Cliven Bundy is a Nevada rancher and the 67-year-old patriarch of a Mormon family of 14. He is also a passionate believer in states’ rights who claims the federal government has no legitimacy. In common with other members of the “sovereign citizen” movement he claims that the local county sheriff is the ultimate authority in America whose power trumps that of the federal government. Bundy is the poster-geezer for right-wing extremists and a man who makes mainstream conservatives shudder with embarrassment.
Cliven Bundy and the Sovereign Citizens
Extremists in the United States are in a self-proclaimed war with their government in what they say is a patriotic defence of freedom
Dispute over Land Rights
Cliven Bundy would likely have remained an obscure malcontent but for the events of April 2014
For 20 years, Bundy grazed his cattle on federal land near Bunkerville, Nevada but refused to pay grazing fees. He claims his Mormon ancestors grazed the land long before it became federal property so it belongs to him.
Nah-hah courts have said on numerous occasions, adding that his cattle are in an area that is closed to protect an endangered species of tortoise.
By the spring of 2014, the overdue account had reached $1 million and the federal Bureau of Land Management decided it was time to collect the arrears.
In April, and armed with more court decisions than you can shake a gavel at, federal officials began to round up cattle deemed to be trespassing. Within a week they had penned up several hundred cattle most of which carried the Bundy brand.
Stand-off at Bunkerville
Cliven Bundy put out the word to fellow government-haters to rally to his support, and they did
A showdown with government is meat and drink to groups such as Oath Keepers, the White Mountain Militia (right), and the Praetorian Guard.
Their views involve a stew in varying measures of a belief in the supremacy of the individual, fundamentalist Christianity, gun ownership, that immigrants are destroying American culture, and that government is the enemy of the people.
The FBI lists some of these organizations as America’s top domestic terror threats.
Several hundred of these people showed up at the Bundy ranch, among them so-called militiamen in battle fatigues and bristling with guns.
The rhetoric was strong including such things as we are willing to use "lethal force to defend our rights against government thugs.” With Bundy himself braying “We’re about ready to take the country over with force!”
Role of the Media
Cliven Bundy turned into a folk hero
Fortunately, cool heads prevailed. Federal agents facing rifles aimed at them from a highway overpass were ordered to retreat and hand Bundy’s cattle back.
The U.S. government said its officials retreated in the interests of public safety but that it “continues to pursue the matter aggressively through the legal system.”
The Bundy story attracted massive media attention and the Democratic congressman in whose district Bunkerville sits is none too happy about it.
Congressman Steven Horsford wrote “conservative media and politicians pounced, quickly lionizing Cliven Bundy as a patriot. They handed Bundy a megaphone … and, with apocalyptic fanfare, Bunkerville was transformed into some fevered final bastion of freedom.”
Fox News, and particularly Sean Hannity (right), one of the network’s top shouters, rushed to Bundy’s defence, saying the situation served “as proof that we have a government gone wild today in America!”
Nevada Senator Dean Heller (Republican) said of Bundy and his supporters are "patriots.”
Texas Senator Ted Cruz (Republican) said the Bundy standoff was “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on.”
Standoff from Bundy Point of View
Not shown are militias with automatic weapons trained on officials from an overpass (see below)
What Government Officials Were Facing
Bundy Plays the Racist Card
Rancher shows his true colours
Enjoying his time in the media spotlight, Cliven Bundy felt empowered to offer his opinion on many subjects and eventually got around to his views on African Americans and slavery:
“They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
He did not address his own personal seizure of a government subsidy by grazing cattle on government land and not paying for the privilege.
Suddenly, all Bundy’s right-wing supporters such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Governor Rick Perry scuttled for cover like scared bunnies.
Bundy Invokes God
Rancher claims divine intervention
Cliven Bundy quit the Republican Party, which no doubt was happy to see the back of him and probably cautioned him to make sure the door didn’t hit him in the butt on the way out.
He joined the Independent American Party and told a gathering of that far-right group that God had told him to engage in a civil war with Washington. This was, he said, part of a very old struggle between good and evil.
About 100 people attended the meeting and Bundy sounded a bit peeved at the low turnout and used his own version of grammar to say “Where is all of your college students? Where’s our young and where’s our old? Where’s our black and where’s our brown? Where are you people? Aren’t you interested in freedom and liberty?”
The Anger Boils Over
Bundy supporters take the next step
There are plenty of angry people with paranoia about what they call government tyranny. Two of them showed up in Las Vegas a couple of months after helping out at the Bundy standoff.
Jerad and Amanda Miller engaged in what they called a revolution against government oppression. Jerad, in one of his many online rants said “To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed.”
On June 8, 2014, the heavily armed couple shot and killed two Las Vegas police officers and a customer in a Wal-Mart. They barricaded themselves in the store and engaged in a 15-minute gun battle with police until they both died.
The Millers espoused white-supremacist and sovereign-citizen ideologies that exist on a continuum that draws some of its oxygen from disaffected far-rightists whose lives may not have gone so well and who feel the need for someone to blame.
The Aptly Named Bunkerville
“Cliven Bundy: God Told Me To Fight ‘Civil War’ Against Feds.” Associated Press, August 3, 2014.
“Federal Rangers Face off against Armed Protesters in Nevada ‘Range War.’ ” Daniel Hernandez and Joseph Langdon, The Guardian, April 13, 2014.
“Cliven Bundy and the Dangers of Fueling Extremism.” Congressman Steven Horsford, The Washington Post, July 18, 2014.
“A List of Cliven Bundy’s Supporters, Now That We Know He’s a Pro-Slavery Racist.” Arit John and Abby Ohlheiser, The Wire, April 24, 2014.
“A Look Inside the Lives of Shooters Jerad Miller, Amanda Miller.” Las Vega Sun, June 9, 2014.