[Armed antigovernment extremists, including the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, seized an unoccupied federal visitor’s center in Oregon over the weekend after their rally failed to convince two ranchers to continue defying the U.S. government.
Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son, Steven Hammond, 46, both convicted of arson for starting fires on public lands adjoining their ranch near Burns, Ore., said they would report to federal prisons in California today and begin serving 5-year mandatory sentences and not seek sanctuary from the local sheriff and militia and Patriots.
Extremists and antigovernment activists from throughout the country, particularly the West, flocked to Burns for the Saturday rally supporting the Hammonds, who didn’t participate.
The startling development in Oregon seems to be further evidence that because there were no arrests following 2014 Nevada “Bunkerville” standoff, the Bundys and some of their militia supporters feel emboldened, and ready to take the next step toward possible violence.
One of Bundy’s sons involved in the new standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Ryan Bundy, told the Oregonian that he and other armed Patriots are “willing to kill and be killed if necessary.” Another militia activist involved in the standoff, Jon Ritzheimer, made a farewell video that was posted last night on YouTube.
Another son, Ammond Bundy, told the newspaper that he and others occupying the U.S. Fish & Wildlife headquarters were “planning on staying here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.” Media outlets reported those involved in the take-over appeared well-supplied and armed.
The Oregon standoff follows similar dust-ups last year in Oregon and Montana between the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and assorted antigovernment extremists, including members of the Oathkeepers and individuals calling themselves the “III Percenters” in memory of the minority of U.S. citizens who fought in the American Revolution….] Read the full story here | SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER
But, what about the Bundies?
[It’s been almost a year since the standoff between Bureau of Land Management officials and rancher scofflaw Cliven Bundy. In that time, Bundy has gone from being just a rancher who wouldn’t pay his fees, to a lasting political figure that the far-right anti-federal government set continues to coalesce around.
Last April, BLM rounded up 300 of Bundy’s cattle in southern Nevada’s Clark County, because the livestock were trespassing on public land and had been doing so, on and off, for decades. Bundy owed taxpayers some $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and fines, which to this day he has not settled. In response to the impoundment, anti-federal ideologues and members of militia groups from surrounding states gathered near the Bundy ranch to support his protest of the cattle seizure and his beliefs that the BLM had no authority over where he could graze his cattle. An estimated 300 people congregated at the side of the road near the Bunkerville grazing allotment and at least one militia group member aimed a rifle at the federal agents below. Fearing an escalation to violence, the government officials aborted their mission—they released the cattle and left.
Much ink has been spilled over whether the BLM should have waited for a better time for the impoundment or simply put its foot down years ago; and whether the sheriff’s department promised to help with security during the impoundment, but failed to show up, as BLM officials have said. It’s clear that Bundy was, and still is, breaking federal law, which states that BLM controls where ranchers can and cannot graze on public land it manages.
By all accounts, Bundy still has not been charged for the trespassing cattle or the unpaid fines. Bundy told me in an email that his cattle have “all returned back to their normal grazing habitat”—i.e., where the BLM restricts grazing in part because it’s sensitive desert tortoise habitat. The BLM would not confirm or deny that, nor would the agency comment on whether security has been increased or procedures have changed in Nevada, or agency-wide as a result of the standoff, except to say that they “implement routine security measures at many public meetings.”
In December, Bundy declared at a Nye County Commissioners meeting (which borders his home county) that the federal government has no authority and urged locals to cease engagement with the BLM altogether. Commissioner Dan Schinhofen recalls that Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven, said at the meeting that if commissioners even communicated with the federal agency, they should be thrown out of office. According to the Pahrump Valley Times, Cliven Bundy helped spur the passage of an anti-BLM resolution in Nye County. Commissioner Donna Cox, who shares some similar views with the Bundys, proposed the resolution to categorically say “no” to the BLM.
“I think she envisioned that (we would) not further work on the resource management plan and (the BLM) would just run away and go hide,” Schinhofentold me. “But (the BLM’s) going to do their RMP process no matter what. Their bosses are telling them to do it.”
Despite the lingering support for Bundy in some corners, for Schinhofen and at least one other commissioner, the Bundys lean too far right. “Supposedly I’m now the BLM apologist,” Schinhofen says. But in Nye County, that isn’t saying much. He and other commissioners are part of an effort to transfer federal public lands to state control—a local manifestation of a larger movement afoot, currently centered in Utah. They don’t want BLM controlling their recreation areas and grazing allotments, but at least they’re trying to make change through laws that already exist, he says—writing a proposal to reverse them, and working with the agency on things like resource management plans in the meantime.]
Tay Wiles is the online editor of High Country News.