As a resident of the American Southwest — New Mexico to be exact — I’ve become familiar with complicated interplay of federally-owned lands, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), state lands, reservations, and even this interesting notion of ‘land grants’ which sometimes date back to before there were states in this part of the country.
We also have more than our share of radical libertarians and wingnuts. So I’ve been watching the Cliven Bundy situation in Nevada with a fair amount of interest because all of these elements are in play.
Long story short: Bundy is not the states-rights patriot he claims to be, but appears to be a law-breaking liar who has — quite literally — said he doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the United States government. Not just since a black man became President, but EVER.
Pretty much the opposite of ‘patriot’ in every respect.
The Cliven Bundy story in a nutshell
Bundy owns a 160-acre cattle and melon ranch in Clark County, Nevada, near the town of Bunkerville, which is on the Virgin River — close to the Nevada-Arizona-Utah borders. Interstate-15 runs right through the area. This much is not at all in dispute. (BTW, the Virgin River is one of the feeders into Lake Meade, site of Hoover Dam.)
In 1993, in response to reports that a local desert tortoise was dying off and that cattle were doing too much damage, the Feds began restricting access to cattle grazing on federally-owned lands throughout the entire region.
On top of denying access to some areas and more strictly enforcing grazing fees in others, the Feds began limiting which grazing ranges were open in any given year and how many cattle were allowed on the allotments.
Nevada’s Clark County also bought up and retired all of the remaining grazing leases in the nearby Gold Butte area, south of Bunkerville.
Well, Cliven Bundy refused to pay. He’s also defied repeated orders not to graze his cattle on protected federal lands.
He claims there is no such thing as federally-owned land and that there is no Constitutional basis for the Interior Department or the BLM. Yes, he’s that far out there.
Time and time again, Bundy went to court, including an appeal to the 9th Circuit in 1998, in which Bundy represented himself. His claims have invariably been nonsensical and at odds with established facts and laws.
In the ’98 case, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction ordering Bundy to remove his cattle from federal lands. By 2014, the unpaid fines and fees are now in excess of $1 million. He’s never paid a dime.
In August 2013, he was given 45 days by the BLM to remove his cattle, or they would be seized and sold off to pay the fines. Bundy refused. (Actually, the BLM has warned him a whole bunch of times over the years to remove the cattle or risk forfeiture.)
Last April, in response to a BLM move to seize Bundy’s cattle which were still grazing illegally on federal land, he rounded up about hundred friends, relatives, and would-be allies and began threatening BLM rangers and federal employees.
The militia types from out-of-state also showed up, heavily armed. They talked openly about firing on BLM rangers and federal law enforcement officers. In one report, one of the militia types — a retired sheriff from Arizona and member of the Oath Keepers (a radical Bircher-related militia movement) — Richard Mack, said they were planning to put the women and children in front. How courageous.
“I would have put my own wife or daughters there, and I would have been screaming bloody murder to watch them die,” he said. “I would’ve gone next, I would have been the next one to be killed. I’m not afraid to die here. I’m willing to die here.”
“But the best ploy would be to have had women at the front,” he continued. “Because, one, I don’t think they would have shot them. And, two, if they had, it would have been the worst thing that we could have shown to the rest of the world, that these ruthless cowards hired by the federal government will do anything.”
Right, because there’s nothing cowardly about using unarmed women and children as human shields so the heavily armed menfolk don’t get killed first.
In an effort to defuse the situation and avoid bloodshed, the BLM backed down, for now.
“I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing”
Cliven Bundy and his allies have never won in a court of law, whether it’s Nevada state or a federal court. In a radio interview in April, he said, “I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”
Cliven Bundy and his friends say they’re patriots, but they deny the authority of our elected federal government — and apparently Nevada state, too, whenever it suits them.
Sedition: (noun) (1) incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government. (2) any action, especially in speech or writing, promoting such discontent or rebellion.
Cliven Bundy is either a liar…or a serious exaggerator
In many of the early reports, Bundy is quoted as claiming his family had been ranching there since 1877. According to a report by KLAS:
“I’ve lived my lifetime here. My forefathers have been up and down the Virgin Valley here ever since 1877. All these rights that I claim, have been created through pre-emptive rights and beneficial use of the forage and the water and the access and range improvement”
Well, that first sentence is more or less true. The rest is sovereign citizen gobbledygook.
And the claim of his ancestors being there, with legal rights to the land since 1877, is not true. KLAS-TV out of Las Vegas and their investigative reporter, Nathan Baca, has done some terrific research and reporting on that particular claim of inherited rights that would predate the creation of the BLM itself in 1946.
Bundy’s father didn’t start grazing cattle there until 1954
Clark County records show that Cliven Bundy’s parents bought his ‘ancestral’ 160 acre ranch in 1948, and didn’t start grazing cattle on the adjacent federal lands until 1954. Prior to that, they lived in Arizona. Bundy himself was born in 1946.
“All my life” apparently doesn’t include his first two years.
According to court records, his father grazed cattle for several years in the Bunkerville Allotment, then stopped. Then presumably Bundy himself resumed in 1973, paying the required fees until 1993 when he stopped paying but kept grazing. After being served with several notices in 1994 to pay up or remove the cattle, he asserted ‘vested grazing rights’ — which have never been upheld in any court, nor has Bundy offered any documented proof of those rights when given numerous chances to do so.
