It's definitely a shame that he's still been allowed to keep grazing and basically suffer no consequences despite the fact that he still owes $1 million to taxpayers
- Aaron Weiss, Center for Western Priorities, on Cliven Bundy
By Matt Pierce
The law was clear: Cliven Bundy's cattle had been grazing on public land — illegally — for years. The Bureau of Land Management said so, and so did the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal courts agreed.
But when the BLM tried to enforce the law — by seizing the Nevada rancher's livestock in 2014 — a ragtag band of militiamen rode to Bundy's defense. After an armed standoff in the desert, federal officials released Bundy's cattle and retreated, soundly defeated.
Almost two years later, as Bundy's sons Ammon and Ryan and a small group of armed militiamen threaten a similar showdown by refusing to leave an Oregon wildlife refuge, Cliven Bundy still owes more than $1 million in grazing fees.
Both cases have raised uncomfortable questions about whether the Bundys are getting off easy and about what happens when demonstrators prevent the government from enforcing its own laws.
The standoff in Oregon has drawn the attention of Black Lives Matter activists who have protested law enforcement's regular use of deadly force across the nation, with seemingly little effect on the number of shootings by police. The government, meanwhile, isn’t saying much about what it’s doing to get the money Bundy owes.
Federal officials seem to have shied away from confrontation to avoid re-creating the bloody Waco and Ruby Ridge standoffs of the 1990s, which galvanized antigovernment radicals like 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
“The two [Bundy standoffs], I think, are indicative of a problem, and that is: When you have people who are publicly proclaiming their defiance of the law and doing it in a potentially violent way, how do you deal with it?” said Patrick Shea, director of the BLM from 1997 to 1999, who was the first to sue Cliven Bundy for illegal grazing.
“Because if you deal with it in an incorrect manner like at Waco or Ruby Ridge, you tend to enhance their status as martyrs,” Shea said.
In Cliven Bundy's case, the 2014 showdown stemmed from the rancher's belief that federal lands belong to the states because of state sovereignty.
In November 1998, a federal judge permanently banned Bundy, whose ranch is located about 90 miles north of Las Vegas, from grazing his livestock on a swath of federal land known as the Bunkerville Allotment and ordered him to remove his cattle by the end of the month. Bundy didn’t.
Instead, Bundy allowed his cattle to graze on even broader areas of federal land run by the BLM and the National Park Service.