Cliven Bundy, just released from a Nevada jail cell, is already making the rounds as a guest speaker at grass roots, antigovernment group events opposing federal control of public lands.
This past weekend, the 71-year-old antigovernment icon and his son, Ryan Bundy, spoke before an estimated crowd of 200 in Paradise, Montana, at an event organized by the Coalition of Western Property Owners (COWPO). The group blasts what it calls “overreach and mismanagement” of public lands by the federal government.
“Go and read your Constitution and start acting like you're a sovereign state,” Cliven Bundy told the crowd Saturday after receiving a standing ovation, The Missoulian reported.
He reiterated his belief that the federal government has no legal control over public lands, including thousands of acres in Nevada where he grazes his cattle without paying required grazing fees to the U.S. Treasury.
“My 15-second defense is I only graze my cattle on Clark County, Nevada, land and I have no contract with the federal government,” Cliven Bundy told the crowd. “I haven't had a contract with the federal government in 25 years.”
Cliven Bundy was joined on stage by Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder, a Republican from Thompson Falls, and Shawna Cox, another antigovernment activist who joined Ammon and Ryan Bundy in the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Cliven Bundy’s public appearance came just 12 days after he was released from jail in Nevada where he had been held for 700 days on federal charges of conspiracy and assaulting federal officers.
A grand jury brought the charges against him after the Nevada cattle rancher and his sons, Ammon and Ryan, led a militia-fueled standoff at Bunkerville, Nevada, in 2014 when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management attempted to roundup the Bundy’s rogue cattle herd for non-payment of grazing fees.
But on January 8, midway into a criminal trial, a federal judge in Las Vegas dismissed the criminal charges before the case went to a jury. The sudden dismissal of the charges came because of what Judge Gloria Navarro described as “outrageous government misconduct” by federal prosecutors who failed to timely release 1,000 pages of FBI reports to defense attorneys.
While Bundy and the other defendants weren’t acquitted or cleared of the alleged crimes, it didn’t stop Cliven Bundy from wearing a misleading “Not Guilty” button on his lapel for his first major public appearance.
His son, Ryan Bundy, also spoke, whipping out one of the family’s ever-present pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution which they interpret as giving them a God-given connection and control over public lands.
“Everything we have comes from the land, everything ... [and] all wealth comes from the land,” Ryan Bundy told the crowd, the Daily Inter Lake reported.
“Those who control the land and the resources control the wealth … and I believe that God intended for that to be in control of individuals and not of governments,” Ryan Bundy said.
“Many want to call us anti-government,” Ryan Bundy said, “[but] that is not true. We are very in favor of a government which operates properly.”
Bundy said public lands and their resources constitutionally, rightfully and biblically belong to the people individually, prompting shouts of “amen” from the audience, according to the media accounts.
“On our ranch in Nevada we saw the government was trying to run us out of business, our livelihood,” Ryan Bundy told the standing-room only crowd.
“They were trying to end it like we don't matter. They take it upon themselves to enforce with the barrel of a gun the things which they want to.”
What Ryan Bundy didn’t tell his audience is that the cattle roundup was ordered by another judge who ruled in a civil case that it was appropriate because Cliven Bundy had steadfastly refused to pay grazing fees as other ranchers do.
The also was no mention of the several heavily armed militia groups who traveled to the Bundy’s Nevada ranch in 2014 and pointed loaded assault rifles at federal agents and contract employees involved in the failed cattle roundup.
The Montana Human Rights Network and several public land and wildlife advocacy groups issued a joint statement opposing the views expressed by the Bundys.
“The rule of law and access to our public lands are integral parts of how Montanans live, work, and play together as good neighbors,” the joint statement said.
While law enforcement and the court system exist to protect the public, “managing public lands in the public interests supports our way of life and our economy,” the statement said.
“We must ensure that our law enforcement and elected officials protect and uphold the rule of law in order to protect our democracy,” the statement said.