Bo Statham: Bundy must be held accountable for the danger he created
The gravity of Cliven Bundy’s offenses against the United States must not be overshadowed by his more recent racist statements. Bundy has used government-owned land illegally for more than 20 years, has been in contempt of a federal court order for 15 years and threatened duly acting government agents, creating a life-endangering confrontation. He must be held accountable.
Bundy claims an “ancestral right” to federal land on which his family has run cattle since 1877. He is inventing a legal right where none exists. The U.S. government obtained the land by treaty in 1848 after the Mexican-American War and has controlled it ever since. Even the Nevada constitution acknowledges that fact.
Bundy formerly had a Bureau of Land Management permit to graze 150 cows on 158,666 acres (yes, thousands); interestingly, he reportedly owns only 160 acres. The BLM terminated that permit in 1993. Despite two affirming federal court decisions in 1998 and 2013, Bundy has ignored orders to remove his cattle, stopped paying the fees, now has an estimated 900 cows on the land and owes the BLM more than a million dollars.
Armed BLM agents lawfully entered the range, not Bundy’s land, on April 5 to begin removing cattle pursuant to court order. An estimated 150 “militia” members answered Bundy’s call to join him in defiance of the BLM. Angered by being restricted to a ”First Amendment Area,” the mob, brandishing assault weapons and other arms, confronted the agents. With tension mounting, the BLM agents eventually withdrew to avoid violence.
Angry charges being made against the BLM are largely unjustified. After 20 years of Bundy’s repeated refusals to obey BLM and court orders and threats to “do what it takes” to resist their enforcement, federal officers understandably were concerned for their safety when they entered the range to round up Bundy’s cattle.
While the protesters had the right to assemble, they did not have the right to angrily taunt the BLM agents and place snipers on a bridge with agents in their sights. They are now reported to be setting up highway checkpoints to prevent non-residents from entering the area of Bundy’s property. Such vigilante action has no place in American society. Where is the sheriff?
Political leaders bear some responsibility for the confrontation. Sen. Dean Heller spoke of the “over-reaching BLM” and is quoted as calling Bundy’s supporters “patriots.” Gov. Brian Sandoval rightly criticized the First Amendment Area, but his failure to reprimand Bundy and his armed supporters is unacceptable. Without a harsh word for Bundy, Rep. Mark Amodei criticized BLM’s planning and execution of the attempted roundup. All three showed a lack of responsible leadership.
Bundy later made hateful and shameful comments about “the negro,” saying “And I’ve often wondered are (sic) they better off as slaves …” Heller, et al, quickly condemned Bundy’s thoughts, but that doesn’t exonerate their earlier support of him.
The New York Times quoted Bundy as saying, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” He must be given ample reason to acknowledge, and respect, that government: trial and appropriate sentence.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.