David Bundy brings his family, including his two-year old son Cliven, from Bundyville, Arizona and buys a 160-acre ranch in Clark County, Nevada from Raoul and Ruth Leavitt. Water rights are transferred to Bundy’s land, but do not impact the federally managed land surrounding the ranch.
David Bundy, the father of future rancher Cliven Bundy, applies for permission to graze cattle on federally owned land in the Gold Butte area north of Las Vegas. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grants the request.
Rancher David Bundy is found to be delinquent on his grazing fees to the BLM. He will eventually pay what he owes.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy begins paying grazing fees in order to use publicly owned lands for his cattle.
Bundy applies for a transfer of his father’s permit to graze cattle on federally managed land. Bundy is already grazing his cattle illegally on the land. The BLM denies the permit, citing unpaid delinquent fees. Bundy continues to graze his cattle on the federal land.
The BLM offers a ten-year grazing permit to Bundy, written to alleviate the impact of his cattle on the endangered desert tortoise habitat by capping his allowance of grazing cattle to 150 head. Bundy refuses to accept the permit and continues to graze his cattle on the Bunkerville allotment, which by now consists of over 10,486 acres of National Park Service land at the northern end of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. He also stops paying his federal grazing fees (approximately $2/head) in what he calls a “protest” against the permit. The Washington Post reports,
Cliven Bundy, whose family homesteaded his ranch in 1877 and who accuses the government of a “land grab,” are digging in for a fight and say they will not willingly sell their grazing privileges to create another preserve.
Bundy, still refusing to pay his grazing fees to the federal government, sends a payment check to Clark County instead. The county returns his check, citing a lack of jurisdiction.
Tensions between the BLM and Nevada ranchers who refuse to pay fees or comply with regulations escalates. A small bomb goes off in the US Forest Service office in Carson City. Forest Service spokesperson Erin O’Connor says,
If it was sent as a message, we got it.
Federal workers travel the area in pairs and stay in contact with their offices for fear of being assaulted. Forest Service official Jim Nelson says:
I’m concerned about the safety of my employees. They can’t go to church in these communities without having someone say something. Their kids are harassed in school. Stores and restaurants are not serving them.
Nelson says that the government manages the land for the best use of ranchers and everyone else, and that unattended, free-ranging cows that graze the land illegally despoil the protected springs and stream banks. Bundy says:
They’ve taken their authority and abused it. I’m not being regulated to death anymore.
Bundy and some of his fellow ranchers say that the federal government has no rights to the 87% of the land it owns in that state. Bundy and his associates say that Nevada’s state rights invalidate federal rights. An area resident says that federal laws and court decisions mean nothing, and calls their resistance “a revolutionary war.” Bundy says:
I’m still saying the state of Nevada owns that land, and the federal government has been an encroacher. I’m not moving my cattle. We have … rights.
He says his personal rights to the land trump federal law, and that his rights derive from his contention that his Mormon ancestors were using the land well before the federal government claimed authority over it.
The Las Vegas police tell the BLM that they believe armed ranchers are planning a standoff in case the BLM moves to impound Bundy’s cattle. The BLM does not attempt to impound Bundy’s cattle or to make him pay his outstanding debt.
The US District Court of Nevada finds Bundy guilty of trespassing on federal land with his cattle as well as finding him in arrears with the BLM, noting that he has not paid grazing fees since 1993. It permanently bans Bundy from grazing his cattle on the Bunkerville allotment. The court commends the BLM’s restraint in not confronting Bundy. Bundy, who represented himself, appeals the ruling and continues to graze his cattle on the land.
A friend of Bundy’s calls the Clark County Commissioners’ Office to threaten a “Ruby Ridge situation” if federal authorities attempt to enforce a court ruling that requires Bundy to remove his cattle from federal land. The reference is to a 1992 standoff between white separatists and the FBI in Ruby Ridge, Idaho that ended tragically.
Citing the fragility of the endangered desert tortoise habitat in the Gold Butte area, the Clark County Desert Conservation Program permanently bans all cattle grazing from the area. Bundy ignores the ban and continues grazing his cattle on the land.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denies Bundy’s appeal of a federal ruling finding him guilty of trespassing and failing to pay his grazing fees. The court says,
Bundy has not shown why he could not or would not comply with the Court’s order [to cease grazing].
The court fines Bundy for willful trespass.
The BLM again decides not to forcibly impound Bundy’s cattle, and instead begins to formally investigate and document Bundy’s “willful trespass” on the designated land. By 2012, it will have documented 199 incidents of trespass, from a photograph of a single cow to the construction of an illegally built reservoir.
Bundy says that President Clinton’s establishment of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument is an illegal federal land grab. His grandparents settled in the Parashant area of Arizona in 1877. Bundy says,
The terrible thing about it is there is private property, customs and lifestyles [at stake].
Virtually all of the 1.1 million acres of land in the monument area was federally managed land before it was designated as a federally protected monument area. The monument designation completes the protection of the entire Grand Canyon area, and renders it off limits for ranching, mining, oil/gas exploration, and development.
Bundy joins some fifty ranchers in a courtroom protest of rancher Cliff Gardner’s conviction of illegally grazing his cattle on federal land. The protesters say that states’ rights render federal law irrelevant, and say that Gardner’s conviction is meaningless. Some of them wear white wigs to emulate Revolutionary War patriots. Bundy says,
This court has tried to intimidate the citizens of Nevada by attempting to make an example of Cliff Gardner.
The BLM notifies Bundy that if he does not remove his cattle and fencing from federal lands, the government will do it and charge him the costs. In response, he tells the agency that he will do whatever he deems necessary to protect what he calls his “unalienable forage, water and access rights”.
Bundy says he does not recognize the federal government, and will continue to graze his cattle on federal land regardless of what actions federal agencies may take. He says he will resist any effort by government officials to remove his cattle from federal lands.
Bundy tells a reporter he has “fired” the BLM and will continue grazing his cattle on the federal allotment no matter what the BLM says.
The BLM sends a notice of trespass to Bundy, and soon after notifies him that his cattle are subject to impoundment and sale.
The US Department of Interior offers to round up Bundy’s cattle and sell them, with Bundy receiving all of the profits. Bundy rejects the offer.
Bundy responds to the BLM’s announced intention to round up his cattle with a letter implying that he will violently resist any such efforts:
I and the preemptors of this ranch have established preemptive rights created from beneficial use of water, forage, access, improvements and other rights belonging to We the People, of Clark County, Nevada. These rights, freedoms and liberties: I will do whatever it takes to defend and/or uphold.
The BLM announces that it will round up and confiscate Bundy’s cattle.
A federal court judge rules that Bundy’s cattle may be removed if he does not move them himself and pay the $300,000 he owes in grazing fees. Bundy’s cattle are grazing on the habitat of the desert tortoise, which is protected by the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy has declined to pay grazing fees since 1993 and has received multiple warnings, but he says that he has rights to the land over the BLM because his Mormon ancestors worked the land before the BLM was formed.
The US District Court for Nevada rules that Bundy has refused to comply with a 1998 court order to remove his cattle from the Bunkerville allotment, and further, he is grazing his livestock on “a broad swath of additional public lands” without approval. Moreover, the court finds that Bundy has caused “irreparable harm” by allowing his cattle to damage the public lands. In response, Bundy argues that the federal government has no jurisdiction over public lands, an argument rejected by Judge Lloyd George. He is again barred from trespassing on those lands, and given 45 days to remove his livestock. If he fails to comply, the government is authorized to seize and remove his cattle.
The BLM sends Bundy a list of the cattle seen grazing on public lands, and bills him nearly $330,000 for trespassing and investigation fees.
Bundy says he will defy the federal government if they press him on the issue of his cattle:
I’ve got to protect my property. If people come to monkey with what’s mine, I’ll call the county sheriff. If that don’t work, I’ll gather my friends and kids and we’ll try to stop it. I abide by all state laws. But I abide by almost zero federal laws.
Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, a Bundy supporter who says he does not recognize the federal government’s authority, says of Bundy:
Cliven doesn’t want to be a martyr — the guy who shot it out with the feds, Waco-style. I just hope the government isn’t stupid enough to go pick a fight with him.
Bundy’s wife Carol says she, her husband and her children are ready to protect their land with violence:
I’ve got a shotgun. It’s loaded and I know how to use it. We’re ready to do what we have to do, but we’d rather win this in the court of public opinion.