Bundy has further claimed, “My rights are before the BLM even existed, but my rights are created by beneficial use. Beneficial use means we created the forage and the water from the time the very first pioneers come here.”
Again, apparently the rights Bundy claims also predate his ancestor’s presence in the immediate vicinity of his current ranch. And he weirdly claims he’s creating the water and the grass his cattle herds have been using up. Last I checked, Mother Nature took care of that sort of thing.
The term ‘beneficial use’ by the way is a term from the original 1862 Homesteading Act, whereby a family could lay claim to lands in certain designated areas, pay a small fee, and as long as they improved it and lived on it, they could claim title after five years. The Act itself was repealed in 1976, and in any case was limited to claims of just 160 acres total. It has never been recognized as an authority to seize or use federally-owned lands not listed as eligible for homesteading. (BTW, it’s no accident that Bundy’s ranch is 160 acres.)
According to additional reporting from KLAS’s Steve Karnigher, no Bundys lived in Bunkerville NV in 1930 or 1940. Bundy’s mother and her parents lived in the neighboring town of Mesquite, with census records from 1930 indicating John and Christena Jensen (Bundy’s maternal grandparents) were from Utah, which is about another 20-30 miles up the present-day I-15. They did have a farm (usually not considered the same thing as a cattle ranch), but it’s reported to have been near Main Street in Mesquite.
Although Bundy’s assertion is his right to graze and water his cattle on federal lands comes from his mother’s side of the family, he can point to no document, no contract, no license or agreement, and no law establishing this inheritable right in perpetuity. Just his specious assertion that the Federal government cannot legally own land inside any state — an assertion that has been dismissed repeatedly in state and federal courts.
Indeed, the only established legal rights he has under the law are the water rights, including water from the nearby Virgin River, associated with the 160-acre ranch which was purchased from Raoul and Ruth Leavitt in 1948. There are no records of inherited grazing rights, pre-emptive rights, special rights, or grandfathered federal land use rights assigned to Bundy or his ancestors.
Basically, Bundy claims grazing rights on the federally-owned lands adjacent to his property because he says so.
One of the militia types in from Alaska, a man named Justine Giles, who is apparently as history- and irony-challenged as Bundy himself, remarked, “They are literally treating western United States citizens, ranchers, rural folks like this are the modern-day Indians. We’re being driven off of our lands.”
Bundy says his claim dates to 1877. The irony is that in 1875, the local Paiute Indians were forced off those lands into reservations so white men could move in and seize them.
Two years earlier, in 1873, the same land Bundy now owns and uses to grow his melons and raise cattle had been promised to the Paiute. A promise broken, obviously.
Those ‘pioneers’ of the late 19th century stole the land from the indigenous people already living there.
Bundy is a moocher, and he’s stealing from all of us
It costs money for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and National Parks Service to manage the lands they’re in charge of. There are access roads to maintain, firefighters to deal with range fires, reclamation efforts, soil and water conservation — and the need to repair the damage done by overgrazing.
A big chunk of the BLM and NPS budgets comes from the Federal government — funded by us taxpayers — because although they can charge licensing fees for the grazing, farming, and mineral rights they regularly lease out, these fees are just a fraction of fair value and actual cost of management.
For example, for the last 30 years, the BLM has charged a mere $1.34 per animal per month (AUM) of grazing. That’s less than a quarter of what it costs the BLM to manage the lands. In 2004, the GAO estimated that private grazing fees, in today’s 2014 dollars, to be $10-29 AUM.
From Salon (emphasis added):
The public lands livestock grazing program uses approximately 250 million acres of the arid west, with permitted users paying a pittance to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the Forest Service for the privilege to do so. And it is truly a pittance. When Bundy stopped paying BLM in 1993, he owed just $1.86 per animal unit month for his mama cows, or $3,348 to use the land year-round. But Bundy refused to pay the fees because he didn’t want to reduce his herd to just 150 animals in order to help save the Mojave desert tortoise, a species given an emergency Endangered Species Act listing, and whose existence is specifically threatened by livestock competition for scarce desert vegetation and direct crushing and trampling of tortoise burrows. Bundy’s non-payment of fees was coupled with non-cooperation about getting his cows off the range. Since 1993, Bundy’s herd has ranged from 550 to more than 900 animals, far more than he was ever legally permitted. His cows have roamed over a much broader area than he was ever legally allowed to use. Without accounting for the legal expenses incurred by BLM and the costs of last week’s failed roundup, Bundy has since racked up a million dollar bill for overdue fees, trespass fees, and fines.
The lands Cliven Bundy claims as his own, to do with as he pleases, belong to all of us. Through our federal government and its laws, we elected to try to preserve a portion of those near-desert range lands, even as ranchers are being treated exceedingly generously with those ridiculously low grazing fees.
But that’s not good enough for a man like Bundy, a man who denies the United States even exists as a legitimate nation.
I’ll give him this much: He’d rather take a stand and cheat the rest of us out of the few thousand bucks a year he’d otherwise owe than to admit the federal government of the United States of America has any authority over him, a citizen not of America but of the sovereign and apparently independent nation-state of Nevada.
However, these are not the beliefs and positions of an American patriot. They’re the acts of a man committing an act of rebellion against lawful authority, a man whose patriotism and allegiance is not to any nation or state, but to himself alone.
The funny thing is he’s not even being a patriot to Nevada either, whose government’s position is he should pay for the damned grazing licenses like everybody else.
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And here’s on Stewart’s take on Cliven Bundy, from Monday night: