People Power Prevails as Government Backs Down in Nevada

The federal government was forced to climb down in an embarrassing development in its fight against a Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy. At times it can obviously pay when the population is well armed, as the government was apparently (and luckily, we might add) not eager to have another Waco or worse on its hands.

As Reuters reports:


“U.S. officials ended a stand-off with hundreds of armed protesters in the Nevada desert on Saturday, calling off the government's roundup of cattle it said were illegally grazing on federal land and giving about 300 animals back to the rancher who owned them.

The dispute less than 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas between rancher Cliven Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had simmered for days. Bundy had stopped paying fees for grazing his cattle on the government land and officials said he had ignored court orders.

Anti-government groups, right-wing politicians and gun-rights activists camped around Bundy's ranch to support him in a stand-off that tapped into long-simmering anger in Nevada and other Western states, where vast tracts of land are owned and governed by federal agencies.

The bureau had called in a team of armed rangers to Nevada to seize the 1,000 head of cattle on Saturday but backed down in the interests of safety.

"Based on information about conditions on the ground and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public," the bureau's director, Neil Kornze, said in a statement.

The protesters, who at the height of the standoff numbered about 1,000, met the news with applause. Then they quickly advanced on the metal pens where the cattle confiscated earlier in the week were being held. After consultations with the rancher's family, the bureau decided to release the cattle it had rounded up, and the crowd began to disperse.

"This is what I prayed for," said Margaret Houston, one of Bundy's sisters. "We are so proud of the American people for being here with us and standing with us."


(emphasis added)

Chalk one up for people power. It happens rarely enough.


What Bundy Owes

The Reuters article also seems to indicate that concern about the livelihood of Mr. Bundy and his family should rather be directed toward the imperiled Mojave desert tortoise, which happens to live on the vast tracts of federally owned land on which his cattle graze. We actually doubt very much it is imperiled by the presence of Bundy's cattle. The government just tried to make money off him – the tortoise merely served as a convenient pretext.

Reuters continues:


“The dispute between Bundy and federal land managers began in 1993 when he stopped paying monthly fees of about $1.35 per cow-calf pair to graze public lands that are also home to imperiled animals such as the Mojave Desert tortoise. The government also claims Bundy has ignored cancellation of his grazing leases and defied federal court orders to remove his cattle. "We won the battle," said Ammon Bundy, one of the rancher's sons.

The bureau said Cliven Bundy still owes taxpayers more than $1 million, which includes both grazing fees and penalties, and that it would work to resolve the matter administratively and through the court system.

Jack Kay, a professor of communication at Eastern Michigan University and an expert on militias, said the federal government did well to step back from the conflict. "These things tend to escalate, someone looks like they're going to pull the trigger and then something happens," he said.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, who earlier in the week suggested the federal government had created an atmosphere of "intimidation," said in a statement on Saturday he welcomed the bureau's action. "Given the circumstances, today's outcome is the best we could have hoped for," he said.

Hundreds of Bundy supporters, some heavily armed, had camped on the road leading to his ranch in a high desert spotted with sagebrush and mesquite trees. Some held signs reading "Americans united against government thugs," while others were calling the rally the "Battle of Bunkerville," a reference to a American Revolutionary War battle of Bunker Hill in Boston.”


(emphasis added)

The governor of Nevada was surely quite correct when accusing the federal government of intimidation. Coercion and the threat of violence are after all the defining hallmarks of government. It is not different from other mafia-like structures in this respect. Given that the governor is himself part of a government, if a much less powerful one, it is a case of 'it takes one to know one', a saying usually applied in connection with thieves.

We the formulation employed by the  U.S. Bureau of Land Management to describe Bundy's alleged debt quite interesting: “Cliven Bundy still owes taxpayers more than $1 million”.

We would term this quite an Orwellian way of putting it, since even if he pays, tax payers aren't going to see a cent of this money (no pro rata checks are going to be mailed out to other tax payers as a result of this depredation against the Bundy's property). Yes, government will have $1 million more to waste/distribute to political cronies/buy votes if and when he is forced to pay, but this is quite different from asserting that the tax cows (not to be confused with Bundy's cows) in general will somehow benefit. On the contrary, it is a good bet that there will be a greater benefit to the public at large if it remains up to Bundy to determine how to dispose of his funds.


