Federal and local authorities are reportedly investigating a nighttime shooting incident last week that chased a team of surveyors from their camp near the Nevada desert area where radical rancher Cliven Bundy continues to defy the might and will of the United States government.
On the day of the incident, June 5, the surveyors were working under a contract with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has been locked in a years-long standoff with Bundy. The rancher from Bunkerville, who does not believe in the authority of the federal government, owes more than $1 million in grazing fees accumulated over the last two decades. But, backed up by sometimes hundreds of armed antigovernment zealots, Bundy has refused to pay or remove his cattle from environmentally sensitive federal land.
In the spring of 2014, matters came to a head when the BLM tried to enforce a court order to seize Bundy’s cattle. The ensuing standoff between Bundy and his gun-toting allies and the BLM nearly ended in bloodshed on April 12 of that year, as large numbers of Bundy supporters pointed their weapons at law enforcement officials. The government backed down and, as a result, Bundy has become a folk hero on the radical right.
This April, Bundy and about 100 followers gathered near the site of the “Battle of Bunkerville” for a victory celebration with music, dancing and fiery speeches. “We drove a line down the middle of this nation,” Bundy boasted.
This month, more than a year after the standoff and about eight weeks after Bundy’s party, a three-person surveyor team from the Great Basin Institute, an environmental research and conservation group, spent a day collecting data on water seeps and natural springs not far from where Bundy illegally grazes his cattle. According to the Review Journal, the team was scheduled to stay a week in the area, which is about 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
At one point during the day, two men, who identified themselves as ranchers, approached the surveyors and asked them what they were doing, the Review reported. The men, the institute’s executive director, Jerry Keir, told the paper, were “very cordial.”
But a few hours later, around 9 p.m., the surveyors were climbing into their tents for the night when they heard a vehicle on the road. Its headlights, the paper said, were shining on their camp.
Then three shots rang out from about a third of a mile away. No one was hit and it is unclear if the shots were directed at the camp. The surveyors apparently tried to settle down again for sleep.
About an hour later, three more shots rang out.
That’s when the team decided to hurriedly pack and leave in the desert darkness.
Shortly after the surveyors were chased away, according to the Review, BLM directed “all personnel and contractors” to stay away from the area.
Whether the June 5 incident is connected to the “Battle of Bunkerville” is uncertain. But what is clear is that Bundy’s “victory” has encouraged a number of similar defiant and potentially bloody stands against the federal government around land and mineral rights in the West.
As reported in the summer issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, in the aftermath of the BLM’s stand-down, antigovernment radicals have roared into a closed archaeological site on all-terrain vehicles, fought over access to water for livestock and traveled to Josephine County, Ore., to “guard” a local miner’s claims.
After a judge’s order last month requiring the BLM to refrain from enforcing its regulations while the dispute over the mine is being adjudicated, the antigovernment “Patriots” who gathered to protect property again declared victory.
“Mission Accomplished,” the Oath Keepers of Josephine County declared on the group’s website, adding, “Our initial mission has been a success… however this is just the first of many missions we are still working on.”