What Did Cliven Bundy Do? His Sons Are Now Making Headlines Of Their Own In Oregon
The Bundy family has made its way into the news yet again. Cliven Bundy's sons helped incite the armed occupation of a federal building in Oregon on Jan 2. According to the Oregonian, the Bundy sons, who have taken over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, are protesting the upcoming imprisonment of Dwight Jr. and Steven Hammond, two ranchers convicted of arson under anti-terrorism laws. With an unknown number of armed militia men at their side, the group is also demanding that Oregon transfer control of the Malheur National Forest to ranchers, loggers, and miners.
As a result, the National Forest would be left unprotected, and no longer stand as a refuge for local wildlife. Additionally, the occupation is ringing in a whole other round of repercussions in the nearby Burns area, where schools will have to remain closed for the entire week. Ryan Bundy explains the group's cause to the local Oregon paper:
The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area, then they will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control. What we're doing is not rebellious. What we're doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.
The Bundys' endeavor to protect the Hammonds against imprisonment could be perceived as an extension of their father's own standoff against the government a year ago. It all started in 2014, when Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy declined to pay the federal government over $1 million in fees that had accumulated as he allowed his cattle to graze on federal land in Bunkerville, Nevada for nearly two decades without a permit. In his own defense, Bundy claimed that his family had been using the land long before the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gained control over it. Federal ownership of land in the West had already become a familiar point of contingency at that point, because 67 percent of Nevada's land is controlled by the Bureau.
After Bundy refused to pay the fee, the BLM gathered and impounded hundreds of cattle that had been grazing on thousands of acres of federal land. This sparked a response from local right-wing militias, such as the Oath Keepers, who arrived on the scene armed with semi-automatic rifles. The militia group's involvement proved to be successful. On April 12, 2014, the Bureau issued a statement saying that it would return the cattle and retreat from the area because safety is its "number one priority." Despite this, the agency promised to continue pursuing Bundy's grazing violations judicially. Today, Bundy's cattle remain on the federal property. In an interview with Newsweek, conservative radio host Alex Jones explained the significance of the militia's victory:
Americans showed up with guns and said, "No, you're not," before confronting the armed BLM agents. And they said, 'Shoot us.' And they did not. That's epic. And it's going to happen more.
The incident sparked controversy over upholding "freedom" in America, decreasing the role of the federal agencies, and exercising the First Amendment as well as gun use. According to The Economist, residents of the Western side of the U.S. have some legitimate reasons to protest the BLM: Its operations are not transparent to the public, it charges unnecessary taxes, and its involvement is "bureaucratic" and excessive. For these reasons, conservative politicians overwhelmingly jumped on the opportunity to support Bundy's fight against big government. Presidential candidate Rand Paul was a prominent figure in the battle. The Kentucky Senator made a speech concerning smaller government and private property rights shortly following the incident.
It is time that we stand up — in a legal fashion — but stand up and let's say 'enough is enough' and let's elect people who will get the government off our back.
However, support for Bundy among right-wing politicians was short-lived, and lost its spark after Bundy made racist comments toward African Americans, whom he claimed would be better off as slaves. Paul quickly rescinded his support for the Bundy patriarch, and he wasn't the only one who saw it wise to do so. Fox News host Sean Hannity referred to Bundy's words as "ignorant, racist, repugnant, despicable comments."
Heidi Beirich, Director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explained to ABC News how the Cliven Bundy incident has influenced the occupation in Oregon:
What we're really seeing is a continuation of what started in April 2014, of militia folks and anti-government folks deciding that they're not going to accept federal authorities over federal lands ... Bundy is still a free man. He hasn't paid his money, and it's emboldened the entire movement to basically think, 'We don't have to follow the rules.'
Today, many of the militia men who supported Cliven Bundy in his endeavor to minimize BLM interference are also supporting his sons in their fight for the Hammonds' freedom.