SPARKS — Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy was preaching to the choir Friday, addressing the Independent American Party’s state convention at the Sparks Nugget.
IAP Chairman Joel Hansen described Bundy and his wife Carol as American heroes.
Bundy, 71, painted the federal government as unconstitutionally overstepping its authority, violating his rights and threatening his family and his supporters with guns during the 2014 standoff at his Bunkerville ranch outside of Las Vegas.
He told the roughly 40 IAP delegates to the convention those federal officers, who were trying to impound Bundy’s cattle for refusing to pay federal grazing fees for some 20 years, have no jurisdiction or authority over that land and can’t impose fees on him for grazing his cattle there. He said that authority belongs to the Clark County sheriff and state of Nevada who refused to do their job, disarm and stop the federal BLM agents.
“The land on Bundy ranch was never part of the territory of Nevada,” he said.
He argued that by allowing his cattle to drink the water and eat the grass on that property, he established rights to the beneficial use of those assets.
“My water rights were pre-emptive water rights created through beneficial use,” he said.
He said those rights are secured and protected by Nevada law, not the federal government which he said has no authority over him or is ranch land and the surrounding BLM lands.
BLM officials have argued and, in federal court, won rulings that Bundy is violating the law by refusing to pay the minimal grazing fees they impose for the use of federal land for some two decades.
Those fees are just $1.33 per animal per month, a rate that hasn’t been raised in decades.
The federal government says he owes more than $1 million in back grazing fees.
Bundy compared the U.S. Constitution to the Bible saying, “Our Constitution is a divine document. I believe our Constitution is the same as scripture.”
He blamed judges — specifically now-retired U.S. District Judge Lloyd George — saying they violate the constitution and the law. He said George, who ruled he was violating the law by grazing on BLM land without permits and without paying grazing fees, was the guilty one.
“Somehow we have to get to the point where we hold these people accountable,” he said.
He said the Clark County land that includes the Bundy Ranch is outside the control of the federal government.
He says Judge Gloria Navarro saved federal prosecutors from further embarrassment.
He says it would have been “a great thing” if it had been left to the jury to find him innocent because that would have set an important precedent across the country.
The convention speech was held before the 40 delegates in attendance but, afterward, was opened to the public for $5 apiece entry fee.
Some 20 people were waiting to attend that session.
The party, which focuses on state and property rights, includes many disaffected, former Republicans.
It now has 65,000 active registered voters in Nevada — up from about 15,000 in 2002.
It’s currently the third largest political party in Nevada, making up about 4.5 percent of the active voters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.