Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy received a “get out of jail free” card when a federal judge declared a mistrial after federal prosecutors failed to turn over evidence relevant to the case. Bundy was charged with conspiracy and assault related to an event in 2014 when the Bureau of Land Management tried to remove Bundy’s cows from illegally grazing on public rangelands.
Bundy’s anti-government views derive from an off-beat brand of Mormon fundamentalism, but due to his anti-government stance he became a hero to far-right militias, sagebrush rebels, constitutional fundamentalists and states’ rights fanatics. He was able to recruit an armed paramiliatary group for a “range war” to prevent the cattle round-up, and government personnel backed off to avoid a violent confrontation.
After this perceived victory, Bundy supporters began to foment other armed anti-government actions. In May 2014, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman was inspired by Bundy supporters to lead an illegal offroad vehicle rally through a closed portion of Recapture Canyon (Lyman was convicted of misdemeanor trespass and conspiracy). In January 2016, Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan led an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. A jury acquitted them of conspiracy, apparently convinced that the occupation was a legitimate protest of government overreach.
Environmental activists are deeply concerned that the Bundy clan has avoided responsibility for their attacks on public property which creates a false appearance that their radical anti-government rhetoric has validity. There is legitimate concern that Bundy will inspire more violence and environmental destruction on public lands.
However, no court ever decided that Bundy can violate federal grazing rules. Conservation groups are asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to remove Bundy’s illegal cattle which are still trespassing on desert tortoise habitat and inside Gold Butte National Monument 18 years after Bundy’s grazing permit was revoked. Groups working to hold Bundy accountable include Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Public Employees of Environmental Responsibility.