Violent Confrontation Stymied

Bundy refuses to acknowledge that the federal government has any right to charge him for land use rights his family has spent over 100 years earning. Indeed, the government has apparently simply used the Mojave desert tortoise as a wedge to dispossess him:


Bundy, 67, doesn't recognize federal authority on land he insists belongs to Nevada. His Mormon family has operated a ranch since the 1870s near the small town of Bunkerville and the Utah and Arizona lines.


The dispute between Bundy and federal land managers began in 1993 when he stopped paying monthly fees of about $1.35 per cow-calf pair to graze public lands that are also home to imperiled animals such as the Mojave Desert tortoise.  Land managers limited the Bundy herd to just 150 head on a land which the rancher claims has been in his family for more than 140 years.

The government also claims Bundy has ignored cancellation of his grazing leases and defied federal court orders to remove his cattle.


The fight between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management widened into a debate about states' rights and federal land-use policy.  The dispute that ultimately triggered the roundup dates to 1993, when the bureau cited concern for the federally protected tortoise in the region. 

The bureau revoked Bundy's grazing rights after he stopped paying grazing fees and disregarded federal court orders to remove his animals.

Kornze's announcement came after Bundy repeatedly promised to "do whatever it takes" to protect his property and after a string of raucous confrontations between his family members and supporters and federal agents during the week-long operation.”


(emphasis added)

It should be noted that the BLM erected a camp complete with a SWAT team and snipers and had eight helicopters circling the area. In other words, if not for about a thousand partly well-armed supporters of Bundy showing up, the government's agents may have been perfectly happy to enforce the BLM's edicts by starting a gun fight. Part of the paramilitary force concentration can be glimpsed in this picture:



BLM with Swat TeamBeyond the fence: the BLM with its SWAT team.

(Photo via Reuters / Author unknown)


Some violence had already erupted before the great mass of supporters turned up to help Bundy. In fact, it was a widely circulated video of federal agents in a confrontation with a handful of Bundy family members and neighbors tasering Bundy's son Ammon after sicking a police dog on him that created the groundswell of support for the embattled rancher.


Ammon BundyAmmon Bundy bleeding from wound inflicted by a federal Taser

(Photo via AP / Author unknown)


What makes the government's claims about the alleged need to protect the tortoise (which is what led to the 'reclassification' of public lands to 'federal property') especially ludicrous is that Bundy is the very last rancher in the region and owns precisely 908 heads of cattle. It's not as if hundreds of ranchers were about to let their cattle trample over the 600,000 acres of land the government grabbed in the tortoise's name – there is only one left! Consider that 600,000 acres are a truly huge area; it is simply physically impossible for 900 cattle to disturb the lives of any other animals living on such a vast stretch of land. According to the Daily Mail:


“The week-long standoff started when federal agents swooped in Tuesday after Cliven Bundy, the last remaining rancher in southern Nevada, refused to remove his herd of 900 cows from land he claims has been in his family since 1870.

The heavily-armed federal agents, equipped with eight helicopters and backed-up by snipers, surrounded the Bundy ranch after the BLM attained a federal court order to confiscate the family's herd.”


(emphasis added)

It is also worth recalling in this context that the government is actually not pursuing the protection of the tortoise through the courts, but what seems to be a trumped-up monetary claim. The short version of the confrontation is actually as follows:

From 1870 to 1993, the Bundy family was perfectly free to let its cattle graze on a stretch of Nevada semi-desert. Nobody cared and nobody was harmed.

Then the federal government swooped in and used the existence of a tortoise to establish a claim over this stretch of land so it could charge the Bundy family fees for land use. When Bundy refused to bow to these demands, it decided to coerce him by threatening him with violence and confiscating his cattle herd. The opinion of the tortoise could not be ascertained, but it's a good bet it doesn't give a flying you-know-what about whether or not the occasional cow passes it by.  And that is all there is to it in the final analysis.


DesertTortoiseThe Mojave pretext turtle munching on a cactus.

(Photo via / Author unknown)


Addendum: The Nature of the State and the Last Man 'Refusing to Go Back to the Reservation'

What makes the Bundy case so interesting it that it touches on quite fundamental issues. Below are two brief excerpts from Murray Rothbard's 'Anatomy of the State' that seem pertinent to the events. Rothbard's definition of the State essentially follows that of German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer. Regarding how the State operates once it is established, Rothbard points out that it must at the very least have the passive consent of those it rules.

