Somewhat reminiscent of the 2014 standoff between local rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government, the Bundy sons crossed the border to Oregon to another conflict focusing on land control issues.
According to numerous media reports all across the country, Ammon and Ryan Bundy traveled to southeast Oregon near the rural town of Burns supposedly in defense of father and son ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond. The Las Vegas Review Journal and other media reported that the Hammonds were convicted by the federal government in 2012 of starting fires on public lands.
“Prosecutors said it was to cover up poaching. The Hammonds maintained it was to protect their property from invasive plants and wildfires,” the Vegas paper said. The fires began on the Hammond property but spread to federally-owned land.
While the elder Bundy obviously supports his sons’ actions, he has remained in the local area rather than join his sons in Oregon.
Cliven Bundy’s long-simmering conflict with the federal government began over grazing rights on public land in the Gold Butte Area of Critical Environment Concern. Bundy said the land was not under federal control while the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) claimed management rights.
After years of court battles, all lost by Bundy, the BLM twice tried to round up the rancher’s cattle and remove them from Gold Butte. In 2014, helicopters and armed federal agents descended on the area around Bunkerville and Mesquite and began corralling the cattle. It was reported at the time that up to 350 head of cattle were penned before the round-up was called off.
So-called militia members, some carrying weapons, gathered at Bundy’s ranch south of Bunkerville and faced off with federal agents some of whom were also armed.
Mesquite Local News reporter Burton Weast reported in April 2014 that Ryan Bundy told the Bunkerville Town Advisory Board “This is an issue of state sovereignty, the state owns the land not the federal government.”
Ryan’s brother Ammon is making a similar claim about the Oregon situation telling the media that the current standoff is an attempt to return federal control of public lands to the states.
However, there appears to be several differences between the 2014 Bundy versus federal government fight and this one.
In 2014 the federal government, anticipating large groups of protestors and media members, cordoned off small areas outside the Gold Butte ACEC dubbing them “First Amendment Areas.” They were almost totally ignored and at times ridiculed. The BLM eventually dismantled them.
In Oregon, no such area has been created with federal, state, and local officials largely staying away from the Bundy group.
While the 2014 standoff focused on Bundy’s property, namely his cattle, and the father’s personal dispute with the federal government, the Oregon situation is not personal to the Bundy sons. While they say they are coming to the defense of embattled fellow ranchers, the Hammonds have not embraced their help and in fact, turned themselves into federal agents to begin second prison sentences stemming from their arson convictions.
Then-Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie ran interference between the Bundys and the federal government in 2014 taking an active role in negotiations to calm both sides down. Oregon Harney County Sheriff David Ward appears to have taken a much different approach to the Bundy brothers and their fellow militia members telling them “It’s time for you to leave our community, go home to your families and end this peacefully,” according to reports in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
The Bundy brothers have occupied a closed federal facility some 80 miles south of the closest town of Burns. They say they will stay at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge “as long as necessary” but have not given any indications as to what might lead them to abandon the occupation.
In contrast, the Bundy Ranch was the gathering point in 2014 for the rancher’s supporters with as many as 300 people at a time descending on the private property.
Perhaps the biggest contrast between the two stand-offs lies with elected officials. Early in the 2014 Bundy incident, many conservative officials came to the rancher’s defense saying the issue was more about public land ownership and management disputes.
MLN reporter Weast quoted Nevada Senator Dean Heller (R) at the time as saying, “What’s going on in Mesquite and Clark County is a pretty good example of why we need to look at state control [of public lands].”
Other conservative candidates also supported the Bundy actions and reactions against federal land ownership in 2014 – initially. Most of them backed away quickly when Cliven Bundy made what was referred to as racially negative comments several months later.
In Oregon, the Bundy group is seeing a much different approach from elected officials or those wanting to be. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is the only one to make public remarks on the record by saying that while everyone has a right to protest “it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”
In both Oregon and Nevada, most federal, state, and local politicians have been silent about the Oregon situation.
The 2014 standoff in Bunkerville lasted about eight days. The Oregon standoff appears to be running about that same length – so far.