Of her fifteen-year old son Arden, she says he will stand beside his parents if need be:
Arden doesn’t know life any other way. We’ve been fighting this war before he was born.
The BLM serves notice to Bundy that it intends to round up and confiscate the cattle he grazes on public lands. The impound notice lasts through March 23, 2015. The BLM says Bundy’s “illegal trespass cattle” will be rounded up “without further notice.” Bundy responds:
Tell them Bundy’s ready. Whenever they’ve got the guts to try it, tell them to come.
At least 568 cattle purportedly belonging to Bundy are grazing on federal land along a 90-mile swath in the Gold Butte area. Bundy also claims any unbranded or unidentified cattle in the area belong to him. Bundy calls the roundup “cattle rustling,” though the BLM says he can claim any confiscated cattle for his own if they bear his brand and if he pays the impound costs and trespass fees. Bundy says if his cattle are rounded up and eventually returned to him, he will see to it that they continue to graze on the same tract of federal land.
Conservationist Rob Mrowka says the area must be protected for the sake of the endangered desert tortoises in the area.
This situation is simply outrageous. It’s high time for the BLM to do its job and give the tortoises and the Gold Butte area the protection they need and are legally entitled to. As the tortoises emerge from their winter sleep, they are finding their much-needed food consumed by cattle.
The BLM temporarily closes off 322,000 acres of public land in preparation to collect Bundy’s cattle. In response, Bundy files a notice with the county sheriff titled “Range War Emergency Notice and Demand for Protection.” He claims to have an “army” of supporters from around the country ready to protect him. The local sheriff, Doug Gillespie, could stop the roundup if he wanted to, Bundy says. Fellow rancher Cliff Gardner says:
I think Cliven is taking a stand not only for family ranchers, but also for every freedom-loving American, for everyone. I’ve been trying to resolve these same types of issues since 1984. Perhaps it’s difficult for the average American to understand, but protecting the individual was a underlying factor of our government. … My support is that I am determined to stand by the Bundy family in any fashion it takes regardless of the threat of life or limb.
Bundy’s 14 children and 52 grandchildren, some too young to walk, gather at the family home waiting for the BLM to arrive. Bundy gives one interview after another to reporters and bloggers, and makes frequent phone calls to local and state officials. The BLM sets up two “First Amendment areas” in nearby Bunkerville. The areas are intended to house protesters. (BLM later says it made the decision to set up the “First Amendment” zones because of Bundy’s promise to “be more physical” with federal officials during any confiscation process.) Outside Bunkerville, Bundy shows what he calls the BLM’s “compound” to a reporter: corrals, bales of hay, portable lights and mobile communications towers. Bundy says he is sure “government snipers” have rifles trained on him, and that they are eager to kill him.
They’re only there for one person, and that’s me.
Bundy issues personal requests for armed militia members to come to his ranch to defend him against the purported threat of federal authorities:
YOU HAVE BEEN ASKING WHAT YOU CAN DO! AND NOW ITS TIME!!!!!! They have my cattle and now [they] have one of my boys. Range war begins tomorrow at Bundy ranch at 9:30 a.m. Bring your signs and horses, and plan to stay as long as you can.
One militia member who responds to Bundy’s call explains:
You feel an obligation as an American. You’ve got an American family who is rightfully on property their family paid the grazing rights on over a hundred and some odd years ago and our government comes in and decides they want to change the rules on that, break the law, really, by changing those rules after a contract’s been signed with their great-great-grandfather — I believe it was — and then run them out? And then use force on their family? And then put the full weight of the American government on them? Shame on them.
Some 30 protesters line up outside a local auction house to protest any BLM attempt to sell Bundy’s confiscated cattle. The cattle can be sold to pay Bundy’s delinquent grazing fees.
One of Bundy’s cousins opposes his defiance of federal authority. Conservationist Terri Robertson says the land deserves to be protected, and Bundy’s cattle are laying waste to the environment in the area. She notes the fragile yucca forests, tortoise habitats, sweeping desert and mountain vistas, and ancient rock art that is all vulnerable to depredation.
He’s just in a world of his own. I don’t think he’s working on all four cylinders.
