Ammon Bundy, son of infamous Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, is leading an armed effort to occupy a headquarters building located in a federal wildlife preserve near Burns, Oregon, as a reaction to a local criminal case between ranchers and public land officials beginning in 2001.
What started as a community protest–over the extended sentencing of father and son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond for two cases of arson on public lands–has morphed into another Bundy showdown where sovereign citizen rhetoric, revisionist history, and self-identified militia converge. Due to the extensive nature of this decades-long story, Breitbart News will be filing multiple stories from eastern Oregon in the days ahead.
While it may appear to be a severe overreaction to a criminal justice matter, such episodes are deeply embedded in certain pockets of western states where local property owners and government officials regularly clash over land usage rights and restrictions. Like some progressive activists capitalizing on officer-involved urban shootings, the Bundy family is now leveraging its experience in fomenting illogical protests across state lines.
Standing up to the federal government and protecting private property rights both can be noble pursuit that inspires the hearts of conservatives, but was the Bundy standoff really about private property rights? The answer is largely no. Let’s look at what happened previously with the Bundy family in hopes of understanding the current standoff.
Breitbart Texas took a close look at the fireworks surrounding the April 2014 Bundy standoff in southern Nevada. We were on scene and we were apparently one of the few outlets that actually reported on the vast paper trail of failed bureaucratic haggling, court briefs, and livestock impoundment orders that led to the dramatic showdown.
Many on the Right–including many right-of-center news outlets–took the Bundy narrative as truth. They believed the feds erroneously took his cattle off of his land and he and his supporters were fighting for his personal property. Court briefs and the sworn testimony by the Bundy family made it clear that there were actually four tracts of land involved, and the three that were at the core of the crisis belonged to the federal government–not the Bundy family.
For purposes of simplification, let’s call the property owned by the Bundy family as Tract A. The property the Bundys once had the permission to use is Tract B (until they refused to pay required grazing fees in 1994). Tracts C and D were protected areas near Lake Mead that were never open to permitted grazing. After the Bundys refused to honor federal grazing requirements, their livestock was considered to be trespassing on Tract B, while hundreds of head of cattle—many unbranded—wandered into Tracts C and D.
Now let’s take a close look at that fight and what beliefs were at the core.
1. Conflating Nevada’s “fence-out” law with open range ranching traditions, the Bundys argued that their livestock could graze anywhere in Nevada unless authorities actively fenced them out of certain properties.
2. Bundy claimed that, since the federal government has no right to exist and is illegitimate, any federal lands in Nevada actually belong to the “sovereign” State of Nevada.
3. Bundy claimed that, since Nevada was the rightful owner of federal lands in Nevada and the state wouldn’t claim to be the owner of those lands, he was welcome to use adjacent tracts as natural extensions of his private property.
4. Bundy claimed Tract C and D as his own by means of the above logic. That’s what the fight was primarily focused on. Tract C was a recreational area for Lake Meade. Tract D had always been a reserve that Bundy had never had the “right” to use.
Let’s revisit the original Breitbart Texas investigative report from the first Bundy standoff. We wrote:
BUNKERVILLE, NEVADA—The Bundy Ranch roundup has understandably stirred thin-stretched emotions as the federal government seizes cattle belonging to the Bundy family. The family settled in the late 1800’s and has ranched in the area since. The federal government allowed Nevada ranchers to graze their cattle on federal tracts of land adjacent to their private properties for generations. The federal government later created the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to administer and “protect” the vast swaths of federal land—including the land the Bundy family’s livelihood was—and still is—dependent upon. The BLM began restricting ranchers’ usage of federal lands to protect various species, and the BLM decided to restrict the Bundy family’s usage of the federal land they historically grazed. The federal government told the Bundy family that a tortoise existed on the land and therefore the land’s usage for cattle would have to decrease—thus creating a scenario where the Bundy family could make fewer resources. A 20-year legal battle ensued.
There exist a number of elements to the story that inject shades of grey into the dominant media narrative. Perhaps hundreds of Bundy supporters have already shown up to the ranch area to “protect” the family and their land—which is federal land—but federal land such usage was promised to the family in the government’s efforts to get people to settle the West after Mexico ceded the land to the U.S. Court documents—discussed later in this article—reveal that the Bundy family decided at some point that the federal government was illegitimate and that they no longer had to give heed to the federal courts. The Bundy family patriarch has openly stated his willingness to use force against federal agents if they take his cattle off of the federal lands; the federal agents stand ready to use force against the family or their supporters if they interfere with the cattle removal. Both sides are armed, both sides are frustrated, and the rhetoric and hyperbole surrounding the entire matter has left many onlookers from around the world confused as to what is actually happening.
In the immediate aftermath of the infamous cattle roundup, Cliven Bundy granted a number of high profile media interviews continuing to deny—to the point of absolutely ignoring family history—what the federal courts have twice told him.
“I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada,” Bundy recently told a Dana Loesch. “…I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But, I don’t recognize the United States Government as even existing.”
Read more: Breitbart