Dispatch from Cliven Bundy’s latest gathering

Who showed up at the one-year anniversary of the BLM standoff? Most of them weren’t ranchers.

  • Rancher Cliven Bundy speaking to a reporter, April 10, 2015, near Bunkerville, Nevada.

    Tay Wiles
  • Cliven Bundy, center bottom with the white hat, being interviewed by press and supporters on Saturday, April 11, 2015.

    Tay Wiles
  • A map depicting federal public lands as a percentage of total acreage in each state, displayed at the liberty celebration in Nevada.

    Tay Wiles
  • Former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, a Cliven Bundy supporter, signing a copy of 'Last Rancher Standing,' a book about Bundy. April 12, 2015.

    Tay Wiles
  • A massive banner marks the spot of the "liberty celebration" April 2015, near Bunkerville, Nevada.

    Tay Wiles
  • A sign displayed near the stage, under a highway overpass at the gathering, April 2015, near Bunkerville, Nevada.

    Tay Wiles
  • Souvenir t-shirts sold at the one-year anniversary of Cliven Bundy's standoff with the BLM, near Bunkerville, Nevada.

    Tay Wiles
  • Oath Keepers in attendance at the events, April 2015, near Bunkerville, Nevada.

    Tay Wiles
  • An information table on the side of the highway, at the events, April 2015.

    Tay Wiles
  • Signs at the event, April 2015, near Bunkerville, Nevada.

    Tay Wiles
  • The crowd disperses for the evening after speeches on Saturday, April 11, 2015, near Bunkerville, Nevada.

    Tay Wiles
 

A pleasant breeze flipped the American flags perched in highway guard rails and floated on through the desert hills outside Bunkerville, Nevada. In an ad hoc campsite alongside the road, a few older men sat in lawn chairs next to RVs and trucks, bantering about Constitutional rights. It was a placid scene, not at all like the tense one that unfolded here a year ago, when armed Bureau of Land Management officers showed up to get rancher Cliven Bundy’s cows off federal land only to back down when met by an equally gunned-up group of right-wing radicals and self-professed militia members. 

By last Friday, a rag-tag collection of militia, Constitutionalists, Patriots and other Bundyites from as far away as Florida and Oregon had camped themselves on the side of the highway that leads to the Bundy Ranch in Clark County. A large “Info” sign hung on a trailer parked beside a table of schedules, “We Made a Difference at Bundy Ranch” t-shirts and “Bye Bye BLM” stickers. A couple of organizers shuffled about, answering questions and greeting the occasional arrival. An event was brewing.

The three-day “liberty celebration,” as the Bundys call it on their Facebook page and in emails, didn’t draw the estimated 300-plus supporters that descended last April when BLM-contractors began rounding up Bundy cattle from unpermitted federal rangeland. But over 100 supporters showed up to mark the anniversary of the tentative victory over the feds; Bundy has yet to be charged for grazing his cattle illegally on federal land on and off for decades, nor have his armed defenders been taken to account for aiming weapons at federal agents.

Speakers included Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who has introduced a bill with Bundy's support, to transfer federal administration of public lands in Nevada to the state. Former Arizona sheriff and states’ rights advocate Richard Mack, militia leaders and members of the Bundy family also spoke to the crowd.

The one-year anniversary event was, on the surface, a celebration of ranchers standing up not only to the government, but also to the other forces that conspire to wipe out this traditional livelihood. But there weren’t many ranchers in attendance. Really, it was the one-year birthday of a rekindled anti-federal government movement, one that is gaining strength Westwide. Over three days of milling in the sagebrush expanse between tourist-town Mesquite to the northeast and Las Vegas to the southwest, I met ex-cops, ex-firefighters, ex-military, a real estate agent, roofer, tattoo artist, general contractor, mom-turned Constitutionalist activist, retired San Diego fisherman, and others. Some of Bundy’s fellow livestock producers did in fact show up—and maybe more would have, had the county fair and rodeo down the road not have been the same weekend—but the demographics were telling.

When I broached the subject of Bundy with former bull rider and current Clark County commissioner Tom Collins, over the phone, he said “(Bundy's) not real popular except with wing-nuts and gun nuts." Collins is good friends with the Bundys and says they’re generous contributors to the local community, but he doesn’t support the rancher’s beliefs that the federal government has no place in Clark County or anywhere else. 

While Bundy’s influence has ebbed since he catapulted into the national spotlight, last year’s standoff with the BLM, or “stand-down” as supporters call it because the feds backed off, has galvanized a lasting following irate about federal government overreach.

The crowd disperses for the evening after speeches on Saturday, April 11, 2015, near Bunkerville, Nevada.
Tay Wiles
Joe O’Shaughnessy, leader of an Arizona militia, told me that last April’s events “basically woke people up.” O’Shaughnessy drove from Phoenix to the standoff last year as part of a “security detail to protect the Bundy family.” Within a week after the BLM released the cattle, he was inundated with 600 applications from people wanting to be active members. In the past year, he claims, Arizona militia email lists and Facebook followers have skyrocketed to tens of thousands of fans: “It’s out of control." He’s got a growing army of followers now, but many of those are active military and law enforcement, so aren’t legally able to participate in militia activities, though they support the group’s particular brand of ultra-right politics and stated purpose: defending the U.S. Constitution. 

O’Shaughnessy, who was sporting a t-shirt that read, "Hello my name is America," pointed to the progressive advocacy and research organization Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent reports that militias—groups likes his, and others attending the liberty celebration—have grown in recent years to be a more urgent domestic threat than Islamic terrorism. And O’Shaughnessy insists he’s seen that growth on the ground, in response to the standoff.

A recent Department of Homeland Security report echoed these findings that domestic terrorism and groups like sovereign citizens and Patriots are of utmost concern to law enforcement and the federal government.

Meanwhile, the authorities are tight-lipped as to whether they’ll leave Bundy standing. The Bureau of Land Management continues to defer to the Department of Justice on this issue. And the DOJ declines to confirm whether or not there is a case. “I don’t know whether they’re going to act or not,” Bundy said last Saturday. “The question here is who’s the criminal. Is Cliven Bundy the criminal or is the federal government and their bureaucrats the criminal?” (Bundy often speaks of himself in the third person.)  

On Sunday, after many of the three-percenters, Minutemen, Mountain Minutemen, Oath Keepers, Guardians of the Oath, Agenda-21-ers and others had left to go back to their respective states, Ryan Bundy, son of Cliven, held a Christian service for those who remained. A small flock of birds spiraled and fluttered for several moments behind the stage where Ryan stood, facing his dedicated congregants. They sat in folding chairs in the bright sun, listening for what he was going to say next.

Tay Wiles is the online editor of High Country News. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR AND STAFF ATTORNEY
    Friends of the San Juans' Legal Director and Staff Attorney ("Legal Director") leads our legal advocacy and litigation practice and participates in many other organizational...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.