Rogue rancher Cliven Bundy and his family are inviting some of their patriot movement pals to a three-day party this weekend to celebrate the anniversary of their standoff with the federal government.
Starting Friday, the Liberty Celebration outside Bunkerville, 80 miles north of Las Vegas, will feature live music, cowboy poetry and speeches from the Bundys’ sovereign-state supporters.
Meanwhile, almost nothing is being said by those who found themselves on the other side of the standoff that ended one year ago Sunday, when the Bureau of Land Management hastily cancelled its roundup and let Bundy retrieve his impounded cattle.
Since then, BLM officials in Nevada and Washington, D.C., have repeatedly declined to answer specific questions about what happened last year and what could happen next. The agency responded to inquiries this week with the following statement: “The Bureau of Land Management remains resolute in addressing issues involved in efforts to gather Mr. Bundy’s cattle last year and we are pursuing the matter through the legal system. Our primary goal remains, as it was a year ago, to resolve this matter safely and according to the rule of the law.”
Both the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment, as did Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
Shayne Sampson, owner of the Utah company hired by the BLM to round up Bundy’s cows last year, didn’t want to talk, either. Reached for comment Wednesday, Sampson said he wasn’t allowed to say anything. Then he offered a clarification: It wasn’t that he couldn’t comment, he just didn’t want to.
In advance of this weekend’s event at the Bundy ranch, the National Park Service sent out a reminder to its employees at Lake Mead National Recreation Area to be on their toes. Jessica Kershaw, spokeswoman for the Department of Interior, called the internal communication “a prudent and routine step taken to raise situational awareness when additional activity is expected on or near public lands or waters.”
Cliven Bundy stopped paying federal fees to graze his cattle on public land more than 20 years ago amid a dispute over restrictions placed on his operation by federal range managers. The BLM responded by cancelling the rancher’s grazing permit in 1994 and closing the land to livestock in 1999. Bundy ignored those decisions, just as he has two federal court rulings ordering removal and threatening impoundment.
The BLM planned to move against Bundy’s livestock in April 2012, but that roundup was canceled at the last minute. Last year’s impound operation lasted a week before being called off on April 12, when Bundy’s supporters, including armed militia members, shut down Interstate 15 and marched on corrals holding the cows.
To mark the first anniversary of that “victory,” the ranch family is encouraging “all people who enjoy freedom” to come camp, hike, shoot targets, ride off-road vehicles and wade in the Virgin River near the 160 acre ranch, according to an announcement sent by email last week.
The Bundys extended a special invitation to those who supported them during the standoff, as well as elected officials, cowboys, “the militia who keep us safe,” and “media outlets both friendly and unfriendly.”
Scheduled speakers at the celebration include Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who stood with the Bundys during last year’s standoff and recently sponsored legislation seeking to transfer control of federal land to the state; Dr. Taylor Haynes, a strict constitutionalist who ran for governor of Wyoming last year but lost in the Republican primary; and Elko County rancher Cliff Gardner, who faced trespassing charges 15 years ago for grazing cattle on Forest Service land after his permit was cancelled.
Richard Mack, a former Arizona county sheriff turned leading voice of the patriot movement, is expected to address the crowd Friday via Skype.
Nye County Commissioner Donna Cox is set to speak Saturday. In January, she spearheaded passage of what leaders in the rural county called “a resolution saying ‘no’ to the Bureau of Land Management.” The nonbinding resolution, drafted in consultation with the Bundy family, condemned the BLM and its new “repugnant” resource management plan now being finalized for Southern Nevada.
Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly said she has another event to attend Saturday afternoon, but she hopes to make it out to the Bundy celebration and say a few words to the crowd.
“I’m totally against the federal overreach. I’m supportive of anyone who feels that their rights have been ignored,” said Wehrly, who was elected sheriff last year. “They deserve to have their day in court, a court of their peers.”
The federal court orders against Bundy and his cattle don’t count, she said, because “they needed to go through our courts.”
Wehrly said that in similar circumstances in her county, she would move to stop BLM action before it begins.
“I wouldn’t have allowed them to move any of Mr. Bundy’s property,” she said.
On Friday and Saturday evening, the festivities near Bunkerville will include a cookout featuring “Bundy beef.” The event ends Sunday with a “testimony meeting” where people can share their feelings about God and country.
Cliven Bundy himself is scheduled to take the stage at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Barring some last minute action by federal authorities, it appears he will be free to do so.