As an aside to this, democratic nations have added a new twist to the concept by making it possible for people from society at large to join the ruling class. It is no longer a closed club only open to the nobility. As long as one is not bothered by belonging to an organization that obtains its income by employing 'political means' rather than by production and voluntary exchange, one is perfectly free to so to speak become a gang member. This has no doubt made the ideological task of justifying the State's existence a lot easier, but it hasn't changed its essence (the merits of the various ways in which the  State can be organized are a separate topic).

Rothbard writes:


“The State provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively “peaceful” the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society. Since production must always precede predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State has never been created by a “social contract”; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation.

The classic paradigm was a conquering tribe pausing in its time-honored method of looting and murdering a conquered tribe, to realize that the time span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant, if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.”


Once a State has been established, the problem of the ruling group or “caste” is how to maintain their rule. While force is their modus operandi, their basic and long run problem is ideological.

For in order to continue in office, any government (not simply a “democratic” government) must have the support of the majority of its subjects. This support, it must be noted, need not be active enthusiasm; it may well be passive resignation as if to an inevitable law of nature. But support in the sense of acceptance of some sort it must be; else the minority of State rulers would eventually be outweighed by the active resistance of the majority of the public.

Since predation must be supported out of the surplus of production, it is necessarily true that the class constituting the State—the full-time bureaucracy (and nobility)— must be a rather small minority in the land, although it may, of course, purchase allies among important groups in the population. Therefore, the chief task of the rulers is always to secure the active or resigned acceptance of the majority of the citizens.”


(emphasis added)

The Bundy case is one in which reliance on the 'passive resignation' of the subjects evidently failed. What stopped the confrontation from becoming deadly were not primarily moral qualms (we are not suggesting they played no role at all – after all, people employed by the government are human beings as well). The government rarely deploys its 'assets' without intending to use them if need be. The decision to back down was likely to a large extent simply a political calculation, a kind of Macchiavellian profit and loss accounting exercise if you will. Subduing a thousand armed resisters by force would have been a very messy business and would have gravely damaged the government's reputation. It may ultimately have exerted an effect on the 'passive resignation' of a much larger number of people. However, government is walking a fine line when backing away from such confrontations, since people may be emboldened to resist impositions they perceive as unjust more frequently in the future. Normally, the government does everything to prevail in similar situations, regardless of the merits of the case.

William Grigg writes about the Bundy case by drawing an interesting parallel between how Western landowners are treated by the government today and the how the Shoshone Indians of Utah were treated in the late 19th century (in keeping with this theme, he notes that “of the 52 ranchers in his section of Nevada, Cliven Bundy is the only one who has refused to go back to the reservation.”):


“Their objective is not to protect the desert tortoise, but to punish a defiant property owner and entrepreneur. This potentially murderous aggression is being celebrated by Progressives as a worthy effort to make dangerous radicals “feel the superior power of the Government.”

For more than two decades, Bundy has defied the federal land management bureaucracy, and his continued resistance could catalyze a general revolt against their designs for the western United States.

Their intent, as described by Pendley, is to transform the West into “a land nearly devoid of people and economic activity, a land devoted almost entirely to the preservation of scenery and wildlife habitat. In their vision, everything from the 100th meridian to the Cascade Range becomes a vast park through which they might drive, drinking their Perrier and munching their organic chips, staying occasionally in the bed-and-breakfast operations into which the homes of Westerners have been turned, with those Westerners who remain fluffing duvets and pouring cappuccino.”

The high priests of biocentrism and their bureaucratic allies aren’t going to let a handful of ragged but resolute ranchers “check and stop the progress” of Manifest Destiny.

In 1875, amid an entirely contrived Indian Scare in Corrine, Utah, Indian Agent William H. Danilson sent a telegram to Washington complaining about the dangerous “extremism” that had seized the restive Shoshones. “They are taught to hate the government, and look with distrust upon their Agents,” complained the bureaucrat. The Indians impudently maintained that “Bear River Valley belonged to them” and were preparing to resist efforts to evict them from their property.

“Their whole teachings [are] fraught with evil,” concluded Danilson, scandalized that Indians would believe in the sanctity of property, and thus expected the federal government to keep its promises.

Historian Brigham D. Madsen records that an Army investigation of that 1875 Indian Scare found that the Shoshones – who were, as usual, starving because of the government’s failure to deliver promised rations – posed no threat. Nonetheless, the military “issued an ultimatum that all reservation Indians were to return to their reservations at once or [the local commander] would use military force to compel them to do so.”

