A rancher, a growing militia flocking to the rancher’s defense and the federal government are squaring off in Nevada in what is becoming a major issue between the two sides. The argument dates back to 1993, when the federal government changed the grazing laws of a field used by Nevada families for over a century. The new laws put forward by U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prevented grazing in order to protect an endangered desert tortoise. For Cliven Bundy, the rancher, this was only the beginning of what would lead to today’s standoff.
This standoff is another episode to what is seen as a growing conflict-point in the western United States as the reach of the federal government continually increases, gaining the ire of landowners. The federal government now owns about 80% of the land in Nevada and almost half the land in the entire western United States.
Bundy has garnered support from those who view the government’s move as a far-overreach of government power, coming out to protest the government’s moves and stand up for the rancher, whose family has grazed the land since the 1800’s. The government has setup an area for protestors, labeling them “First Amendment Areas”, a phrase that has faced criticism from the governor of Nevada and many other local officials. Even U.S. Senator Dean Heller has weighed in.
These zones have not prevented the protests from moving into other areas, however. A group of protestors along with members of Bundy’s family led to a short burst of violence when a police dog was kicked and federal officials were assaulted, according to police reports. The police subdued the protestors by using Tasers. A video of the confrontation can be seen below:
On Thursday, a press release showed that a group of state legislators and sheriffs plans on traveling to Nevada to take part in a vigil to show their support for the rancher, claiming that officials must follow their oath of supporting the people, which means preventing the government from promoting violence and continuing their livestock roundup. The delegation to Nevada is being organized by Washington State Representative Matt Shea.
The federal government has moved in to take the cattle off the land, saying that they have used the court system to attempt to remove them from the land since 1993, but Bundy repeatedly refused, even though two separate courts ordered him to remove his cattle from the land and to stop using it for grazing. Opponents argue that the federal government has unlimited resources to fight in court, whereas Bundy does not. Often known as “lawyering up.”
The federal response has been massive, with some estimates showing over 200 federal agents and equipment moving on the land to remove the livestock. The response from the federal government has been criticized by some including NV senator Dean Heller and Government Brian Sandoval, who said that it seemed to be an “atmosphere of intimidation.”
The Bureau of Land Management has stood by its actions, saying that it issues over 18,000 permits that allow grazing on 157 million acres across the country. They also point to the fact that Bundy has not paid grazing fees since the new rules took effect in 1993, meaning he owes the U.S. taxpayers over $1 million.
The 1,200-acre plot of land has been closed by the federal government until May 12, in order to give them time to roundup 900 cattle, 500 of which are said to be Bundy’s.