People in rural southeastern Nevada and the surrounding area are not accustomed to being the center of national media attention, as they have increasingly been since their neighbor, rancher Cliven Bundy, began his notorious standoff with federal authorities. But what bothers them now is the threatening presence of armed militiamen who have taken up semi-permanent residency at Bundy’s ranch.
Some local residents, in fact, are complaining that the militiamen are setting up armed checkpoints and detaining people as they travel to their homes, asking for proof that they live nearby before allowing them to proceed. However, the militiamen themselves deny this, and investigating news crews have not found any evidence of it.
What these locals can say with certainty, though, is that the circus surrounding the standoff and the militias’ refusal to leave is not only disrupting their normally quiet lives, it is costing them money.
Congressman Steve Horsford of Las Vegas has been outspoken in criticizing the militiamen, charging that local residents have been confronted by militiamen who have set up armed checkpoints and demanded that they prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass. Horsford also says the militias have created a “persistent presence” along federal highways and state and county roads.
Horsford has demanded that Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie crack down on the outsiders, saying they make local residents feel unsafe.
“I am greatly concerned about the safety and well-being of my constituents after meeting with local community members this past week. I urge Sheriff Gillespie to investigate these reports, as this sort of intimidation cannot be tolerated,” Horsford said.
“We must respect individual constitutional liberties, but residents of and visitors to Clark County should not be expected to live under the persistent watch of an armed militia,” Horsford wrote in a letter to Gillespie. “Residents have expressed their desire to see these groups leave their community. I urge you to investigate these reports and to work with local leaders to ensure that their concerns are addressed in a manner that allows the community [to] move forward without incident.”
They aren’t the only residents who feel threatened. According to a report from KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, the militiamen have also threatened people who live in the nearby town of Mesquite, and businesses there claim they have lost over $100,000 because of their presence.
The station reported that a local hotel was forced to evacuate all of its clients one evening following a bomb threat. The hotel also received at least nine threatening calls after it permitted Bureau of Land Management rangers to stay there. The callers demanded the BLM rangers be kicked out or the hotel “would not be standing in the morning.”
One hotel worker told the news crew he had been told by an anonymous militia member that he would be “dragged out in the parking lot and shot”.
News crews were unable to find any armed checkpoints when they went out searching for them. A militia group spokesman named Ryan Payne denied to KVVU-TV that they were conducting such checks.
“We are not to set up checkpoints, we are not to pull over civilians, without, you know, reasonable cause,” Payne said. Of course, militiamen have no legal right to pull anyone over – with or without reasonable cause.
But local residents remain far from assured. “We are not a playground for armed militias,” Horsford said. “This unfortunate incident and the outside groups that have come for their own agenda are putting a black eye on this community.”