It didn’t matter that the Indians had done nothing wrong, and that the government had acted illegally: The cause of “law and order” meant that the government simply had to prevail. That was the central theme in Washington’s dealings with the Indians – and in its conduct toward western landowners as well.”


(emphasis added)

Grigg's article makes us wonder how long it will be before 'they' will try again. After all, when the BLM says that it “will work to resolve the matter administratively and through the court system”, what exactly is it trying to say? That it has hitherto not worked through the court system? That its attempt to simply confiscate the cattle by force was not considered an 'administrative handling' of the matter? One can only hope that the Bundy family continues to succeed in not being driven 'back to the reservation'.


Bundy, free speech penCliven Bundy, the only one of 52 ranchers left in his section of Nevada, inspects the 'free speech pen' erected by the BLM near Bunkerville. It was apparently supposed to keep his supporters well contained, but things didn't quite work out that way.

(Photo via AP / Author unknown)




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9 Responses to “Cliven Bundy vs. FedGov: 1:0”

  • All-Your-Gold-Are-Mine:

    My father had a large ranch in Southern Idaho (several thousand acres) running 450 head of cattle. BLM properties are leased from the government (and the rights sold or purchased with the ranch property)…. as long as you pay the lease fees (reasonably small) and graze cattle during the specified times, you keep your rights to the land. However, if you fail to remove your cattle at the specified times, or if you fail to pay the modest fees, you’ll receive a warning and possible forfeiture of the lands.

    There are environmentalists (usually wealthy individuals from out of state and/or from big cities) that lobby Washington to remove the BLM lands from use by the ranchers. But in fact, several studies conclude (unlike sheep and goats), grazing cattle (for the 4 or 5 months allowed) has been proven to be most beneficial to the environment.

    In Bundy’s case, he’s sort of an idiot to not pay his fees and not comply with the rules and then expect not to have a conflict with the government. I’m sure all the former Bundy’s that owned the ranch complied with the rules. Just because the BLM rights tied to his ownership of his property were in his family since the 1800s, does not mean he can decide to quit playing by the rules of ownership.

    No one seems to mention this. We all pay our taxes… right? And if we quit paying, what can we expect to happen?

  • Calculus:

    There’s a real paradox in America at the moment.

    The average American is one of the kindest, most considerate, polite, individuals on the planet. if you’ve ever met an American on holiday, you know what I mean.

    Yet the US government, which is obviously full of Americans, are and have turned into some of the nastiest, thuggish, prone to voilence bullies on the planet, foreign foes or home grown citizens, it doesn’t seem to matter to those in power.

    They say you get the government you deserve, but that doesn’t ring true with the average American.

    Something, somewhere has gone very wrong.

    When I was growing up, we used to all be scared of Red Russia, the cold war was strong in the early 80s. Now, I’m even more scared of the US government, that’s very wrong…

  • CG23:

    Shouldn’t that tortoise be fined for damaging the ‘endangered’ Southern Nevada Prickly Cactus?

  • No6:

    Government is filled to the brim with psychopaths. They will finish Bundy eventually and enjoy doing it.

  • Hans:

    The US government, the biggest gang-banger of them all.

    They are now extorting businesses for money and single
    individuals have long been on their extortion list.

    Freedom is dead in America, long live the once great republic.

  • Belmont Boy:

    Is it unfair of me to suspect that ranchers, maybe including even the original Mr. Bundy, not only supported the government back in the 1870s as it dispossessed the Shoshone, but actually prevailed upon the government to take action, instigating that dispossession in the first place?

  • Kreditanstalt:

    Firstly, it is possible that the aim truly is to protect the habitat of this tortoise. Denying this possibility is akin to those who declaim that absolutely EVERY scientist and economist must be corrupted because they work for a government institution. It does kind of beggar belief, doesn’t it…? So let’s be reasonable and assume this – however misguided – might be their aim. After all, if they really wanted to “avoid another Waco” they wouldn’t go after the guy at all.

    Secondly, I have some doubts about whether Bundy would be prepared to share his vastness of used grazing lands with other ranchers, settlers, farmers, whoever…should they make use of part of the territory. I suspect he merely (and rightfully) detests government but the local Indians can make the same ludicrous argument about having “lived there for ages” as he can.

    Could I hypothetically settle on a few acres of this “government land” and undertake my business there without harassment from Bundy? I wonder…

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