states, none of which had federal land of any appreciable amount within their boundaries. And so it is that East of the Rocky Mountains there is almost no federally owned land in any of the states. But the philosophy changed out West. As the new states of Colorado, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, and 8 other western states came into the Union, Congress required the Territorial Legislatures to renounce any claim they had to the unappropriated lands within their borders. And so it is that on average, 50% of the land in these 13 Western states is claimed by the federal government, Nevada having the greatest percentage of federally claimed land, almost 90%.
But then in the 1970’s and 80’s there arose the “Sagebrush Rebellion” among the western people, vociferously arguing that they wanted no more to be treated as territories of the federal government, but as full-fledged states. Westerners had long complained that Federal control had weakened these states’ economies and stifled economic growth long enough. The spark that turned these complaints into a "rebellion" was the enactment in 1976 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) that ended homesteading, which meant that the federal government would forever retain control of western public lands.
Sagebrush Rebels wanted the federal government to give more control of federally “owned” western lands to state and local authorities. This was meant to increase the growth of western economies. Republican Ronald Reagan declared himself a sagebrush rebel in an August 1980 campaign speech in Salt Lake City, telling the crowd, "I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion. Count me in as a rebel." Nevada led the way. The "Sagebrush Rebellion" burst onto the Western scene in 1979, when the Nevada legislature enacted a law claiming ownership of the "unappropriated" public lands in the state.
And so when Cliven Bundy says he doesn’t recognize federal jurisdiction over his ranch, he points to the State of Nevada laws which say that Nevada owns the land under his ranch and he owns the grazing and water rights. After he fired the BLM, Cliven paid his next bill for grazing fees to Clark County, which accepted his payment, in fact he paid several times, but then, not knowing what to do with the money, the county refunded it. And so Cliven began putting these fees into a trust account.
Finally, a federal judge ordered the BLM to impound and remove all of Bundy’s cattle. When sympathetic ranchers and other patriotic Americans around the country heard of this pending federal invasion of the Bundy ranch, the anger simmering throughout the West against federal bureaucratic high handedness reached a boiling point. People gathered in large numbers on the ranch to protest the BLM’s threatened invasion. These patriotic cowboys and “militia” (which is defined in the U.S. code as all able bodied men between the ages of 17 and 45) were there to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. But the BLM moved in anyway, and committed atrocities in the process. When Davey Bundy tried to video federal agents preparing the invasion, he was thrown to the ground, his iPad was confiscated, he was stomped on the neck and his face was ground into the rocks and dirt, after which he was transported to Las Vegas, held many hours with his hands handcuffed behind his back, and was later released with no charges filed and the record of his stay in the jail erased. One of the Bundy women, Aunt Margaret, was violently thrown to the ground, and Ammon Bundy was tazed. Numerous cattle were shot, and many were secretly buried in a shallow grave. The Feds set up a couple of “1st amendment zones,” small enclosed areas in which any protestors were supposed to confine their activities. (The Bundy’s aptly named these “pig pens.”) This anti-Constitutional action brought forth a firestorm of protests from people of all stations, including the governor of Nevada. The BLM was forced by public opinion to remove these ridiculous “1st amendment zones.” But worst of all, the BLM brought in professional mercenaries, protected by body armor and armed to the teeth with military style firearms, who had specific assignments to shoot certain people immediately if violence broke out. They proceeded to round up the Bundy cattle, scaring them half to death with helicopters and hired cowboys, and fenced them in a dry gully located partially under an I-15 bridge.
About 200 cowboys and others dressed in camouflage walked down the dry gulch, some on horses, some with handguns holstered cowboy fashion on their hips. There is no evidence that any of these people ever pointed a gun at the BLM and their FBI friends who were present, despite mountains of video evidence of every moment of the stand-off. Although there is one famous photo of one protestor pointing a rifle through a space in the barricades on top of the bridge, there is no evidence that he pointed it at anyone nor that any of the BLM invaders saw the muzzle of his rifle. In the face of determined patriots and volunteer militia men on the other side of the cattle fence and the Clark County sheriff who pleaded with the BLM to disperse in order to prevent violence, the cowardly feds turned tail and ran.
Over a year later, Cliven was arrested when he got off a plane in Oregon on his way to visit his sons camped on the Malheur wildlife refuge who were defending the rights of some Oregon ranchers who had been unjustly imprisoned on trumped up charges. That stand-off, in which one of the Bundy supporters, LaVoy Finicum, was killed in cold blood by an FBI agent, went before a jury. All of the defendants were acquitted.
