BUNKERVILLE — Defiant rancher Cliven Bundy picked a bouquet of wildflowers from what he calls Nevada’s “free land” to kick off a barbecue and festivities Saturday marking a year since his militia-backed standoff ended with the release of his range cattle from a Bureau of Land Management corral April 12, 2014.
“We want to make a statement that we’re still here,” Bundy, 68, said, overlooking a swath of the Mojave Desert near the Virgin River.
The spot off Interstate 15, 80 miles north of Las Vegas, is a few miles from where the armed standoff with federal authorities came to a halt when his supporters on horseback opened the gates to the makeshift corral and drove his cattle back toward the Gold Butte range.
Government cowboys had gathered most of his herd of 500 cows because he had stopped paying federal fees to graze his cattle on public land more than 20 years ago amid a dispute over his use of the land with federal range managers.
“At that time the federal government had unlimited power, total control of this area, had it locked away from ‘we the people.’ Myself, I had snipers pointed at me 24 hours a day probably,” he said Saturday.
“My cattle were being stolen and abused and my range equipment were being destroyed, things like my water troughs and water lines,” said Bundy, his eyes shaded by the brim of a 10-gallon hat.
“The main thing that was being threatened is our rights: rights to be here, rights to run cattle, rights for the forage. This bouquet … All of these varieties of plants are forage. They’re a renewable resource,” he said. “What I do as a rancher is change this renewable resource into an edible commodity for ‘we the people,’ — you. You look at this as a bouquet. But I look at it as red meat, hamburger, steak. That’s good. That’s what I do, and I do that for American people.”
Bundy said he expects about 100 militia supporters to be among the crowd of a few hundred converging on the banks of the Virgin River for the weekend’s slate of food, poetry, speakers and target shooting.
The BLM has said little about the so-called “Liberty Celebration,” except for a statement this past week that the federal agency “remains resolute in addressing issues involved in efforts to gather Mr. Bundy’s cattle last year and we are pursuing the matter through the legal system.”
“Our primary goal remains, as it was a year ago, to resolve this matter safely and according to the rule of the law,” according to the BLM statement.
When asked how he feels about the BLM’s position, Bundy said he hasn’t been alerted to any new legal matters.
“They’ve had one year to think this over, and when they get guts enough to come after me and try to destroy my ranch, let ’em come,” he said.
“Legalwise, I know they’d love to tie me up in a legal court battle,” Bundy said. “I’m not anxious for that but let me tell you something, when we get there we’re going to find out who the criminals really are. Is it the federal government and their agency or is it Cliven Bundy trying to produce for ‘we the people?’ ”
With a portable power generator humming in the background, one speaker after another held a microphone and addressed a crowd of about 200. They sat in chairs in front of a stage beneath the state Route 170 bridge that spans the Virgin River while children and dogs frolicked in the shallow water.
Dr. Taylor Haynes, a Wyoming rancher, constitutional rights advocate and retired urologist, said he traveled to the celebration “to continue the effort to restore our … God-given rights under the Constitution.”
“So it means to me to see people from all over this region that I’m not a voice crying in the wilderness,” he said. “There are a lot of us who now understand we must return to the Constitution in order to preserve our republic.”
Elko rancher Cliff Gardner, who faced trespassing charges 15 years ago for grazing cattle on U.S. Forest Service land after his permit was canceled, urged the crowd to get a better understanding of their rights under the Constitution and make their voices heard in the Legislature “or just go out in public talking to one another or maybe get involved in a discussion or argument with somebody on the other side.”
Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, a Republican representing Nevada’s 4th District, spoke earlier in the day about her recently amended bill that would challenge federal control of public lands in Nevada, Assembly Bill 408.
“When you think about the Bundy Ranch a year ago with the people of Nevada and the people all across the nation came to say, ‘Federal government we’ve had enough,’ so they’ve taken that battle all the way to Carson City, fighting to enact laws to protect them against their own federal government,” she said.
“If we had more families like the Bundys fighting for their rights, we would not have this federal overreach,” Fiore said.
Contact Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2.