Bundy says that his “city slicker” cousin is ignorant of desert life, though she was raised in the area, and says his cattle improve the environment.
BLM begins rounding up Bundy’s cattle to remove them from federal lands. Reportedly the operation will cost $1 million and last into May. BLM officials say Bundy owes a million in fees, and will also have to pay the round-up expenses. Bundy says he owes only $300,000, and predicts beef shortages in area grocery stores if his cattle are confiscated. Bundy says he “fired the BLM” years ago, and accuses the agency of plotting to kill him. He reiterates his promise to use firearms if necessary to defend his cattle and his “right” to graze them on federal land. Some 100 protesters vocally oppose the roundup. A statement on the BLM website reads in part:
Cattle have been in trespass on public lands in southern Nevada for more than two decades. This is unfair to the thousands of other ranchers who graze livestock in compliance with federal laws and regulations throughout the West. The Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service have made repeated attempts to resolve this matter administratively and judicially. An impoundment of cattle illegally grazing on public lands is now being conducted as a last resort.
Bundy says no one should worry about the fate of the endangered desert tortoises, dismissing concerns that the cattle eat the grasses and weeds the tortoises need to survive. They can survive with his cattle grazing in their habitat, he says, because they can eat cow manure:
The tortoises eat the cow manure, too. It’s filled with protein.
Desert tortoises are entirely herbivorous, eating grasses, weeds, greens, vegetables and fruit.
Bundy’s 37-year old son Dave, a rancher, is arrested by federal authorities outside Bundy’s ranch. He is released shortly thereafter. Bundy’s explanation is that he was exercising his constitutional rights on a state highway outside the Bundy ranch, taking photographs of the roundup and peacefully protesting, when he was “roughed up” and arrested. Natalie Collins of the US Attorney’s office says he was cited on misdemeanor charges of refusing to disperse and resisting arrest. BLM spokesperson Kirsten Cannon says Dave Bundy was detained in order to “protect public safety and maintain the peace.” Cannon elaborates:
The Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service support the public’s right to express opinions peacefully and lawfully. However, if an individual threatens, intimidates or assaults another individual or impedes the impoundment, they may be arrested in accordance with local, state or Federal laws.
Dave Bundy explains:
They got on their loudspeaker and said that everyone needed to leave. I stood there and continued to express my First Amendment right to protest, and they approached me and said that if I didn’t leave, they’d arrest me. … Without any further questions, two rangers surrounded and a third one approached me, and they all jumped me, pulling different directions. And then a couple other guys jumped in, and they took me to the ground. One ranger had had his knee on my spine, and the other one was on my head with his knee on the side of my head and his other knee on the back of my neck.
Later, Dave Bundy expands his story to claim that he was “beaten” by the rangers. Bundy’s daughter Bailey Bundy Logue says “martial law” has been imposed:
Wake up America. Look what our ancestors fought for and we need to stand up for that. We need to realize what’s happening. They are taking everything away from us. This isn’t only about one family. This is about everyone’s family. This is martial law and it’s in America and so what are you going to do to have it stay out of America?
The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association issues a statement distancing itself from the Bundy matter:
Nevada Cattlemen’s Association does not feel it is in our best interest to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter.
Federal officials agree not to auction Bundy’s cattle at a Richfield, Utah auction house after Utah lawmakers oppose the plan. Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R-UT) has previously asked the BLM to keep the Bundy dispute from spilling over into his state. Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner says:
We don’t have a dog in this fight, and that’s why we want them to stay in Nevada.
Sevier County, Utah Sheriff Nathan Curtis says he worries about a public outcry if Bundy’s confiscated cattle are sold in Utah. Some of Bundy’s cattle have wandered on the range for so long without proper care or attention that they should be considered “feral,” says Washington County Commissioner Jim Eardley, and pose a health risk to Utah ranchers’ cattle. According to a resolution passed by Eardly and his fellow commissioners:
Feral cattle do not receive proper immunizations or other veterinary care. Feral cattle are likely to interbreed, and interbreeding of cattle creates numerous problems with maintaining a healthy and vibrant herd.
The resolution also asks county residents “to remain peaceful and abide by the law in any protest activities they may engage in regarding this or any other issue.”
US Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) issues a statement expressing his “great disappointment with the way that this situation is being handled.” Heller says he told BLM director Neil Kornze “very clearly that law-abiding Nevadans must not be penalized by an over-reaching BLM” and adds:
I remain extremely concerned about the size of this closure and disruptions with access to roads, water and electrical infrastructure. I will continue to closely monitor this situation, and urge the BLM to make the necessary changes in order to preserve Nevadans’ constitutional rights.
Militia members from around the nation come to the Bundy ranch in support, some of them armed and saying that they are willing to use violence against federal officials in support of Bundy. Two militia members from Montana say they will use their guns to defend Bundy and his cattle from “tyranny,” but insist they will not fire the first shot. One, who organizes militia, groups says:s:
They all tell me they are in the process of mobilizing as we speak. … We need to be the barrier between the oppressed and the tyrants. Expect to see a band of soldiers. We’re not anti-government. We’re anti-corrupt government.
Other militia members comment:
[W]e provide armed response. They have guns. We need guns to protect ourselves from the tyrannical government.
This is a better education than being in school! I’m glad I brought you. I’m a good mom. They’re learning about the Constitution.
I think it’s bull, and it really made me mad. This isn’t about no turtles or cows.
Federal authorities have some 200 law enforcement officials on the site.
In a video, Nevada militia members tell one another to come to the Bundy ranch, advising them to bring bullhorns, body armor, side arms, pistols, ammunition, “more guns,” and other supplies. They also post their own “rules of engagement” to govern any firefights with law enforcement and federal officials:
Any offensive strike MUST be reserved for Day time!! (we can not hope to compete against their FLIR Systems, Thermal Imaging & Night Vision Capabilities at night) (!! Check Your Fire !! NO FRIENDLY FIRE !!) Hit from behind when ever possible. ! Aim ! and DON’T spray and pray ! Stay focused & calm ! Cover fire, move and give first aid to a brother in need !!
In confrontations on a highway near the Bundy ranch, one of Bundy’s sons, Ammon Bundy, is tasered by a federal official, and Bundy’s sister Margaret Houston is knocked to the ground by other officials, while protesters and family members strike a federal employee with an ATV, kick a K-9 dog and issue verbal threats to officials. No one is injured and no arrests are made. The officials finally leave the area in their ATVs, prompting cheers and yells of:
Get out of our state! BLM go away! BLM go away!
The BLM says that peaceful protests have “crossed into illegal activity” in the last few days, with protesters and family members “blocking vehicles associated with the gather, impeding cattle movement, and making direct and overt threats to government employees.”
Governor Brian Sandoval (R-NV) says he is unhappy with the way the BLM is handling the Bundy situation:
No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans. The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly.
Sandoval says he is particularly disturbed by the BLM’s decision to establish specific, bounded areas for protests to take place, whichh he describes as “offensive”. A National Park Service spokesperson says roads leading into the area were closed off for safety considerations during the cattle roundup, she says, but the NPS wanted to make sure protesters had a place in the area to gather.
Local law enforcement is increasingly concerned that the heightening tensions between the 150 or so federal agents and the several hundred militia supporters are escalating to a fever pitch. It is clear, they later say, that Bundy and the militia members are spoiling for a fight, and the heavy-handed presence of armed federal agents during the roundup is exacerbating the situation.
Bundy tells radio host Dana Loesch that he believes in the “sovereign state of Nevada,” but:
I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing. The federal government has seized Nevada’s sovereignty … they have seized Nevada’s laws and our public land. We have no access to our public land and that is only a little bit of it.
Bundy’s son Ryan tells supporters that the government intends to assume absolute control over the ranch:
Right now it looks like the movie Red Dawn. Right now we’ve got 200 plus federal agents up there in a military compound that they have put together and they’ve got snipers … everybody’s armed, and they’ve been monitoring our ranch with high-tech surveillance equipment … it was never about the grazing fees, it’s about control.
Governor Brian Sandoval (R-NV) responds to the violence at the Bundy ranch by issuing a statement asking for calm:
The ability to speak out against government actions is one of the freedoms we all cherish as Americans. Today I am asking all individuals who are near the situation to act with restraint. Although tensions remain high, escalation of current events could have negative, long-lasting consequences that can be avoided.