Instead of the government releasing Ammon and Ryan, they were transported to Nevada and kept in federal prison with their father, Cliven. They were held until trial on the false premise that they were a danger to their community and that they were flight risks, all of which was groundless. Cliven has never had as much as a traffic ticket. No criminal record. The trial was run by Judge Gloria Navarro, (appointed on recommendation of Senator Harry Reid) who made outrageous anti-defense pro-prosecution rulings throughout the trial. She ruled that the First and Second Amendments could not be used as defenses in the trial (pardon us, but isn’t that why the founders put those amendments into the Constitution?!). And she even kicked one defendant off the stand when he tried to testify that he had seen federal snipers on the buttes overlooking the ranch. She said he couldn’t testify to this because there was insufficient evidence of snipers being present. (Pardon us again, but wouldn’t his testimony have supplied that evidence?!)
The prosecution of the case in Las Vegas was headed by US Attorney Steve Myrhe, while the invasion itself had been directed by Dan Love of the BLM. These two worked together to hide key evidence from the Defense team. The defense lawyers kept insisting that the government was hiding exculpatory surveillance evidence and other key documents. Myrhe and Love kept denying that.
Then, in answer to the many prayers of the Bundy family and many others, the prosecution’s case was broken wide open. Judge Navarro, based upon indisputable evidence presented to her by the defense attorneys, finally ordered the prosecutors to turn over exculpatory documents, the existence of which Steve Myhre had been denying all along. And then, to make matters worse for the Prosecution, Larry Wooten, a former BLM investigator who worked on the Bundy case, filed a whistleblower complaint with the Justice Department, alleging that he’d been removed from the investigation in February after he’d raised concerns about misconduct by Love. He said that the government had failed to turn over evidence of such misconduct to defense lawyers for the Bundy’s and that BLM officials were biased against the Bundy’s, exposing the facts that during the investigation, “at any given time, you could hear the subjects of this investigation openly referred to as ‘retards,’ ‘red-necks,’ ‘overweight women with the big jowls,’ ‘d*uche bags,’ ‘tractor-face,’ ‘idiots,’ ‘in-bred,’ etc., etc.” Wooten wrote, in a 12 page memo, that during the ranch standoff Love had told agents to “kick Cliven Bundy in the mouth (or teeth) and take his cattle.”
Wooten reported that BLM officers had bragged about using excessive force during the arrest of Dave Bundy in 2014 and “grinding his face into the ground.” More significant for the prosecution, Wooten wrote that on multiple occasions, Love “specifically and purposely ignored orders in order to command the most intrusive, oppressive, large-scale, and militaristic trespass cattle impound possible.” He added, “The investigation indicated that there was little doubt there was an improper cover-up in virtually every matter that [Love] participated in or oversaw, and that [Love] was immune from discipline and the consequences of his actions.” Wooten also stated that Steve Myhre knew about the cover up and refused to do anything about it, despite Wooten’s requests. Thankfully, Dan Love has since been fired and Steve Myrhe has been re-assigned.
The government turned over the Wooten memo to the defense in December, and Cliven Bundy’s lawyer, Brett Whipple, who succeeded Joel Hansen as Cliven’s attorney, immediately used it to ask Navarro to dismiss the case. Judge Navarro at first declared a mistrial, and soon after that, dismissed the case. In the dismissal hearing, Judge Navarro excoriated the prosecution and the BLM for over a half an hour because of their illegal and egregious actions in deliberately hiding evidence, calling their actions “the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct I have ever seen.” She said federal prosecutors acted recklessly and engaged in a "deliberate attempt to mislead and distort the truth" by failing to turn over evidence that could have helped exonerate the four defendants.
Cliven Bundy, after 700 days of false imprisonment, walked out of the federal court house a free man on that very day, asking, “Since when did federal bureaucrats have an army to point their guns down the throats of ‘We the People?’ That’s not what the founding fathers intended. We’re not done with this. If the BLM tries this again, we’ll tell them the truth. And that’s all we’ve ever done.” Unfortunately, the BLM and the federal prosecutors can’t say the same about themselves after their dishonest and even criminal conduct was exposed. Let’s hope all of this helps bring back some honesty and accountability to the federal agencies. And let’s also hope that this leads to the liberation of state lands now held by the federal bureaucrats against the will of the people of the western states.
Cliven Bundy and his sons are modern American heroes, who fought against tyranny at the peaceful battle of Bunkerville, in memory of the bloody battle against tyranny at Bunker Hill.